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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« The Twelve Days of Chandra | Main | Unlucky 13 »

July 24, 2008

Comments

kpaul

meanwhile, out here on the front lines (behind enemy lines?), others are trying to build new models from the ground up. (none of the cash or assets that the big boys have, but also none of the debt...)

and without the debt, etc., i think i have a good shot at building a new print product in the area. the first issue went over well - with both readers and business owners. the second issue is attracting advertisers (some big ones that will cut into the local daily paper's revenue stream...)

there's still a lot of work to do, but with very little investment, i may be able to jump start a print operation to cover costs (over the next few years, til the web matures more) and even grow a little.

all the while, the community (yes, AFP has a thriving one), continues to grow. the readers of the website have scooped the local newspaper a handful of times over the last 30 days. more than once! and they're unpaid volunteers at this point!

anyway, my point is that there is hope for journalism by attacking the problem from outside the current system. don't let these signs of scrambling by the media megaliths frighten or depress you. soon, the first wave of grassroots journalists (the ones who starved and bled for the cause) will blossom into something that can help fund and shape the second great wave of grassroots journalists that will begin to hit in a year or so.

the newspapers lost touch with the people. (sometime around Watergate maybe?) that's a costly mistake that's quite often overlooked as the newspapers scramble to stay alive - dinosaurs with a rapidly depleting food supply.

the yapping poodle,
K. Paul Mallasch - Publisher
http://www.kpaulmedia.com

Mads Kristensen

Quite 'funny' post. In Europe I think you could pretty much replace all mention of Tribune Co. with Mecom and Sam Zell with David Montgomery. The similarities are striking.

On a seperate note these are the times where innovative people should really strike at the heart of the media conglomerates and take advantage of the high cost structure and internal turmoil to go out and create something new.

Maybe this would have been a better time for Backfence.com?

jackparsons

Newspapers lost touch with the people sometime around Watergate? Really?

Aldi

Yup. It was Watergate that caused j-schools to start filling up with idealistic - and almost invariably liberal - kids that wanted to "change the world" and "right wrongs" instead of report. Once they started graduating and getting into real newsrooms, they began systematically pushing away roughly 50% of the American public.

Back then, of course, consumers had little choice; they could keep buying the newspapers they disliked or go entirely uninflemed. Those days are long gone.

Aldi

Bah, "uninformed," not "uninflemed," whatever Fleming is. Stupid iPhone keyboard.

ed

I have always wondered who gave Zell the productivity papers showing Hartford Courant reporters produced more than L.A. Times? You think it might have been Fitzsimons or other departing TRB executives who were humiliated by their juniors when they tried to make even minor changes. Remember the bitter fight over discontinuing an extravagantly expensive special ad-free edition of the L.A. Times flown to Washington each day to show the bureaucracy what the LAT was publishing? I see a lot of payback in some of these early Zell moves, and I think a lot more are coming.

Mike

Brilliant post.

Some of us can't help but laugh at the bloated staff in LA that refuses to see it was FitzSimons and the Chandler's that ran the paper into the ground.

People are so militant and self-important, they're missing the boat. We have a chance to do great things, and now have leadership in place that fosters those ideas.

If only HALF of the effort put into their stupid blogs was put into innovating things at work, we'd be in a better place right now.

Big Head Todd

The "problem" with journalism is too many drank the Kool-Aid that says "Print. Dead. Internet. Alive. No middle ground."

Typewriters did not eliminate handwriting. Music recordings did not eliminate live performances. Television did not eliminate radio. And on and on and on.

Journo-business addicts will privately admit to you that the real gravitation to the Internet is that that would be such a cool way to cut two gigantic cost factors: People and Paper.

