Friday, October 29, 2010

At Long Last, Ringing Out the Zell Era at Tribune

By: Brian Lowry - Variety

All journalists are challenged in this current digital age, but few have been as abused or ill-served as those under the stewardship of Tribune Co. since real-estate billionaire Sam Zell took over the Chicago-based conglomerate. Fortunately, that sorry chapter is one step closer to being over.

Zell's hire as CEO, Randy Michaels, has finally resigned, after dragging the company through various rounds of staff cuts (to be fair, there have been a lot of those all over) and a series of decided unique embarrassments tied to a frat-boy management team and culture, handily delineated in David Carr's recent New York Times page one opus.

Clearly, Michaels was in over his head, and exhibited a kind of contempt for traditional journalism that was disguised as "innovation" -- a word that will never quite be viewed the same thanks to Lee Abrams' dim-witted memos.

Still, the blame for these last few years at Tribune ultimately resides with Zell, who swooped in, acquired the company using an arcane financing formula and proceeded to gut it, refusing to admit that what he didn't know about media would have filled the Tribune Tower. Or as Rem Reider put it in the American Journalism Review:

"Zell was one of those rich guys who thought because he had so much money, he knew more about everything than anyone else. With his free-wheeling ways, unencumbered by bureaucrats and uptight, old-school notions about journalism, he was going to turn things around."

Consumer newspapers and to a slightly lesser extent local television have already been dying the death of a thousand small cuts. Those at Tribune helped hasten the process, however, and along the way made it even more brutal on employees than it needed to be.

They deserve each other, and their own special place in, er. Zell.

Here's the key passage from the new four-member management committee that will replace Michaels, consisting of Don Liebentritt, Chief Restructuring Officer, Nils Larsen, Chief Investment Officer, Tony Hunter, President, Publisher and CEO of Chicago Tribune Company, and Eddy Hartenstein, Publisher and CEO of Los Angeles Times Communications.

Let's hope it's true:

"We also believe that Tribune’s greatest asset is its employees and we know how much pride you take in your work and in this company. During the last few weeks the company has drawn a lot of media attention, much of it negative. That coverage has diverted attention from the things that matter most: The quality of our media products, the talent and dedication of our people, and the very real progress that we’ve made over the last two-and-a-half years. Now, it is time to move forward and focus on the future."

Visit to become a Variety subscriber.

No comments: