Sam Zell: You’re fired! Now let’s move on…

July 23, 2008

Tribune Co is making good on its promise to use its own reporters to break news about Tribune. It’s not the company’s fault if that news is depressing.

Chief Executive Sam Zell held a conference call with reporters at its papers on Tuesday, prompting a profusion of press coverage in Tribune-owned publications on Wednesday. Some of the most interesting excerpts showed up in The Hartford Courant:

Tribune Co. CEO Sam Zell Tuesday defended his decision to order large cuts at newspapers across the chain, including The Courant, saying that no one could have predicted the dramatic drop in advertising revenue that followed his takeover of the company seven months ago.

Zell, in a conference call with Tribune reporters, said newspapers are confronting “some of the worst advertising numbers in the history of the world,” and said the only alternative to eliminating employees and cutting the size of the papers would be to allow the businesses to fail.

“The reality is, what’s my choice?” Zell asked. “Do I try and create a business that can be viable and preserve two-thirds of the jobs? Or do I let all 100 percent of them go by the wayside because I’m not willing to confront the realities of the environment?”

What about his desire, expressed earlier this year, that he not make the business all about cutting jobs?

“I don’t believe it’s fair to hold me to the sentence that I expressed when I was [in Hartford] six months ago,” Zell said. “I don’t know that anybody has a frame of reference on advertising revenue destruction that, in effect, is as bad as this, going all the way back to the Depression. So I think the circumstances are dramatically worse than anyone could have possibly predicted.”

More coverage here:

The Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania)

Newsday (Long Island, New York)

Chicago Tribune

The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland)

For reporters who cover Tribune, this is all very interesting stuff. Here’s hoping cost cuts don’t force those papers to cut the Tribune beat.

(Photo: Reuters)

4 comments

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[...] of their former selves. It’s one of the many tragedies hitting all the Tribune papers since Sam Zell and his massive debt took over. It’s a damn, damn [...]

This whole saga has seemed increasingly surreal to me. I mean if you wrote up the facts so far into a proposal for a work of fiction and took it to a book editor, you’d likely be told that the story would require too much suspension of disbelief on the part of potential readers. That’s the mark of a true nightmare when the tale is actually true, and I cannot even imagine what it’s been like for employees (and all those former employees) at the papers as they live through it.

Posted by Liz R. | Report as abusive

Hopefully more news sites will make the transition to offering online-only content that is of equal or higher quality than their print media offerings. This appears to be the best way to increase readership and advertising revenue.

Oh, and by the way, I agree that this would make for an excellent novel.

The fact that the messenger (and hatchet man) is extremely unlikable, doesn’t negate the reality that newspapers are businesses that must make money. In terms of content, I think one area that hasn’t been nearly explored enough is diversity of thought. Newspaper are nowhere near the homogenous left-wing dens of closemindedness that many in the right believe they are. They are, however, in general very left of center and in need of fresh voices. The right was pushed into the media ghetto known as AM Radio ( not to mention the internet ) and they built it into prime media real estate. Too bad old-school media executives cannot see the forest through the trees so as to realize that the right is not extremist as a rule.
Technically, newspapers are flocking, belatedly, to the internet and doing things that they should have been doing 10 years ago. The industry is ancient and not very maneuverable. I’m looking for a handful of Mavericks with new paradigms to jumpstart the newspaper industry. That won’t happen from within the industry, I’m afraid. I expect more painful changes and evolution. Less so when the economy bucks up.

Posted by austexcal | Report as abusive