The next "Bill Gates" is the person who finds a way to make online newspapers actually supplant the print product. But a trip to any bookstore, drugstore or supermarket where literally hundreds of magazines, paperbacks and newspapers are being sold daily proves that READERS of printed material are alive and well and ready to BUY for content that is compelling, unique and informative. Cut N paste journalism from police PI faxes or the wire services makes the average READER say "So what?! I can get that crap on any aggregate browser home page."

ed

Mark, I also think these protests are pointless with Zell. Here's a grizzled veteran of backroom balls-out battles with Mafia-infiltrated construction unions, and also someone used to dealing both with guys who daily swing 20-pound hammers for a career, as well as a legion of real estate poseurs and phonies. You think his sensitivies are hurt when someone prints that he has a "potty mouth"?

Mark Potts

Totally agree with you, Ed, and that was one of the points I was trying to make with the post. I doubt Zell gives a damn that his employees are upset with him. He probably finds a lot of it rather amusing, in fact. He's a big boy, he's been through far worse--and he ain't going anywhere, no matter how much journalists with a sense of entitlement may wish it so.

BigIslandDave

Oh, if only today's corporate lapdog "journalists" would investigate and hold to account this criminal administration the way Woodward and Bernstein did with the Nixon gang in the dark days of the Watergate era, we'd be a healthier democracy for it.

Wenalway

Some good stuff here, but also some waste of letters.

Yes, Watergate will prove to have done more harm than good in newsrooms. Exhibit A: The fossilized reporter, brought in to be a "mentor" to others but who instead started pointless wars with all local governments in her futile quest to shine the light on truth and justice.

But redesigns are pointless wastes of time and resources (although the Chicago Tribune could use a little freshening). No redesign at any newspaper has ever led to more than a short-term gain, yet clueless, drooling idiots continue to roll the dice with them.

And Sam Zell is not an innovator. He and his minions are crazy people who should be shouted down after every nutty statement they make. The fact these psychopaths have any control over a newspaper chain illustrates how far the industry has plummeted.

King Friday

Big Head Todd has pointed to the key issues. It doesn't have to be print or the Internet, but best use of both. Advances in technology have not eliminated past media, but have affected how they are used and how we communicate.

It takes a lot of talented people to adapt to the consumer demands, develop business models for advertising and other revenue to replace those that are faltering, and provide the more, better, faster content everyone seems to want, no matter the format. It would have been nice if the geniuses running the media companies had taken those steps while they could afford to keep the talent to get ahead of the curve, instead of piling on debt by buying each other and shedding the human capital on a quarterly basis to stay ahead of the creditors.

Michael Hill

The problem is that Zell, Michaels and Abrams are chopping down the wrong tree. Newspapers and their websites can always be improved, but the fact is they have a large, probably growing, audience. What has disappeared is the business model for all sorts of reasons. But Zell et al don't know what to do about that, so they apply their ignorance (Abrams reminds me of an adolescent who thinks he has just discovered sex) to the content. Name one of their ideas that has ever worked anywhere. But they press forward, over the top, into the machine guns, with the arrogance of the ignorant. I used to say what they were doing was like telling Bruce Springsteen that if he just changed the bass riffs, kids would stop file sharing. Now I think they are telling Bruce to break up the E Street Band and try to get onto the Disney Channel with a Miley Cyrus-type show -- then kids will stop file sharing. Oh lost, and by the wind grieved ....

I Retch

Where is your proof for this: "Not Zell, who's trying to innovate as fast as he can."

I'd like you to name an innovation by Zell. So far, he's suggested that he wants to redesign some papers. Increase local news coverage. And fire reporters. Those are not new ideas.

Nobody at the LA Times would protest a positive vision that take us in new directions. But Potts seem to equate all change with positive change. Not the same thing.

