The Tribune put Rick Popely’s story on page one last Friday morning, then called him in and fired him later in the day. Which means, he reflects at tellzell.com, “I’ll have another memorable story about life at the Tribune.” Tell Zell is an LA-based site that invites posters to tell the Tribune Company boss “what you really think.” Look for the petition telling Zell that since he’s laying them off by the hundreds, his employees (Zells likes to call them his “partners”) deserve a representative on the board of directors (with another to represent the LA community). The goal is 1,000 names and the petition’s a long way from getting them.
In a slightly different category from Popely’s last story are what a Tribune friend calls “voices from beyond the grave,” stories by people no longer there. Look for the telltale signs. For instance, the byline to this dance article in the Sunday paper, “By Sid Smith, Special to the Chicago Tribune.” If you’re “special to . . .” you’re freelancing. Smith took a buyout. And this big story by Mary Ann Fergus in Tuesday’s Metro section ends without the usual e-mail address so you can contact the reporter. Fergus was laid off Friday.
Another way to know they’re gone: The Tribune phone system asks callers to say the name of the person they want to be connected to. That system no longer recognizes the name of anyone who just left the paper.
I got an anonymous call Monday from someone who wanted me to know the Tribune layoffs disproportionately victimized minority journalists. The caller had no numbers to back up that knock on the Tribune, but here it is again, made publicly in a column by Richard Prince on the Maynard Institute Web site. “It’s sad because if you look at the list, it’s heavily minority. It looks bad,” reporter Ray Quintanilla told Prince.
Prince alludes to an encounter in the newsroom the day before Quintanilla was fired but doesn’t name the columnist Quintanilla says he encountered — John Kass. Quintanilla heard that Kass had just hired another white legman so he e-mailed him to let him know there were minority reporters at the Tribune who could do the job too. Next thing he knew, Quintanilla tells me, “Kass is standing right on top of me. I can see all of the wrinkles in his shirt, kind of a tan shirt, he was that close to me. His shirt was practically touching me. He said, ‘You’re calling me a racist’ — something to that effect, I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ I said I admire his work. And he was screaming again, I had to hang up the phone and at that point I had to stand up. He was physically intimidating.” Quintanilla says Kass challenged him to step outside. Kass hasn’t gotten back to me with his side of the story.
Quintanilla says he couldn’t sleep that night. The next day he was fired and he couldn’t sleep that night either.