Newsroom layoffs show Tribune’s true colors

Wasn’t it only a month ago that the Chicago Tribune was touting itself as a “bigger, better” newspaper and promising to deliver more, more, more? Tell that to the 20 or so editors, reporters and writers whose positions were eliminated Thursday.

The precise number was difficult to pin down, but any way you count them, the firings came as a shock to staffers whose morale had been boosted by a handful of new employees hired as part of the “editorial enhancements” to the newspaper announced in June.

In front-page proclamations and online manifestos at the time, publisher Tony Hunter and editor Gerry Kern took bows for adding “depth, dimension and range to our news report” by expanding coverage and increasing pages in the home-delivery edition. “We are investing in the paper to ensure it is vital and rewarding,” they told readers.

Thursday’s layoffs, believed to be in response to declining advertising revenue, now raise questions about the paper’s commitment to those costly additional pages and other improvements. (“Enjoy new-and-improved Tribune while it lasts,” one cynical media critic warned back in June.)

Tribune Co. is under pressure to boost its bottom line as it struggles to emerge from bankruptcy after more than two years. Four corporate executives were cut earlier this week, including Bob Gremillion, executive vice president of Tribune Publishing and onetime interim publisher of the Chicago Tribune, and reports surfaced of new layoffs at the Los Angeles Times, also owned by Tribune Co.

The company did not release information about the cuts Thursday, but they were believed to have been on both the print and digital sides of the editorial operation. Among the positions affected were those of Randy Weissman, news administration editor and a 43-year veteran of Tribune Co., and Pat Widder, a member of the Tribune editorial board.

For Bruce Japsen, an award-winning business reporter who covered the health care industry for 13 years at the Tribune, the bad news didn’t deter him from representing the newspaper that had just fired him — and honoring the profession he loved.

Hours after he learned his fate, Japsen, 44, fulfilled a commitment to tape WTTW’s Chicago Tonight: The Week in Review for airing Friday night.  As planned, he showed up to talk about the heat wave and the health care system with host Joel Weisman and fellow panelists. “I went on because I’m a pro, and I think those people are pros,” Japsen said after leaving the station’s Northwest Side studio. “That’s what you’re supposed to do.”

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)