Nov 24, 2008

Zell's all business

Sam Zell answers questions about newspapers in a six-pager from Portfolio. Topics include the Titanic, the Pulitzer prize and spadias (those terrible wraparound ads that swallow the front page). Here's a few choice exchanges (questions are paraphrased by me):

Why did Zell buy a newspaper company?
I don't think that I ever woke up in the morning and said, "I want to own a newspaper." I think that the attraction to the Tribune deal was the ability to put the deal together, to apply a business patina to what has historically been a nonbusiness business, and ultimately test the thesis as to whether or not there is a place for the newspaper in the 21st century.
Are newspapers different from other types of businesses?
I think the newspaper industry truly still doesn't understand that it is in a business with customers, and the business must reflect the needs and demands of the customer. And to the extent that we don't do that, we will disappear.
The first audience question came from Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine, who first reminded everyone he was "attacked" in the pages of Slate and then asked how Zell planned to change the culture of journalism:
I'm on the record as saying that, you know, I think that part of the problems with the newspaper industry revolve around the fact that the newsrooms have basically never recovered from Watergate, and everybody wants to be Woodward and Bernstein, and that's the definition of success. Obviously, the newspaper business must be a great deal more than that. So I think we are making progress. I think we are changing the paradigms, many of which were just unwritten rules that we don't put ads on the front page. "Why not?" "Well, because we've never put ads on the front page." "Well, that's a good reason not to." You know, "Well, what do you mean you want to put a spadia on the newspaper?" 'Well, somebody is willing to pay us $100,000 for one day for a spadia on the newspaper." "I know, but it will destroy the integrity of the front page." I said, "For $100,000, you know, who's kidding who? What business are we in?"
(via Romenesko)


Anonymous said...

addios sam,and farewell dean. no forwarding address required.

you may want to ask bush for a pardon before his term ends.

Mark Masek said...

I guess I lost my job at the Times so Zell could "test the thesis." It's nice to know I was just one of his lab rats.