He also seems to disparage employee protest. Maybe he's spent a little too long getting pay outs from the corporate side of the table in his consulting gigs. But I call what employees are doing -- especially Tribune employees who are, after all, "owners"--legitimate expressions of frustration.

charlie madigan

There are some great points here. I recall my decade at UPI wondering whether the paychecks would bounce or holding the hands of publishers who wanted a hard built product for nothing. Then there were the Newhouse years, where assistant city editors scouted the newsroom and shouted at anyone who used company stationary. Then there were smaller papers owned by locals, always deeply worried about offending used car dealers and department store owners. Come to think of it, the warmth of the business was pretty much limited to the newsrooms I worked in. They were great places to fall in love, but maybe not for long term relationships. Also, can we please stop saying if everyone had hopped on the internet earlier the business would be just fine. Those who have swallowed the potion are waiting for a brave new world that just isn't coming. If we had any sense (and any money) we would just start better newspapers closely connected to readers and be careful about them. The Watergate point opens the door to a more complicated conversation. Did journalism go the way of business school at that point, creating an atmosphere that encouraged elites? Did that carry the business away from the daily worries and delights of the average reader. My guess is yes. Also, everything changes so just get used to it. We're sounding like embittered old farts. Finally, on Sam Zell. He waded in where no one else wanted to go, Call me a cynic. I think he did it for the money. It certainly wasn't for the journalism, which he apparently doesn't much like. To be sure, it's not actually his money that is bankrolling the effort, anyhow. He just anted up to get into the game. It's the employes who will win or lose on this one. Pray for an economic recovery that kindles the advertising fires and saves some jobs for my friends. That would help the Tribune and its sisters out.

excaliber

Thank you for throwing some light on one of the great causes of newspapers' economic woes--the snobbish, whining crowd of "journalists" who produce them. For every hard-working, nose-to-the-grindstone reporter and editor are two whiners who think they've exhausted themselves writing a story a month of negligible worth or look down their noses at people who just wanted to get a small release in the paper. Decades of this snobbery helped dig the grave. The quicker we rid our industry of these effete crybabies, the better our chances of surviving.

baltimore sun employee

Mark,

I'm with you on some of your points, but for these:

1) The protest outside the Sun wasn't just about pissing and moaning over Zell. We were trying to raise awareness about what the loss of 55 journalists meant for our community. Also, the company forced voluntary buyouts down our throats in a very short timeframe, which had this net effect: not enough people could find jobs quickly enough, so they didn't take the buyout. And nine of our youngest, most promising reporters got laid off! If the company just gave us one or two more weeks, we could've avoided the eating of our young. We could've kept the youngest people who were actually willing to work in this depressing profession at the moment.

2) Did you really just call Zell a victim? Really? This billionaire who invested chump change, and leveraged our pension money to pull off this super-complicated deal to take us private in an ESOP, where he gets all the tax benefits, but we, as supposed "employee-owners" get no seat at the table. Victim? I think not. Don't you dare ever call him that.

3) Many of us know the former Trib boys are to blame (aka FitzSimons) But Zell paid a boat load of money for Tribune during a time when the newspaper business's woes were well-publicized. He took out the big mortgage, not his employees, but our pension money is leveraged in it. And then he has the gall to condescend to us about how we've gotta pay the bills or we won't have jobs? Screw that. For all his business acumen, he goofed. Maybe his blunder will take a turn for the better in 2 or 3 years, but right now, he's the goat, not Trib employees.

4) Lastly, here's my problem with this quote of yours: "Tribune's employees would be a lot better off trying to understand what's really happening to their industry and papers and redirecting their energy toward improving their newspapers and Web sites to make them more interesting and attractive to readers and advertisers."

Well, Mark, many of us rank and file in Tribune newsrooms would love to be involved more with the Web. Do you know how many bonafide web developers are at the Sun? About 1.5 of them. Do you know that Tribune keeps its Website operations mostly centralized? Did you know that Tribune keeps the Baltimore Sun Web staff separate from the newsroom because they fear that the union will unionize web employees? Do you have any idea how often we clamor for training and we're condescended to? How often we've pitched great ideas till we're blue in the face, only to see them fianlly implemented years later on the Web.

