About Me

  • I've spent more than 25 years at the intersection of traditional and digital journalism. I've helped to invent ways to read and interact with the news and advertising on computer screens and iPads, and before that, I wrote news stories on typewriters and six-ply paper. I co-founded WashingtonPost.com and hyperlocal pioneers Backfence.com and GrowthSpur; served as editor of Philly.com; taught media entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland; and have done product-development and strategy consulting for all sorts of media and Internet companies and startups. You can read more about me here.

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« Looking for the Hyperlocal Magic Bullet | Main | Lipstick on a Pig »

June 10, 2008


Charlie Barthold

What I don't think most journalists understand is that this is how businesses run. And this is how most workers see the world. And since newspapers are a business, they are subjected to market forces. A relative of mine works for Zell and says he's very easy to work for -- figure out how the company will succeed (make money) and he will leave you alone. That's why when most Americans read articles about cuts at newspapers and hear journalists complaining about "the way things should work" they have no clue what the journalists are talking about. As I've said before -- what Zell is doing is going to be emulated by more and more publishers.

Wm. F. Hirschman

I have let 99.9 percent of the discussion on all of the blog blather across the ‘net go unchallenged for a weeks, but a clarification is required here.

While I would not challenge that some big city newsrooms have been bloated and may even still be running with some dead wood, the majority of the Tribune properties that I’m familiar with, very specifically the South Florida Sun-Sentinel among others, are pointedly not bloated or filled with dead wood. Instead, the surviving staffers are burning out from overload – even after the scope of what is being covered has been significantly sliced back. It is irresponsible and a profound insult to these hard-working professionals to paint the entire industry or the entire Tribune company with such a sloppy brush.

Eric Deggans

As I've noted in my own blog -- click on my name to read it -- newspapers' problems aren't slacker employees. Certainly, at my newspaper, we jettisoned most of those in our first rounds of belt-tightening.

Many people at the Times who write sporadically are doing so because they're working on longer term projects which take time to assemble.

Our problem is that no one has figured out a new economic engine for the the big American newspaper. Simply cutting expenses won't build a new future for print journalism -- we've got to figure out a way to pay for the in-depth journalism which distinguishes us from all other information sites.

And Zell's approach doesn't seem to really address that at all...


Yes, let's keep the reporters who appear to work hard, but don't work smart ... the ones who turn every press release into a story only suitable for a deep inside page ... the reporters who think 12 stories a week is more important than 5 GOOD stories. For this younger generation, the idea of quantity and quotas is killing the learning curve and quashing enterprise. For older, allegedly seasoned reporters, too often are they filling space so as not to get noticed for a lack of quality.


Hooray for Sam Zell, and good for you to point out there may be some merit in what he is trying to do. I personally suspect former Times Mirror execs put a bee in his ear about the bloat in the L.A. Times, which is notorious amongst its California for its leisurely highly paid sinecures. Proof of this is the growth of suburban dailies around LA, which are beating the LAT on its home ground, and eating into the LAT's traditional circulation territory.
And think of what Zell is saying: reporters in Hartford, Conn., are on average six times more productive than those at the Los Angeles. What's worse is that the LAT, thanks to its ads, has a massive news hole to fill, compared to Hartford.
No, newspapers are not widget factories. But Zell is right to point out they are businesses and some measure of productivity is to be expected in return for paychecks, especially as revenues decline. My suspicions are that much of the screaming on the blogs about Zell is that newspapers have gone through the buyout phase of getting rid of higher-paid senior veterans, and now are increasing the drumbeat for those left working, who felt their jobs secure.


Mark: You're right about productivity. I decided just to allude to it in my posts because it's the central issue here, I think. That issue I think is finding intelligent, highly monetizable ways to extend journalism into the second decade of the century, and Zell's people so far have shown a stunning paucity of those ideas. On productivity, though, Randy Michaels' numbers are instructive. The L.A. Times has long been a lumbering paper, which shows in its pages and in its productivity. There are gems in its pages (and online), but it's been a sluggish culture for far too long, something old Tribune never figured out how to tackle.

It's interesting that both Murdoch and Zell have made points about needing more shorter-form stories and thinner editing ranks. Despite my numerous differences with them, they're right about that. As Alan Mutter pointed out in recent post, blogging has taught us all new lessons about editing (how many layers needed, etc.). These lessons haven't been well-applied at the Journal (but soon will be) or at the Times or lots of other papers. In this case, journalists themselves bear fault, for not having reinvented their own craft, ahead of the current tsunami. The reinvention would not have stopped the tsunami, but it would have given journalists a greater chance of success as new owners sweep in.

St. Elizabeth

Spoken like someone who has not worked at, or had the distinct displeasure of reading, a Singleton newspaper. When you really see where this line of thinking takes you, you start to see it is a prescription for suicide. But it's the sort of suicide that pleases shareholders (short-term gainf or horrific long term circ losses), and the people who implement it get their bonuses (or, in the case of Zell, the chance to try a fun challenge). The losers are the community and of course the workers.

This is not a road toward leaner newspapers. It is a road to pathetic newsletters attached to once-prud newspaper flags.


Randy Michaels crowed that byline counting was a "new" concept for Tribune.
If had had bothered asking, he would have found that some Tribune papers (the Sun, for example) have always done byline counts and they are included in annual reviews.
Nothing to see here. Move along.
But I'm nitpicking.

Mark Potts

"Nothing to see here. Move along"--is about a perfect encapsulation of what's so wrong with so many journalists and newspaper executives. Stick up your nose at anything resembling progress or innovation (even if it seems ill-advised), stick with the status quo--and you'll keep wondering why jobs, advertisers, readers and eventually whole newspapers are disappearing.


Ed, what in the world are you talking about? The suburban dailies are beating the LAT? By what metric?

Speaking from firsthand experience, I promise you we're NOT beating the Times. Not in circulation, not in revenue, not in growth. The Los Angeles Newspaper Group - which manages all those little dailies - lost circulation at twice the national average. The Times beat the average.

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