Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Abrams: Tribune Should Study USA Today's Success

by Bob Norman
The Daily Pulp

We have the latest think piece from Tribune Co. Innovation Chief Lee Abrams and it's another doozy. I can't begin to capture the Abrams vibe, but here are some highlights:

-- He proposes to "blow up" an underperforming TV station in the Tribune chain and totally "rethink" the medium. His ideas include counting down stories and putting a timer to show viewers what's coming up (both of which are already staples of some cable news programs). He wants the news program to include a "Crime Center." Abrams also suggests going to one anchor to kill the "mindless happy talk" and interviewing people on the street.

"Every day, an average person is interviewed about top stories," Abrams writes. "We've heard what the experts think, lets open it up to REAL people. This could be red hot. What the average citizen's take on the topics is."

Finally he wants to get the talent out of all those stodgy suits: "What with the suits and ties. I'm not suggesting sloppy...but business casual...maybe even eccentric as the Crime expert could be in a Columbo styled rumpled sweater."

-- Abrams details the Hartford Courant's plan for inauguration coverage, which will include a "ten-day countdown," an "MLK day," and a poem commissioned from African American poet Marilyn Nelson.

-- Saying it might "rankle traditionalists," he links an Advertising Age story about USA Today headlined "Why Brevity and Pretty, Pretty Colors Still Work," telling Tribune staffers "it never hurts to study success."

Abrams says "Part of the scenario is that there's SO much pressure to meet revenue goals that the content re-invention is off the radar. Cant worry about that when there are more pressing issues. Well, as with our newspapers, it's never been more important to re-invent CONTENT and HOW WE EXECUTE, in ADDITION to the extreme revenue pressures... *BLOW IT UP. OK, not where it's performing well, but I think maybe we need to isolate a station that is NOT doing well and do a complete re-think..."

"TOP 10. Number the stories. Give them a "handle" "In tonight's Top Ten: #1 Obama announces he's a Muslim; #2 Pirates sink US Sub; #3 etc......

*LEFT/RIGHT: We are in a polar political society. This is Pure 100% argument starting tension. A local Shana Alexander thing. No shortage of topics.

*CLASSIC NEWS: A 5 years ago, 10 years ago flashback segment. Classic works in EVERY media...why not TV. Mine the archives!

*HOME MOVIES: A daily local YouTube.

NEWSPAPERS: What if we REALLY balanced;

*Great writing
*Story selection that was always dead on the mark
*Stunning design
*Edgy and noticeable marketing
*Realistic staffing levels
*Competitive focus (beyond getting the story first...I'm talking re-claiming news dominance to the mainstream)
*Web Interaction that was, well, really web interaction
*Technological advances that rival the pure tech businesses
*Ad Sales that were revenue machines."

See it is in its entirety:


If Tribune had any respect for, and took in to consideration the input from, their broadcast TV employees, particularly the 70% of that are union represented, some actual innovation might happen.

Cutting back on quality control, cutting staff to bare minimums, and generally throwing nickles around like manhole covers is no way to promote innovation.

Dump the CW affiliation, hire the best writers and producers to create quality product, put your experienced station crews to work making quality TV shows.

Take a lesson from USA Network, TBS, Showtime, and Lifetime, and while you're at it hire away some of their creative staff.


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