You know what I'm tired of? I'm tired of people complaining about listening to journalists complain. We have a ton to complain about. Our overpaid leaders have failed us and continue to fail us. And they still get bonuses and golden parachutes.

ed

It is small cheese, but the brother from the Baltimore Sun is dragging this discussion into the middle of a prolonged Baltimore Sun-Guild dispute involving a 2001 decision by the National Labor Relations Board that held the company could develop a Web site with non-union staff. That decision was in the days when the Internet was just a reporting tool, but today it has become the future of newspapers, the Baltimore paper has a ridiculous situation where the unionized reporters are in one building, and the non-union Web operations in another, with a couple of employees (1.5?) as the intermediary. Now reporters need to post online, and business is moving online, the newsroom realizes it is becoming a second-string in this operation, and they don't like it. They are right to be concerned because their jobs are becoming redundant.
It wasn't Zell who did this, and I think it even was before FitzSimons. It was the result of one of those ridiculous take-it-to-the-wall featherbedding Guild disputes. Here is a link to the NRLB decision if you are interested in how they got here from there:
http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=4th&navby=case&no=001493P

Edward Padgett

It’s rather easy to view the Tribune Employees actions across the country as ridiculous, while peering from the outside the fiasco. I find it healthy for my colleagues to vent their frustrations in some manner, which will have absolutely zero impact on further downzelling by Sam Zell and Company.

As the late humorous George Carlin said: “It’s the quiet ones you have to watch”.

joewhoknows

Sorry -- but I'm really tired of the complaints of print "journalists" who've spent decades thinking they know better than the readers they should have been serving. Instead, they spent the majority of time competing for prizes only they cared about, and continued to congratulate themselves on their "accomplishments" -- much of which was and still is overheated prose and boring, generic stories. Meanwhile, audiences moved on to more relevant information sources (no, not just online sources). You did it to yourselves, people. Wake up and take responsibility for it. Oh, and maybe the reason people in your Web departments "dismissed" your ideas for online is because you didn't -- and still don't -- have a clue about what works online. It's a different medium. You didn't want to learn from, or offer respect to, your Web colleagues. Once you began to realize that "this Internet thing" might be important, you simply wanted to take over -- not collaborate. (And maybe, just maybe, you'd already disparaged the people working their butts off in your online department? Treated them as not real journalists?) Yes, Zell is no humanitarian. But the bigger culprits are you and your leaders. Many of the highest paid editors are choosing to abandon ship, claiming, erroneously, that it's the "noble" thing to do. Too bad they aren't sticking around to do the hard and truly noble work of reinvention that they should undertaken years ago.

Newspaper Journo

Oh dear god, am I tired of hearing about how we elite jerks are to blame for newspapers' demise because we write a bunch of boring elitist crap nobody wants to read. Newspapers were doing just fine (actually really, really well), thank you very much, until people began to get their news online for free rather than buy the paper. Readership of our stories is UP, not down. The problem is we haven't figured out how to make nearly enough money to support the newsroom online. Also, most journalists work at small papers, earning modest salaries far below what they would earn if they went into jobs like, say, PR. I'd hardly call them elite. Even those of us working at big metros earn far below our peers in other professions. Elite? I wish.

Don

I read your blog daily for a while, Mark, and thought you came out with a few genuinely new ways of examining the journalism crisis.

Today's entry, though, is a disgrace. You have ZERO standing to criticize the reactions of career professionals who are watching years of dedicated service being destroyed by these lying Clear Channel money-monkeys.

You, Mark, have ZERO firsthand knowledge of working for Times Mirror, Tribune and then Zell. Perhaps you did quality work in your 15 years in newspapers. Well, I've put my life into doing it for 25 years. You have no standing to criticize the men and women in the trenches of beat reporting and on-the-street photography: We do the job. We're watching colleagues with decades of public service getting thrown to the sidewalk, and seeing a team of barbarians undo our honest (imperfect, but honest) efforts at making society just a shade better. You shame yourself by presuming to judge us in this time of personal, professional and financial crisis.

