Tribune lawyers, not funny

tribune.jpgTribune Co under Chief Executive Sam Zell has really loosened up in the past few weeks. Just think back to the April 1 Web site “redesign,” not to mention this subsequent so-crazy-it-was-surreal press release.

It’s all part of Zell’s goal of getting folks at the debt-riddled company not to take themselves too seriously, but someone forgot to tell the lawyers. Check out excerpts from the press release issued on Wednesday:

CHICAGO, April 23, 2008-Tribune Company today announced that Don Liebentritt has been named general counsel and that David Eldersveld, the company’s senior counsel/mergers and acquisitions, has been promoted to vice president/deputy general counsel and corporate secretary. Crane Kenney, who has served as Tribune’s general counsel since 1996, will step down to devote all his time to his duties as chairman of the Chicago Cubs.

Liebentritt is a senior advisor with Equity Group Investments (EGI), a private investment firm where he served as president from 2000 to 2005. He is also an officer and director of various private affiliates of EGI. Liebentritt will be responsible for directing all of the company’s legal affairs and will assume his new duties in mid-May.

Eldersveld, who joined Tribune in 2005, has been responsible for negotiating and managing the legal aspects of acquisitions, divestitures, joint ventures and other strategic investment transactions for Tribune and its business units. He will assume his new responsibilities immediately.

McClatchy CEO knows what we all want

You can say one thing for Gary Pruitt , McClatchy’s CEO and perhaps the most ardent defender of the newspaper business — he knows what we all want.

Here’s his comment from the analyst call he did today to discuss McClatchy’s first-quarter earnings :

We want to make sure we maintain our ability to generate revenue.

Who could ask for anything more?

Pruitt also showed off his lighter side in an exchange with Goldman Sachs’s Peter Appert. When the analyst said he was going to ask an unfair question, Pruitt responded, “That’s because I’m going to give you an unfair answer.”

Sulzberger masters hedge funds, Sudoku

‘Father of Sudoku’ Maki KajiNew York Times Co Chairman and Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. managed to deflect major shareholder insurrection this year by agreeing to offer two board seats to a dissident investor’s rival slate, where one presumes they might be somewhat more placid than when they were banging on the walls of the Gray Lady. Now it looks like he might be working the same charm on disaffected puzzlers.

At Tuesday’s annual shareholder meeting, one woman who said she was an investor in the company asked why the Times didn’t run a Sudoku puzzle. Such a move, she explained to Sulzberger as he stood before his audience at the lectern, would no doubt be a big boon for circulation.

Here’s Sulzberger’s response:

I know it’s something we’ve looked at but I cannot answer the question as to why we haven’t done it yet. Our puzzle is one of the great puzzles of the world and it continues to be a huge draw for us. But I will certainly make your thoughts known to the puzzle people.

NY Times buyout offers to become layoffs

The New York TimesAnother day, another story about job cuts and cost cutting in the publishing business.

This time its the New York Times, where an offer of voluntary buyouts may turn into involuntary dismissals.

Back in February, the company said it would eliminate 100 newsroom jobs amid the weakening economy and declining revenues from advertising and circulation. An attempt was made to keep the move bloodless but that didnt quite work. In an internal memo, assistant managing editor Bill Schmidt said the number of people expected to take buyouts likely won’t meet the 100 target.

Business, News mags bleed ad pages

newsweek.jpgAccording to the Publishers Information Bureau, advertising revenue for magazines declined in the first quarter, hurt by the automobile industry’s continued troubles and concerns about the economy. Total revenue fell 1.2 percent to $5.2 billion, down 1.2 percent, with pages down 6.4 percent.

Ad page declines were felt in Automotive; Technology and Home Furnishings & Supplies, while ad pages gained Food & Food Products, Retail and Media & Advertising.

Business and news magazines took it on the chin too. Ad pages for BusinessWeek tumbled 19.4 percent in the quarter while rival Forbes dipped 13.2 percent, and Fortune declined by 1 percent.

At Tribune, all the news that’s fit to eat

Sam Zell has a new round of ideas for how to fix Tribune. Read on for details. (Check Tribune’s temporarily redesigned Web site too, and remember: if you give people puppies, you can pay for Iraq coverage.)

