By paulgillin | March 2, 2008 - 10:03 am - Posted in Fake News

Your obedient editor has been traveling for much of the last week, but the death watch doesn’t stop. Catching up on a few ongoing stories:

Zell Hell

The Tribune Company’s new owner is making his presence felt, and he’s making a lot of people uncomfortable in the process:

  • Sam ZellZell visited the Washington bureau of the LA Times and said its 47-person staff is “bloated.” As Ken Reich tells it, Zell “suggested it should be smaller than the Times’ Orange County staff. L.A. Times reporters and editors in Washington are said to have loudly objected. It is more and more evident that Zell, a corrupt Chicago billionaire, has little regard for, and no understanding of the newspaper business. When he became Tribune Co. owner, he first said he would not cost cut his way to prosperity, but it has already become apparent he was lying.
  • You have to wonder if Zell got more than he bargained for? In response to a Tribune staffer’s question about his profanity-laced rhetoric, Zell lays into the bureaucracy, cynicism and culture of entitlement he sees around the company. “I’m trying to get your attention,” Zell shouts. “How do I get into you a sense of urgency? If we keep operating the way we’ve been operating in the past, there IS no future. When is this organization going to face up to the fact that we’re on the edge?” The seven-minute video clip is worth watching to get a sense of Zell’s motivational style.
  • Zell reportedly wants to incubate ideas in small papers and then pass them along to the mother ships in LA and Chicago. Steve Outing thinks it should be the other way around.
  • Speaking of Chicago, The staff cartoonist from the Evanston Roundtable writes of the collapse of the Chicago newspaper – not just the Trib and Sun-Times, but the free weeklies and advertisers as well. Some of those alternative papers practiced pretty good journalism, she says, but everything’s now been dumbed down to reach the lowest common denominator reader. There’s an interesting observation about commuter behavior that any urbanite will value: 20 or 30 years ago, you’d get on a subway train to find a wall of newspapers. Today, it’s just everyone talking on their cell phones.

Orange County Register publisher proposes radical overhaul

Terry Horne, the new publisher of the Orange County Register offers a survival plan. It includes cuts in the main newspaper (which laid off 25 people last month), expansion of its line of free community weeklies and more focus on Web content for young readers. Particularly interesting is a plan to focus the content of the daily newspaper on an older audience.

However, over at OC Weekly, Nick Schou isn’t buying Horne’s story. He claims the exec is doing a deal with a media kingpin that will result in more layoffs and cutbacks. He’s even iated a Death Watch. That’s becoming quite the thing to do nowadays.

Prescriptions for the Times

What do to about The New York Times? Big investors are ready to force change, the holding company strategy is tanking and Marc Andreesseen has launched a death watch.

Jeff Jarvis relates an intriguing reader comment suggesting survival strategies for the New York Times and the Boston Globe in “reverse syndication.” Basically, the Times sets itself up as the national newspaper of record and ditches the New York market. It syndicates its content to a network of locally-focused newspapers, which have sold off their expensive production and distribution assets and which are now essentially contract publishing operations working through a variety of media.

The former local newspaper publishers would now produce a portfolio of hyper-local publications in print and online and syndicate much of the content from other sources, including The New York Times. By selling off the expensive presses and delivery trucks (which wouldn’t be easy, BTW), they become more nimble and focused. The Times continues to deliver high-quality reporting at a high level. It’s a novel idea, though I’m not sure how the interest of quality journalism would be served. It seems that the Times would aggregate all the best reporting and the local companies would distribute variations of the Metro in their markets.

Meanwhile, Ken Doctor suggests that the Times should exit the local newspaper business.



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