The entire charade was Tribune’s effort to test its collective defenses against Internet scams that tempt email recipients to click on a link that has the effect of interfering with computer systems or getting them to volunteer personal data. To bolster caution, many companies have taken to sending out these kinds of tests to their employees and taking note of how many fall for a scam.
But this particular fake enticement did not land well at Tribune, whose eight newspapers have endured furloughs and layoffs in recent years. “Fire everyone involved,” Baltimore Sun crime and courts reporter Justin Fenton wrote on Twitter.
By Wednesday evening, Tribune Publishing acknowledged in a statement to The Washington Post that it had made a mistake. “The company had no intention of offending any of its employees,” a spokesman said. “In retrospect, the topic of the email was misleading and insensitive, and the company apologizes for its use.”
The spokesman, Max Reinsdorf, said the exercise was a “regular, internal test” conducted by the company to reduce its vulnerability to email scams such as phishing, which typically mimics the appearance of correspondence from a friend or legitimate business.
The bonus language was used, he said, because “the company recognized that bad actors use this type of language regularly, and decided to use the language to simulate common phishing scams.”
There were spelling errors in the email that were meant to serve as tipoffs of its inauthenticity, including the salutation, “Congradulations Executives!!”
But despite the company’s intentions behind the exercise, employees found it to be particularly tone deaf and insulting — especially considering the financial austerity measures the company has taken to reduce the operating budget at its newspapers.
“After slashing our staff, closing newsrooms, furloughing reporters and cutting pay during a pandemic, @tribpub thought a neat lil way to test our susceptibility to phishing was to send a spoof email announcing large bonuses,” Fenton wrote.
Caroline Glenn, a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, called the exercise “disgusting.” “This, after @tribpub issued pay cuts & three weeks of unpaid furloughs to cut costs during the pandemic,” she wrote on Twitter.
“I’ve worked for Tribune for 5 yrs, received good reviews and 1 raise of <3%,” wrote Sentinel reporter Annie Martin. “I’m now paying more for utilities bc my living room is now my office. Now @tribpub wants to test me by trying 2 lure me into clicking on a link after promising a bonus. This is NO way to treat employees.”
“No words to describe how cruel this ‘test’ is from @tribpub,” another reporter from the newspaper wrote.