Friday, October 17, 2008

October it's kind of like August except with dead leaves

If you are actually reading this after two months have passed without a single post, I provide you with answers to your FAQ (frequently asked questions):

1) Why haven't there been any updates?
In August, I started my sophomore year at college and have been pretty wrapped up in that since. 

But, I also began to feel that my posts were becoming rather redundant. The blog was definitely started to speak out about changes and cover ups going on at the Orlando Sentinel (as well as its parent company, the Tribune) but I'm not so sure it was effective in that purpose. After a while the comment section turned from analyzing the situation and suggesting actions to be taken to just badmouthing people. And like I've said from day one, this blog is not about bashing the Sentinel or its employees, it is about speaking out about and fight back against the crisis affecting the paper and its employees. I feel like we got pretty far from that idea.

It seems that everyone (including me) has offered way more criticisms than solutions. Sam Zell maybe not care about you and your boss might be mean to you, but I don't think anybody (sane) is hoping for the collapse of this or any other Tribune paper. 

So, to return to the original purpose of the blog, I am not posting anything unless it is: a) some sort of plausible plan or suggestion for dealing with the crisis at the Sentinel (and within the Tribune); b) a personal account of your experiences with Sentinel management during this rough time; c) news about some sort of dire issue concerning Sentinel/Tribune employees.
*And honestly, I will still probably take a bit to post it because there is much to tend to at school.

2) There must be something newsworthy going on at the Sentinel/Tribune, why haven't you posted any of it?
If this newsworthy item fit into one of the categories above I was probably not aware of it. I am no longer in Orlando, so my sole source of information on the Sentinel is what you pass on to me.

When this blog started I asked for volunteers for co-posters- that offer still stands.

3) Is____ blog gone?
At least 80% of the time I am asked this I do not know or do not know well the author of this other blog. Therefore, you should probably e-mail that blog and find out from the most accurate source.

4) Why do I keep coming to this blog, no
 updates since mid-August?
Magic? Subconscious yearning to see the dramatic layout? I have no idea.

Things you didn't ask me or already have the answers to: 
  • The Columbia Journalism Review will have a story concerning labor reactions towards the crisis in the newspaper in their upcoming (Nov/Dec ) issue.
  • The Eagles of "Hotel California" fame played at Sam Zell's sweet 67th b-day party.

  • The Tell Zell blog has been on hiatus and people are convinced an extraordinary rendition is underway.
  •  On November 6, 2008, the Orlando Area FPRA (Florida Public Relations Association) is holding an event called "Crossing the Great Divide", and it is specifically for former journalists.  Tips for making a transition to public relations as a career will be shared and discussed at the event. "Crossing the Great Divide" is to be held on Nov. 6 at the Citrus Restaurant (821 N. Orange Ave) in the bar area from 6pm-8pm. 
          For more information contact:
          Jamie Floer, APR: 407-244-3685 

The mysterious magical world of retirement plans

* Too important not to post.

A Tribune retirement plan investigation (as shared with me by former Sentinel employee, Larry Guest):
The Tribune's Hewitt Retirement Center has admitted that Zell is raiding our pension fund, but gave up that info only after I hounded them for three months and filed a complaint with the U.S. Dept of Labor because Hewitt tried to stonewall my request for information.

The notice via "secure mail" in my Hewitt retirement account reads as follows:
"Currently the pension plan is overfunded. The Severence (sic) plan is being paid out from the pension plan because it is overfunded."
When I first heard rumors in early August that Zell was raiding the pension fund, I contacted Tribune human resources and was shuffled off to Hewitt (which handles pension payments). I wanted to know if the rumors were true and also if the pension fund is insured by PBGC, the federal corporation that guarentees most large corporate pension funds. Each call produced different answers. At first, yes Zell is taking money from the pension fund because it is overfunded. Then, no he's not. No one could tell me for sure if it is insured by PBGC, but they had "been told" it was. I asked for documentation and one Hewitt rep said that was not possible within their policy, but I might call PBGC.

I called PBGC and the rep I reached could not find evidence that any Tribune Company pension was insured by them. They suggested I call the Labor Dept, which I did and was told Tribune/Hewitt was required by law to answer my questions and send me a copy of the Summary Plan Description within 30 days. The Plan would confirm whether the fund is insured through PBGC. The Labor Dept rep advised me to put my inquiry and request for the Summary Plan Description in a certified to Hewitt. I did that on August 7.

By mid-September, I had received only an unsigned form letter acknowledging receipt of my certified letter but "because the information is confidential" the request could not be processed through the mail. For a week, I called almost daily and was given the runaround by reps who would not give their last name and said they couldn't talk to me unless I gave them my Hewitt password. I explained I didn't know I had a Hewitt password and the lady said she would have to assign me a password which I would receive in the mail "within 30 days." (There was no mention of a decoder ring.) After I used strong language, I was told an executive named "Andy" (no last name, of course) was working on sending me the Plan. I finally had the extreme good fortune to speak to Andy No Last Name on one occasion in September and he said the Plan would be sent to me in a few days. Ten days later, 9/16, Stacy No Last Name informed me that Andy No Last Name was on the case and would send me a copy of the Plan within 5 days.

TWENTY-TWO days later, I called and was told Andy was not available. I asked to leave a message with him and the lady rep said she couldn't do that because Hewitt didn't have voice mail. I asked if Hewitt was technologically advanced enough that she would write it on a piece of paper with lipstick or an old bullet and put it on Andy's desk. After a pregnant pause, she said she could. I told her to tell Andy No Last Name if I hadn't heard from him by noon the next day, I would be filing a complaint with the Labor Department.

At noon the next day, Oct 9, I called the Labor Department and was helped by a friendly lady who gave me both her first and last name and asked me to fax a copy of my Aug 7 certified letter, the receipt signature card and any other correspondence or phone notes to her, along with contact numbers to reach Tribune Company and Hewitt Retirement Center.

Funny thing happened the next day, Oct 10. I got a message from Hewitt that the Summary Plan Description was being put in the mail to me, though I haven't received it as of this writing on Oct. 13.

PS -- Because the first rep I reached at the Labor Department said PBGC phone reps were notorious about not knowing who is or isn't insured by them, I called PBGC again and reached an executive named Mike McMahan. He was able to confirm that, indeed, the Tribune pension plan is covered. So if Zell drains all the money from our pension fund, at least there is hope that PBGC will take over and keep us retirees out of the soup lines. If and when I receive this grand and glorious secret Plan from the Hewitt No Last Names, I will pass along any pertinent revelations.

Mr. Larry Guest has been retired from the Orlando Sentinel since July, 2000.