When the self-adoring blogosphere cares enough to put away the bathrobes and chase car wrecks at midnight, house fires in midwinter and legislative hearings on weekends, then share your opinion about how Tribune employees are reacting. But be damn sure you're doing that work TODAY, not telling war stories from years ago. We who toil in this hidebound and fossilized industry have to "make the doughnuts" right here, right now - every day. Layoffs, wage freezes, benefit reductions, coverage cutbacks ... none of it has stopped the people who are out there every day.

'Til you're part of that proud group again, you're cordially invited to stuff the condescending and arrogant sniping from the sidelines.

Mark Potts

Thanks for venting, Don. I'd sure like to know how you read my post as denigrating the excellent journalism still being done at the Tribune papers. (And actually, I do have firsthand knowledge of working for Tribune: I'm a former reporter at the Chicago Tribune, albeit in the pre-Zell era. I'm also sure my former colleagues at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News can attest that I have firsthand knowledge of the current world of newspaper journalism from my just-ended stint there. Unlike the bloggers you belittle, I don't even own a bathrobe.)

I sympathize with your emotional reaction in times of financial and personal crisis. I've been laid off, I've laid people off and I've had to close companies. It's painful. It's also hardly unique, and frankly, what's happening in the newspaper business is peanuts compared to the hardships being felt in many other industries. Some journalists, with the advantage of having a platform, are wallowing in self-pity over issues that millions of other workers have faced and are facing.

The point of my post is that the small number of Tribune employees who are publicly whining about Zell have lost perspective and should be spending their time more productively rather than acting childishly. You can complain and mock and hold your breath til you turn blue, but you're not going to run Zell out of the company. The bankers may, but the rank and file won't.

You'd be much better off continuing to create the quality journalism you're so rightly proud of and constantly working to find ways to better serve customers--readers and advertisers. That's the best contribution you can make to saving jobs and the industry.

joewhoknows

Well, guess what Don and Newspaper Journo: I still work for Tribune Co. and still "make the doughnuts." I've been a beat reporter, editor and team lead on high-profile project teams. I get it. I'm the "rank and file." I'm not on the "sidelines." And both of you are -- respectfully -- sadly mistaken. Uh, actually, newspapers were doing far from "just fine." Times change. Technology advances. Everything evolves. Except newspapers. Quick question: Do you even know what percent of revenue comes from paid subscriptions (the print version of paid users) vs. advertising revenue? Clearly you don't. If you did, you'd stop trying to advance the erroneous argument that "giving it away for free" online is responsible for your failure to pay attention to reality. In fact, you'd be focused on creating work that would motivate anyone to part with any money to read. Yes, I remember the "good old days." That was when we weren't held accountable for readership. When we weren't held accountable for anything, really, other than impressing each other. Those days are long gone. (Yeah, go ahead and make the case that readership is up -- overall: Can you prove that anyone is reading your individual story in print? How about online? Thought so. Can't hide from those numbers.) If you really care about journalism, you'll redirect your efforts. Otherwise, move on. Your readers already have.

Don

Thanks for obfuscating, Mark.

You didn't denigrate the journalism, you denigrated the journalists. That's beyond reprehensible.

As for "sympathizing," well - none of us sought your sympathy. Your contempt and snide attitude, though, are something nobody here deserves, least of all now.

(As for sympathy, this description falls short of the mark: "What's happening in the newspaper business is peanuts compared to the hardships being felt in many other industries. Some journalists, with the advantage of having a platform, are wallowing in self-pity over issues that millions of other workers have faced and are facing.)

"... you're not going to run Zell out of the company. The bankers may, but the rank and file won't." Perhaps not. Perhaps complaining, though, will be a step toward unionizing, toward a broad-based lawsuit, toward legal action against the ESOP's fiduciary, toward political action against the bureaucrats who twisted regulations to allow Zell's insane financial game. Won't know til we try, eh?

One thing we know WON'T work, and that's the worn-down company line we've heard for years. The same one, no doubt, that management parrots have used at those Philly papers you cite, at Miami, at Palm Beach, at Trenton and New Haven. It goes along the lines of "You'd be much better off continuing to create the quality journalism you're so rightly proud of and constantly working to find ways to better serve customers."