CHICAGO, April 1, 2008-Tribune Company, the largest employee-owned media company in the nation, today announced it has changed its name to ZellCoMediaEnterprises Inc. or ZCMEINC. Zell, who made a fortune in real estate before deciding he’d like to dabble in an industry completely unfamiliar to him, announced the change in his record-setting 437th email to exhausted employees this year.

“H—, I put $315 million into this thing, and we’re on the hook for $13 billion-the least I ought to get is my name on the company’s stationery,” said Zell, who remains chairman and CEO of the newly named enterprise.

Fixing Tribune, one employee at a time

Sam Zell in his latest memo tells Tribune employees — the ones who haven’t been spiked — that he’s happy to see them so hard at work coming up with new ideas to help the publisher and broadcaster thrive. Employees have been so helpful, in fact, that Tribune has created an online “IdeaBank” for submissions, rather than the talktoSam AT address that he’s been using. As he explains below, this will let other people in the company see them.

By the way, participation is expected, Zell says. Now get to work.

As I’ve said repeatedly, the best ideas for this company will come from you, and we’ve seen a number of these innovations come to life in the past 60 days, including: a new morning show in Hartford, a free newspaper targeting young adults in Baltimore, a new national news section in Newport News, and spadia ads in Orlando and South Florida. We need to test a lot of ideas; we recognize that some won’t work. But, we’ll never find the ones that do work, unless we try them.
To open up this idea exchange across the company, we are launching an online IdeaBank, accessible via TribLink.
Going forward, I’d like you to direct your ideas to our IdeaBank, rather than sending them to This will enable others across the county to see them. I will still read and respond to all of the ideas that are submitted, and I still encourage you to e-mail me directly with comments and questions.
The IdeaBank has a crowd-sourcing element, so you can tag ideas you think are particularly good. You can also sort ideas by categories, and we’ll feature the top Revenue-Generating ideas, as determined by their popularity, on the front page of the site. We’re placing special emphasis on revenue-generating ideas because, as you know, that is our current focus. (One reminder: Ideas should cost significantly less than the revenue they produce.)
Most importantly, I want to convey that this is not some lighthearted initiative. I expect you to participate. Make deposits. Make withdrawals. Review the ideas to determine how you might adapt them to your business unit. And, managers, by reviewing and analyzing these ideas, you dramatically increase the probability of their viability.
So, be prolific. The future of our company is literally in your hands.

(Photo: Reuters)

… And the horse you rode in on (From the Craigslist files)

Exhibit No. 1 in how Craigslist rules the classified advertising business, courtesy of the Associated Press :

JACKSONVILLE, Ore. – A pair of hoax ads on Craigslist cost an Oregon man much of what he owned. The ads popped up Saturday afternoon, saying the owner of a Jacksonville home was forced to leave the area suddenly and his belongings, including a horse, were free for the taking, said Jackson County sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Colin Fagan. But Robert Salisbury had no plans to leave.

It gets worse:

On his way home he stopped a truck loaded down with his work ladders, lawn mower and weed eater. “I informed them I was the owner, but they refused to give the stuff back,” Salisbury said. “They showed me the Craigslist printout and told me they had the right to do what they did.” The driver sped away after rebuking Salisbury. On his way home he spotted other cars filled with his belongings. Once home he was greeted by close to 30 people rummaging through his barn and front porch.

Newspapers, more dead than read

h-bomb.jpgMonday brings a fresh wave of despair to the newspaper world as sagacious authors in various media outlets let us know that the economy and the neglect of good citizens are threatening the survival of print journalism.

First up is media columnist David Carr in the New York Times, who wrote on Monday about Sam Zell, Brian Tierney and OhSang Kwon, all of whom bought into papers and have found out that the old devils aren’t what they used to be:

The industry may not be touching bottom any time soon. Last year, overall newspaper revenues dropped by about 7 percent, pushed along primarily by the secular change of readers and advertisers fleeing to the Web. And publishing, along with many other kinds of businesses, is now staring at a full-bore recession, led by the credit crisis that is fanning out across the economy.