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Sun Announces Closure Of Towson Office And Launch Of New Publication Called b

Frank Klein
-30-: Editors and reporters who have worked at the Sun's Towson office gathered recently at a local pub to mourn the bureau's loss.

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 3/5/2008

Barely a week after announcing the closure of The Sun's Baltimore County news bureau, the newspaper's publisher, Timothy Ryan, acknowledged to a gathering of 300 employees that it was a mistake, saying that "we will rectify the situation," according to several people who were present.

The Feb. 28 meeting came one day before the scheduled closing of the paper's Towson bureau and the relocation of several reporters and editors to the Sun's main newsroom, on Calvert Street downtown, about eight miles away ("Sun to Close Towson Bureau," The News Hole, Feb. 19). The Towson office is to become the headquarters of a new daily publication, called b, aimed at college students and people in their 20s.

B's launch, scheduled for April 14, has the Newspaper Guild, the union representing the paper's writers and reporters, asking questions. Newsroom sources and people who have applied for jobs at b say the publication is offering writers a salary of less than $30,000--about half of what union-represented Sun reporters earn.

When asked why Tribune Co. is sidestepping the union, Sun spokeswoman Linda Yurche turns the question around. "Why would they want it to be unionized?" she asks. "There are more than 100 publications with which we will compete in the Baltimore area. One is unionized. I don't know why you would assume that the default is that [b] would be unionized."

The Newspaper Guild's representatives beg to differ. "The thing that I would like to get across is we definitely think it's better for the people who work at b to be in a union, whether that's ours or some new union," says Tanika White, co-unit chair of the Newspaper Guild's Sun bargaining unit. She says union representation will not only mean better pay and benefits for the workers but also a better product, because the workers will stick around instead of job-hopping.

On Feb. 13, Tribune announced that it would cut between 400 and 500 employees from its national roster, mostly through buyouts. The Sun will cut about 45 people. At the same time, Sun reporters are being told that some of their work will be published in b, and for no more pay to the writers. "We were told because of intellectual property rights there was nothing we can do about it," a Sun employee says.

Sun employees wonder whether bought-out employees could return to work for other Tribune publications like b. They are wondering if Sam Zell, who bought the company last year for $8.2 billion, plans to reinvest in The Sun or in newspapers generally. Zell is going to visit Baltimore on March 13, sources at the paper say.

White says union representatives have given Tribune management a list of more than 60 questions regarding the b publication. She does not expect answers soon.

But if trifling things like union contract issues are not yet clear, other, more substantive matters have been announced proudly. At the Feb. 28 staff meeting, b's new editor promised that b's launch will be accompanied by "tchotchkes that will blow your mind."

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