Tribune Publishing Out-Evils Itself With Phishing Email Promising Bonuses

The company sent staffers a fake email touting executive bonuses of up to $10,000 for "commitment to excellence."
Scott Olson/Getty

The morons running the Tribune Publishing Company, the CEO of which earlier this year fled an open Slack channel rather than respond to workers’ concerns about management slashing their pay while lining shareholders' pockets, have reached new levels of cartoonish villainy.

Earlier today, the company sent staffers at Tribune-owned newspapers including the Chicago Tribune, the New York Daily News, and the Baltimore Sun, as well as lesser-known but critical local papers around the country including the Morning Call, the Hartford Courant, and the Capital Gazette, an email offering executives bonuses for “ongoing commitment to excellence at Tribune Publishing.” The email, which appeared to come from human resources and the subject line of which read “Executive Bonuses-Confidential,” said, “We are pleased to inform you that we are providing targeted bonuses between 5,000 and 10,000 dollars this year. Tribune Publishing is able to provide this bonus as a direct result of the success created by the ongoing efforts to cut our costs!”


The email then directed recipients to log in using a provided link to view the bonus and to “be advised that you may deposit all or a portion of your bonus into the company RRSP program.” When employees clicked on the link, however, it said “Oops! You clicked on a simulated phishing test!” and reminded the reader to follow three rules to stay safe online.

Workers at Tribune newspapers, already dealing with a year of buyouts and permanent pay cuts, as well as cowardly and greedy management, were disgusted. The Chicago Tribune Guild wrote, “This is a heartless, insulting and tone-deaf exercise, @tribpub. What a profoundly cruel way to taunt journalists after you just stole three weeks of our pay to hand more cash to shareholders and hedge fund vultures." Individual staffers weighed in, too:

Another employee pointed out that it was doubly nefarious because it promised executives bonuses, not staffers.

Earlier this year, Tribune Publishing, which is backed by the odious private equity firm Alden Global Capital (best known for draining the lifeblood out of local news), offered buyouts to employees who had been working for more than eight years. Then it instituted rolling cuts and furloughs for employees before announcing in April that there would be permanent pay cuts of 2 to 10 percent for all non-union employees making more than $67,000 a year. At the time, CEO Terry Jimenez generously said he would forgo his salary—$575,000 a year, per an SEC filing—for two weeks. As VICE reported earlier this year, employees didn’t take the news lying down. In a general Slack channel, staffers launched a day-long action to roast executives for their greed and incompetence, and express their legitimate concerns about how they could stay afloat given the pay cuts and furloughs. The messages included: “Tribune gives $9 million on shareholder dividends, and then tells employees it's critical that they take pay cuts and furloughs that will save them just $556,979” and “I can't afford three weeks without pay.”


In response, Jimenez deactivated his Slack account; at some point after the day’s collective action, the general channel was closed to staff participation. But employees still found ways to sound off about today’s latest insult in other channels. According to a screenshot from a Chicago Tribune slack channel, one employee wrote:

“Great idea, whoever thought to troll employees with that HR phishing email. Hope whoever had the idea never falls on ten years of hard times behind their employer’s poor management and general indifference to the quality of life of their employees. It’s difficult to describe how disrespectful that was, and I’ve seen all manner of disrespect from this company. I would have posted this in #general but apparently only bosses are allowed to post in there. Have a nice day.”

Max Reinsdorf, a spokesman for Tribune Publishing, said:

Today the company conducted a regular, internal test to assess and reduce its current phishing and malware risk level. Based on input provided by the company’s cybersecurity team and advisors, the content of that test included language regarding employee bonuses. Having fallen victim to attacks of this nature before, the company recognized that bad actors use this type of language regularly, and decided to use the language to simulate common phishing scams.

The company had no intention of offending any of its employees. In retrospect, the topic of the email was misleading and insensitive, and the company apologizes for its use.

This story was updated after publication to add the name of a Tribune spokesman.

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