Been there, wore out the t-shirt, broke the coffee cup. Outcome's always the same: The owners, lawyers and accountants loot the place ... the senior managers keep laying down the rah-rah riffs while the place slowly dies ... and the staff ultimately gets porked.

Even so, those of us still in the game keep doing the work. But the smarter ones have started looking very skeptically at those cheerleaders on the sidelines, Mark. Very skeptically.

corvid

Completely disagree. Here's one reason: People who think they "get" the Internet are just outright dangerous. We in the newspaper industry have been experimenting with the Internet for years and ignoring what we've found: That it's a low-profit medium incapable of sustaining even a third-rate journalistic enterprise. Advertisers are moving toward it--but only slowly and reluctantly as they're mightily shooed in that direction by other media, including newspapers, and as the advertisers fail to see results.
.
Meanwhile, newspapers merrily give away their product for basically nothing online, as their not-so-hip-after-all editors and publishers continue to bang their heads against the Web wall and continue to get financial headaches, all the time expecting a different result--ie, a viable profit.
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Ain't gonna happen.
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What the newspaper industry needs to do is move en masse offline, get AP and the other news services they pay for offline, begin copyrighting all their original work and then suing the pants off all the online news aggregators and bloggers who so much as use one word it without paying.
.
The Internet is a great thing but it's not a god. It's a non-exclusive medium that can be wonderfully profitable for some applications--such as distributing pornography (about three-quarters of what the Internet is all about these days), retailing all sorts of stuff, rumor-mongering, social linkups and research. Unfortunately, real, actual news gathering and dissemination isn't among these applications.
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And the demand just isn't there. A recent survey of university students found that large majorities cited MySpace and Facebook as the most used and useful Web sites in their universe. But it also found that only 5 percent of the students had EVER gone to any kind of news Web site. This isn't the future of news.

Newspaper Journo

joewhoknows,
Are a reporter? You sure don't sound like one. Or anyone in the newsroom. I'm a reporter at the Trib, for what it's worth, and I just don't know anyone with your smug, nasty attitude toward his or her fellow reporters and editors. I guess I am glad of that.

Ron

It's difficult for journalists to involve themselves in the recreation of newspapers when they're forced to spend most of their time polishing their resumes.

joewhoknows

Newspaper Journo and Corvid,

Yes, I'm in the newsroom. And I'm sorry you feel my comments/attitude is/are smug. That's how readers and people who work in other industries feel about newspaper journalists. Those people have been living in the real world where layoffs and scrambling to find jobs have been an ongoing struggle; we've been existing in a world where our leaders exuded entitlement, encouraged insular thinking and never took change seriously.

No, the Internet's "not a god," as corvid says. It's only one way to reach and converse with readers (corvid -- keep in mind you're actually engaging with others in this blog, something that can't be done with a printed newspaper).

And the Internet should be only part of solving the profitability puzzle. (You do know, though, that online revenues are growing, while prints' revenues are tanking. And while still modest, keep in mind that online is only about 10 years old, and it's just ramping up. Newspapers are more than 150 years old -- and in dire need of reinvention. Not death: Reinvigoration.

Don, you still didn't answer the question about revenue. I suspect you don't know. The answer is that subscription and single copy sales don't even come close to covering the tab for the huge operational expenses of newspapers.

And those monies are a tiny fraction of the overall revenue generated by newspapers: The vast majority of revenue comes from advertisers. And they're not being "pushed" to move online, they're moving there because that's where their customers are.

And no, I don't believe advertisers should bail out of print, I think they need innovative hybrid solutions that combine both. But that first takes a print product that's compelling enough to draw readers.

Finally, I'm sorry if you find my words harsh. I've found the attitudes of many of my colleagues and editors pretty ugly and disheartening over the years. They ignored what was going on outside their offices and instead spent the majority of their efforts protecting their friends/colleagues.

