By paulgillin | July 15, 2008 - 3:27 pm - Posted in Facebook

David HillerTo no one’s great surprise, Los Angeles Times Publisher David Hiller (left) resigned today. The clock had been ticking on the embattled executive since an embarrassing incident a little more than a month ago when it was revealed that Hiller was planning to turn the paper’s weekly magazine into an advertorial without consulting Editor Russ Stanton. When the subterfuge became public, it was Stanton who set the record straight in a clear public snub of his boss.

The LA Times pulls no punches in documenting its own dirty laundry.  “The paper has experienced the steepest drop in cash flow of any in the Tribune chain of 11 daily newspapers,” writes staffer Michael Hiltzik. “Hiller also acquired a reputation among Tribune brass as an indecisive leader…the Times has been without an advertising manager since February, for example.”

The timing couldn’t have been worse for staff morale, coming as the paper begins cutting 250 jobs. Hiller is the third publisher in eight years, and he’s overseen a revolving door of editors who have left under unpleasant circumstances. The news also comes just one day after Chicago Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski announced that she would leave the paper after more than seven years at the helm.

What’s really going on here? A changing of the guard that isn’t unusual at companies that have been sold during troubled times. After a year on the job, CEO Sam Zell has decided that the only way to right the Tribune Co. ship is through severe cutbacks. Executives who don’t get with the program are going to be quickly shown the door. During the reign of Zell, anyone with bottom-line responsibility who doesn’t move quickly will be moved aside. Publishers at other Tribune Co. properties should see the handwriting on the wall. It’s all about revenue right now, which is appropriate when the noose of huge interest payments is staring you in the face.

A tumultuous as these events are, they’re actually a positive sign for Tribune leadership. A company in such deep trouble needs a strategy. It’s almost inconsequential whether it’s a good strategy or a popular one. Simply getting people pulling in the same direction is an improvement. Say what you will about Rupert Murdoch, you can’t deny that he has acted quickly and decisively to shoot dissenters and bring in his own team to implement a new strategy for The Wall Street Journal. As a result, the paper is generally acknowledged to be making rapid progress in its campaign to challenge The New York Times. Zell’s biggest mistake so far may have been to let things deteriorate so much before taking action. Now he’s getting something done.



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