I grimly followed the news today that the Tribune Newspapers sharply reduced the remaining group of employees so the new owner can keep it afloat.   There were only about 34 in the news operation when Randy Miller got the bankruptcy court’s OK to purchase the Tribune, along with the Daily News Sun in Sun City and the Ahwatukee Foothills News for $2.05 million.   Now the news team has been slashed to 14 in the office in Mesa.

That includes a mere one photographer, eight writers, three copy editors and two editors. Yet, the word is the newspaper will expand its free delivery to Tempe, which had been dropped in January 2009 when I was part of a 42 percent cut of all employees.  Now it is returning to its old name,  “East Valley Tribune,” and dropping the city names, Mesa Tribune, Queen Creek Tribune, Chandler Tribune and Gilbert Tribune.   My former colleague, Nick Martin, let go with me 14 months ago, runs a wonderful blog, HeatCity.org, which has been chronicling the newspapers ‘ downfall.

As I read the list of the 20 newsroom staffers given pink slips today — all my former colleagues in some of my nearly 25 years with the Tribune — I marvel at the talent and years of dedication. Surely many, by virtue of their long years of service, were doing reasonably well in salaries, and that figured in to them being targets for cuts.

Heat City’s today retraced the Tribune journey from almost being shut down by Freedom Newspapers at the end of 2009 to the first announcements that Randy Miller of Colorado (Thirteenth Street Publications) wanted to buy it, pending action by the bankruptcy court. The Freedom chain, based in Irvine, Calif., itself has been in bankruptcy, to the tune of $1 billion. It is tough to see how $2.05 million is going to help Freedom get turned around. Miller had announced previously that he would keep a “significant” number of Tribune employees, but 59 percent cuts doesn’t jibe with that. Nick’s blog noted that the whole Tribune operations took deep cuts as well.

The size of the employee staff hardly makes it a metro paper by anyone’s definition. With 14 news personnel, it is smaller than weeklies in many parts of the country. May the new owner have smart strategies and a way to deal with retained staffers’ morale right off the bat.

Freedom is paying severance to those who losing their jobs. The newsroom longest employee, business writer Ed Taylor, hired Oct. 1, 1973, was let go. His 37 years of dedicated service to the Tribune stands out. Les Willsey, “Mr. Prep Sports” in Arizona had worked at the Trib since April 1985.

During many of my years there, I published a “seniority list” of editorial employees and distributed it to all those in news. It listed hiring dates and showed which employees had been on the payroll the longest.

Staff looked forward to the new list each year to see how high they had climbed since the previous list, what with colleagues leaving the Tribune. I think we had about 143 people in news at the high-water mark. For several years, I was stuck in third place for seniority (Feb. 27, 1984 hire). When I and Bob Yoho were among the 48 news people eliminated in January 2009, sports columnist Scott Bordow leaped to second place. But Scott took a job last fall with the Arizona Republic. I published my final list in May 2008 when we still had 114 news employees.

I turned over my responsibilities of keeping the “Seniority List” to reporter Hayley Ringle. But, alas, Hayley was among those let go today. I don’t know if keeping a list for 14 employees counts anymore. By my calculations, Bob Romantic, the sports editor, is now No. 1 in consecutive time at the Tribune. (Heat City says Bob has been tapped as the editor for the new Tribune). Bob was No. 35 in my 2008 list. He came in December 1997, although he had arrived from the Yuma Daily Sun, where he began in June 1985, while it and the Tribune were both owned by Cox Newspapers. So he has had continuous service with whatever chain owned the papers. CeCe Tood, another editor, is a close second in seniority (March 9, 1998), followed by John Yantis (June 1, 1998), and Jayson Peters (July 27, 1998). About 10 years ago, a former editor ordered me to suspend putting out the list annually because, that editor said, it reflected too much turnover in employees each year.

Using Nick’s listing, I want to congratuate these former colleagues who were laid off today for their dedicated service, especially trying desperately the past year to keep the newspaper going and sacrificing so much: Ralph Freso, photographer; Darryl Webb, photo editor; Tom Boggan, photographer; CJ Coppola office manager (and heart and soul of the Trib), Ari Cohn, news reporter; Hayley Ringle, news reporter; Gary Grado, news reporter; Blake Herzog, news reporter; David Woodfill, business reporter; Edward Gately, business reporter; Ed Taylor, business reporter; Les Willsey, sports reporter; Jess Harter, dining critic; Gary Smith, copy desk; Darren Barakat, copy desk; Mike Gossie, copy desk; Michael Welton, copy desk, Steve Burks, copy desk; Chris Adams, copy desk; and Matt Swartz, copy desk. Surely in the months leading up to today’s announcement, many other great employees moved on lest they might be laid off. I think of people like Mark Flatten, Scott Bordow, Rebecca Dyer and Bill Bertolino.

Journalism is still a lofty and proud profession that is essential to a vigorous democracy. May all that talent be re-employed. The mark these folks have made is enormous — in informative articles, great photos, stupendous layouts and page designs, clear editing and timely postings to the newspaper’s website. There is life after the Tribune, my friends, but what a ride it was.

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