Jun 6, 2008

On their pale horses

Sam Zell and Randy Michaels have plans for the dozen newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, that make up the Tribune Co. And the plan is to cut as much news out of them as possible, shovel in as many ads as possible, and eliminate as many jobs as possible.

And they're in hurry to get started:

Mr. Michaels said of the changes, “This is going to happen quickly.”

Mr. Zell said, “I promise you he’s underestimating the level of aggressiveness with which we are attacking this whole challenge.”

That's from a New York Times story today that follows on a Zell-Michaels doom memo from yesterday. Here's a little more from the story on the Zell-Michaels solution:

They said the company would aim for a 50-50 split between ads and news across all the news pages (excluding classified ads and advertising supplements). Mr. Michaels said this would mean eliminating 500 pages of news a week across all of the company’s 12 papers.


Eliminating 500 pages of news should free up many writers and editors from having to come into work anymore. But don't worry about them, they're arrogant people who just don't get it. Indeed, Zell and Michaels have determined there are too many writers and editors around already:

Mr. Michaels said that, after measuring journalists’ output, “when you get into the individuals, you find out that you can eliminate a fair number of people while eliminating not very much content.”

Aside from instituting a company wide byline count, the two visionaries have found another prescription to save on writers and editors: a liberal application of maps, graphics and charts.

In his note to employees, Mr. Zell wrote that Tribune papers would be redesigned, beginning with The Orlando Sentinel, on June 22. Surveys show readers want “maps, graphics, lists, ranking and stats,” he wrote. “We’re in the business of satisfying customers, and we will respond to what they say they want.”

So readers want half of their paper to be advertisements? Something - the $12.8 billion in debt, perhaps? - tells me Zell and Michaels are being responsive to someone other than the customer.

2 comments:

Shintzer said...

You didn't highlight the most striking figure cited by Michaels. "The average journalist at the Los Angeles Times produces about 51 pages a year, while in Hartford, Conn., the average is more like 300 pages a year."

The inexorable conclusion: get rid of a bunch of those non-productive people and crack the whip on those who remain.

One question: how could any reporter, even at a sweatshop, produce 300 pages of newsprint a year when there are only 250 working days in a year? We're not talking stories but pages! Perhaps they're counting wire copy, which there's a lot more of at a local paper like the Courant, versus the L.A. Times. The comparison hardly holds, then.

In any case, the conclusion probably wouldn't be any different. You're already paying for your AP subscription. Just slash your staff and fill the space with more premade "content."

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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