The Tribune Company Hits Up Reporters For Phone Bills

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Looks like some reporters and photographers will soon be hit up with an unexpected phone bill from the Tribune Company -- and then fired if they don't get in line. Below is a memo sent out by the newspaper's controller, Darren Beevor, to all staffers with company-issued cell phones and/or Blackberries (which is a good portion of the editorial staff):

July 19, 2006

TO: Sun-Sentinel Company Employees With Company-Provided Cingular Phone/BlackBerry Service

FROM: Darren Beevor - Controller

RE: Cingular Phone/BlackBerry Usage Policy

All employees who use company-provided Cingular phones/BlackBerries are reminded that the company policy is for them to be used for business purposes only. A review of recent invoices determined that a large number of calls are being regularly made that appear to be for non-business purposes. Some of these calls are international, some are extremely lengthy local calls.

While occasional use for important personal matters is understandable and explainable, continued misuse will result in disciplinary action. Other exceptions to the policy are Cingular to Cingular calls as they have no financial impact to the company.

Beginning this week, I will distribute details of what have been deemed to be questionable and excessive calls to appropriate managers within the company, with the goal of determining whether these calls were of a business or personal nature. If it is determined the calls are personal, employees who made the calls will be expected to reimburse the company for the cost of the calls. As I mentioned previously, continued personal usage will result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.

If you have any questions and/or need any additional information, please contact me at extension 4245. Thanks.

There will be some conflict here. You have to wonder how it will be determined whether certain calls are of a "business or personal nature." And this idea of hitting up employees for charges before even warning them of a problem seems a bit much. But hey, God forbid a working-stiff reporter actually catch a break from a giant newspaper company, whose executives make seven figures while reporters are lucking to make mid-five.

But you can't say the Sentinel doesn't have a knack for timing. This thrifty move comes at the same time they're having a lively discussion over on Romenesko about low salaries for reporters and the corporate trend of "starving the beast." The Sentinel has apparently put the beast, at the very least, on a very strict diet.

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