I'm sad that our profession has become the pathetic circus that it has. But many in positions to have driven meaningful change have failed to do so. We've all been complicit in the mess.

Now, as Mark points out, we need to stop acting like petulant children because we're waking up to the fact that reality isn't what we want it to be.

We need to be brave and build a new kind of newspaper that matters.

Newspaper Journo

JoeKnowsBest,
Please spare me the sermon about people "living in the real world where layoffs and scrambling to find jobs have been an ongoing struggle." When those people find themselves facing layoffs and scrambling for jobs, you better believe they panic, complain and do all of the same things we are doing. But I don't hear you telling, say, steelworkers or flight attendants, to quit their whining and just deal with it. Jesus.

LAT partisan

By all accounts, the Los Angeles Times remains a profitable enterprise, at least at the moment. It is an enterprise that could have ridden out several down years, given an owner who saw a newspaper as something other than a cash cow. Instead of the evisceration we're seeing now, there would have been some intelligently-reasoned downsizing, as we're seeing at papers controlled by owners who actually like and perhaps even feel passionate about owning newspapers. Unfortunately the LA Times has not had such an owner since the mid-1980s, when Otis Chandler still held authority on the Times-Mirror Co.'s board, and could fend off the rest of the greedy wolf pack that was his extended family. When books are written about this saga, the main story line will be how the rapacious and cunning Chandlers snookered the old Tribune Co. and Zell into tax-free deals that forced the
Chicago rubes to take on $13 billion in debt (by the way, the tax-free part means that the Chandlers, old Tribune and Zell played the taxpaying public for fools as well, twisting the ESOP ownership-transfer law not to preserve small family businesses, but to enrich corporate shareholders unhappy about the declining value of their no-longer-monopolistic investments). What news organization could carry a $13 billion debt load that, once again, was imposed only to placate the Chandlers, adding not a dollar to improving and renovating the business itself? The only just outcome (and this is wishful thinking, not a likely scenario) would be for Zell and his creditors to take the hit on their misbegotten deal, declare Tribune Co. bankrupt, and let locally-based billionaires who actually like newspapers, and see them as intrinsic to their communities, buy them at bankruptcy rates. That may happen, but only when what's left to auction off will be ashes and rubble. As tellzell.com has suggested, it would be better to be thrown quickly on the mercies of a bankruptcy court judge, who might actually feel responsibile to the public interest, than to remain pawns to Zell. He has made his interests clear, and is pursuing them in a heartless way that has disposed of good, devoted, productive workers only after tormenting them via a Torquemada-inspired method of slow-motion job cutting (adding insult to injury by inflicting Lee Abrams' useless verbiage on all of us). Meanwhile the customers and the community lose as well. Mark, you seem to favor the idea of capitalists uber alles, with their every failure to be taken out of the hides of workers, who you apparently think should just shut up and take it. Now THAT is old thinking -- at least a century old, I'd say, although lately back in vogue among those who belive that profit maximization is national-happiness maximization. What's needed is a group of honest, public spirited rich people in every American city who believe in a well-informed democracy more than in buying their 12th fabulous vacation home. One hopes they could stabilize newspapers, then shield their futures by turning them over to nonprofit trusts (admittedly at a cost to the taxpayers, who by law subsidize all U.S. nonprofits as part of the broader public interest).
As for you many Internet-era individualists who think a thousand points of blog-light are the answer: ask yourselves what your first move will be when a big corporation or offended celebrity or titan of business takes you to court for libel. Remember the moms and dads sued by record companies for their kids' illegal downloading of music? That's you, buddy. Only large, well-funded news organizations with expert lawyers on retainer can hold their ground against wealthy and powerful interests. Small fry just get eaten. And that's the hard-headed truth behind the howl from Tribune Co. newsrooms that you, Mark, find so childish and unrealistic.

joewhoknows

Newspaper Journo,
The difference between you and flight attendants and steelworkers is that you think you're special. You're not.

CTjourno

"joewhoknows" -- sounds like you think you have all the answers, huh? Now who's the fool who thinks he's special?

