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Questions about future linger after Tribune meeting

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CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) -

Tribune Co.'s CEO Peter Liguori told employees in a companywide meeting Wednesday that to put a definitive price tag on any potential budget cuts was premature, leaving already anxious employees even more perplexed about the future, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Liguori led the 22-minute town hall meeting from WGN-TV studios at 2501 W. Bradley Place in Chicago. The meeting was broadcast to Tribune newsrooms and other company sites across the United States so employees could tune in.

"A lot of people went to this meeting expecting really solid information and didn't get anything," said one Chicago-based employee who would speak only on condition of anonymity. The employee described the meeting as "upbeat but vague."

A second local employee added, "Nothing has been established as a firm target" for cost cutting.

In the middle of his presentation, Liguori interviewed comedian Arsenio Hall about his new late-night talk show in what the first employee described as "boosterism bull---- ."

"The Arsenio Hall Show, "which premiered on Sept. 9, is broadcast by the Tribune Broadcasting station group, including on WGN-TV in Chicago and KTLA-TV in Los Angeles. Hall said it was great to be part of the Tribune company and that he might make another movie with Eddie Murphy, one Chicago-based employee said.

The companywide meeting marked the first time Liguori had spoken to employees following news reports last week that the Tribune must offset a projected revenue decline of up to $100 million.

A $100 million budget cut could affect operations across Tribune Co. publishing holdings, including the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Los Angeles Times, Hartford Courant, Orlando Sentinel, South Florida Sun Sentinel and the Morning Call, according to a published report.

Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman has called the budget-cutting report inaccurate and said the company is undergoing regular budget reviews.

"We're trying to determine how to put our publishing businesses on the best possible footing for the long term, to make them as strong as possible," Weitman said in a statement.

The second Tribune employee who talked to the Sun-Times said Liguori vowed to look at ways to reward valued employees in light of the fact that the rank-and-file have had no bonuses or pay raises in at least four years.

The CEO reassured everyone that compensation is being reviewed so it can be done fairly, the employee said.

Speculation is that Tribune Co. budget-slashing is necessary to make the print publications more attractive so they can be sold or otherwise spun off.

Insiders who also spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity said that talk has already surfaced of cutting costs by transferring to India an undetermined amount of digital work, such as that done at Tribune Media Services.

"If we're going to hang in this business, we're going to have to control it and do it for less and figure out what the efficiencies can be," one insider said.

"The best ideas in efficiency will win. There are probably none, if any, sacred cows," the insider said.

Yet another employee said no one knows of any details, but no one is expecting mass layoffs.

"We're like a bunch of ostriches with our heads in the sand," one said. "Budget cuts of 5 percent to 10 percent don't necessarily mean a staff cut [of that same magnitude], but we're hoping for the best."

"We lost so many people with the slashing and burning in 2009, I hope we're not facing that again," the employee said. "Hopefully the economy will improve or something magical will happen and it won't be necessary."

In a memo to employees on Feb. 27, Liguori said it was important to regularly get the company's employees together "so we can update you on the business, share some success stories, see what's on your mind and take your questions."

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