Tribune Co. Transfers Advocate Staff to Courant Offices

Move raises concerns

The Tribune Co. has ordered five business and administrative staffers from Advocate*Weekly to move their offices to the Hartford Courant’s offices this December.

In the world of big media, the transfer of a handful of employees from one office to another doesn’t exactly mark a global shift in the balance of power – but it is unprecedented for the Advocate*Weekly group of alt-weeklies.

The 244,000-circulation Advocate*Weekly group includes the Hartford Advocate, New Haven Advocate, Fairfield County Weekly and Valley Advocate in Easthampton, Mass.

“It causes consternation over here,” because it marked the first time Advocate*Weekly was told to do something rather than asked, says CEO Fran Zankowski. “People over here are saying that if they do this, what’s … next?”

In 1999, the Times Mirror Co., which then operated the Hartford Courant, purchased the Hartford Advocate along with its sister weeklies.

The new corporate bosses insisted they wouldn’t interfere with management of their acquisition, even though the transaction marked the first time a daily newspaper chain swallowed its weekly rivals.

But when an even bigger chain – the Tribune Co. – gobbled up Times Mirror a year later, staffers at the Advocate weeklies say that they hardly knew the suits were there.

That may be changing.

The Tribune Co. has assured Zankowski this relocation of personnel is merely a “business move.”

The Tribune Co., the Courant, and the Advocate papers all use different billing software. With this change, the billing and other business functions will operate in closer coordination.

The transferred staff include the Advocate*Weekly controller, bookkeepers, accountant, and human resource manager, all of whom were working in offices across the hall from the Hartford Advocate. Zankowski will remain in the Advocate office space. The move is to take place in early December.

“The Courant said they were trying to consolidate back-end functions and that was it,” says Zankowski.

Still, the veteran media executive understands how fickle chain ownership can be.

“They have given us assurances, but you never know what executives in other cities are thinking,” he said. “I know what the people in Hartford are thinking, and I trust them.”

The Tribune Co. on Friday launched a new Chicago weekday tabloid, RedEye, aimed at the same young readers that the Advocate papers target.

Crain’s Chicago Business says, “If RedEye succeeds, Chicago-based Tribune Co. figures to export the concept into the 11 other markets in which it owns daily newspapers.”

Zankowski and Hartford Advocate Publisher/Editor Janet Reynolds say they are not too worried that the chain’s flagship paper is starting its own “alternative” tabloid.

“I don’t think it means squat for the Hartford Advocate,” says Reynolds. “It’s been couched as an alternative to the daily and not an alternative to a weekly. Could I be proven wrong? Sure, but … I’m not worried for now.”

Matt Pulle is a staff writer for the Nashville Scene.

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