Were you in the features department and then got stuck doing night cops on Saturday nights? Because you sound pretty resentful.

ed

Wow, Joewhoknows, how old are you? I come from a generation which saw this same sort of change as the afternoon dailies like the Washington Star, Baltimore Evening Sun, Los Angeles Examiner, and Philadelphia Bulletin died. A lot of newspaper people ended up on the street then, and this recession has only just begun. I know we like to look as our world being the real world, but the facts are that we are only about five months into an economic upheaval that looks like it won't be over for another 14 months or so. If you think this is bad now, wait until official unemployment begins to rise, legions of people can't find jobs, and stores that were open in the morning rush-hour have going out of business signs on them by the evening commute. Shopping centers are going to empty, secure government jobs will see wage cutbacks and dismissals, friends will move in with their grandparents, and you will find carparks where families are living in their backseats. California is seeing a little of this, and the bank closings show it will be widspread. I don't see how any of these debt-incumbered newspaper companies are going to make it, and that includes MNI because ads and circulation are both certain to really decline. What billionaire however civic minded would risk everything to step into this hurricane and buy into an outdated industry with a huge backshop payroll that just sucks more dollars from his wallet? Last point is that the cuts that we have seen in this business are only precautionary for a mild recession, and a mere token of what I think we will as the industry realizes this is going to be much worse than they expected.

Newspaper Journo

JoeKnowsBest,
Huh? I have no clue what the heck you are talking about.

Newspaper Journo

Okay, JKB, I just reread your comment and I still don't know what you mean. My point was that we're NOT special, that we are just like all of the other downsized workers across the U.S. You seem to think we're unique in some way, in that it's our (and by 'our' I mean reporters, editors, etc) fault we're in the spot we're in. I don't see many sane people blaming, say, flight attendants for the troubles of the airline industry. Sometimes the wheel of history just runs you over, and there's not much you can do about it (except scramble and react the way we are now). In our case, the Internet pulled the rug out from under us (and yes, I, as well as every other journalist out there, understands that we are supported by ads first, subscriptions second!) and unless we somehow came up with something on the order of a Google or Craigslist or eBay, we were going to be in trouble. Hard thing to invent a Google or Craigslist or eBay, unfortunately. So stop blaming the horses, so to speak, for the disappearance of the horse and buggy industry.

joewhoknows

NJ,

Wow. Chalking things up to simply "the wheel of history" running over us/you, with the only option being "reacting," is a breathtakingly weak defense for the state of affairs. (But typical, because it deflects accountability.)

Your point of view speaks for itself as emblematic of why things are as bad as they are.

There's been ample opportunity to anticipate the changing technology and audience appetite dynamics that would be shaping things.

Yes, the savage economy is intensifying things. But it hasn't prevented great ideas from emerging -- you may believe it was hard to invent Google, Craigslist and Ebay, but the founders would probably tell you otherwise. Those enterprises sprang from ideas that fed huge unmet needs.

That's the kind of thinking that should be happpening at newspapers now but isn't.

If it makes you feel better, continue to point fingers at everyone else.

I'm going back to work Monday (and no, I'm not a displaced features person resentful about doing night cops. Been there. Done that [night cops]. And actually loved it. Guess what? Readers actually care about and benefit from crime reporting).

And I'm going to focus on what I can contribute that readers really want -- if I'm not too distracted by all the moaning going on around me.



Newspaper Journo

JoeKnowsBest,
I think you have me confused with another poster, I never said anything about night cops or whatever. Anyway, one last word on this. It's a huge waste of time to argue about what happened in the past and who to blame (for the record, I don't think anyone is to blame, I think it's just an unfortunate quirk of history). It doesn't really matter now, does it? What matters is that we somehow survive going forward with our integrity intact. I hope we can. I love newspapers and think what we do is valuable and essential. Good luck to us all!

joewhoknows

Yes, one thing we certanly can agree on: Good luck to us all.

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