Friday, September 18, 2009

When Nothing May Be Better Than Something

Not Yet Time for the Requiem for the Chicago Sun-Times, But It Will Be Soon

Chicago Tribune media writer Phil Rosenthal may be loathe to admit it, but chances are he's hard at work on the obituary for the Chicago Sun-Times. Not that he takes any joy in such an assignment -- hell, his own paper's in trouble -- but a job's a job, and pretty soon a job will not be what hundreds of Sun-Times Media Group employees will soon have.
If their papers go under, it may be of their own doing. But then again, you can't blame them. Financier Jim Tyree has offered the unprincely sum of $25 million to take over the entire company, which has been teetering on the edge of financial ruin for some time.
But Tyree's no altruist, and says he'll only sign on if the unions lock in a temporary 15 percent cut, do away with seniority and reduce maximum severance from 50 weeks to four weeks, and other work-rule changes. In other words, Tyree told the unions "Let me gut your contract and then I might do you a favor and let you keep your jobs if I feel like it. And, by the way, this is non-negotiable."
Not surprisingly, the Sun-Times unions have said a resounding no to Tyree's offer, notwithstanding the fact that no other offer is on the horizon and the company has threatened that all 1,800 company jobs would disappear.
At first blush, this appears to be more than a high-stakes game of chicken. Tyree is prepared for the Sun-Times to be a money-losing concern at least for the short-term, but only if his conditions are met. The unions aren't going to advocate their oblivion nor will the rank-and-file sign away their security.
If these are negotiating tactics, you can sure fool me. If Tyree doesn't want the Sun-Times badly enough, then it's likely game over if it isn't already. There should be a place for a scrappy tabloid in a place like Chicago. But the end of that story has already been written, and not just by Phil Rosenthal.

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