By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The dynamic duo behind Tribune’s fall

There may not be a healthy newspaper company in the United States right now. Even so, the dynamic duo running the now-bankrupt Tribune Co. — real-estate mogul Sam Zell and radio consultant Lee Abrams — seem to have done everything they could to make things worse. At least that’s what I argue in my latest for the Guardian.

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  1. Bill Baar

    Read the DOJ Criminal Complaint on our now indicted Gov. The Trib stood up to Blagojevich…. they’ve got that courage. They could have caved and taken bailout money from IFA.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Bill: That’s not what it looks like from this.

  3. Ani

    Have the newspapers, etc. ever tried to develop hardware and software (which they could then sell) that would enhance the experience of consuming their product electronically? I mean, if the on-line ad revenue stream isn’t happening (sufficiently), what’s Plan B?

  4. mike_b1

    Dan, I read the entire 76-page complaint and the Sun-Times’ account is not accurate. Per the complaint, what the Tribune Financial Advisor said was some layoffs were coming. Harris reported this to Blago. The Trib then cut 11 positions, none on its editorial board. If anything, every time Blago’s minions talked to the Trib FA, the editorials against him became more strenuous (see pp 45-54).It’s quite possible the Trib FA was aware of the FBI investigation. It’s very certain Harris was telling Blago what he wanted to hear (“He got it loud and clear,” Harris tells Blago in one instance, p. 48, and later Harris tells Blago that the Tribune FA said they would be “downsizing that [editorial board] division or changing personnel” and that Tribune Financial Advisorunderstands and ‘[Tribune Owner]’ understands, p. 51).” But perhaps it’s not necessarily what the Trib FA actually said. Note that the complaint doesn’t specify what the Trib FA himself said; it’s not clear at all that those conversations were bugged.

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: You read the entire complaint? Good grief. I will not, and thus I defer to you.

  6. mike_b1

    Hey, I grew up in Illinois. Heck, I even lived in Blago’s old district. I live for this.

  7. mike_b1

    Just got around to reading your column. No doubt Abrams is wacky, at least by the standards of the mainstream media. But to me, two things jump out.1. We all agree newspaper companies must change to survive. But we only seem to want them to change thismuch. And we attack those who, right or wrong, push further. Truth is, we don’t know what model will be successful in the future. Someone has to try something drastic; why not Zell and Co.?2. Abrams’ emails are already the stuff of legend. But he’s got one thing dead on right: News is a growth industry. And unlike a lot of people who work for him, at least he’s excited about it.

  8. Bill Baar

    The compliant is double spaced. It doesn’t take that long to read and it reads more like a cheap novel than a boring legal document.Rich Miller has been all over the story.We know the Trib stood up to the Gov’s demand to fire the F***ers at the Trib’s Edit Board, and what we’ll find out over the next few months will be all the institutions and powers in Illinois that caved to the Gov and fired F***ers who ran afoul of Blagojevich.The complaint goes all the way back to 2002. It will be months before the indictment finally comes. Everyone is coming forward now to cut deals with Fitz including I suspect the Gov himself especially if his wife also indicted. Someone needs to take care of his young kids and the Gov doesn’t have a patron like Rezko does to finance the family while he is in prison.Illinois will finally be rid of many many bums… there is a lot to clean out here.

  9. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: The newspaper business needs to change drastically — maybe more drastically than even Abrams realizes. Perhaps I’m being unfair, but based on news reports, the impression is left that Zell goes around lambasting everyone for no particular reason while Abrams writes spacey e-mails that suggest a deep level of cluelessness.Did you read the Abrams e-mail in which he says he had no idea the Tribune had a reporter in Iraq?Print is almost certainly beyond saving. I don’t think it’s going away, but it’s going to find its level, and will probably evolve into a high-priced specialty product for people who want such things.But Abrams, by most accounts, has put most of his energy into attempt to reinvent print while not paying much attention to online. That ain’t smart.

  10. mike_b1

    Dan, I was unaware of that particular email, but via Romenesko and other channels have seen some of his “work.” Spacey is a good way to describe him. That said, I do think he is challenging the Trib editors and staff to think hard about what it is that customers want to buy. I hadn’t gotten the sense he had ignored online, but admit to not following the situation closely. (On a side note, how about some props for Roger Ebert, who throughout his career has looked for ways to leverage a rather fanciful pursuit into big bucks for the Sun-Times? There’s this element of “not my job” within the newspaper industry; Ebert apparently never got that memo.)Zell is foul-mouthed, no doubt. But I think he’s getting a bad rap. He took on an extraordinarily difficult job, and the sense I get is he’s frustrated that his employees are acting not unlike UAW workers. And his point is, why in the *^#* are they blaming him, because had they come up with a product that advertisers and customers wanted to pay (more) for earlier, they wouldn’t be stuck with him now.

  11. bob gardner

    “The Trib stood up to Blagojevich…. they’ve got that courage.” I don’t see how. They offered to do what Blagojevich asked if they got the money. More likely they were trying to get a stronger commitment before they delivered on their side of the bargain.

  12. mike_b1

    Bob, if your take on what happened is in the complaint, I didn’t come across it. A spokesman being smart enough not to alienate someone who is directly representing the Governor’s office is a far cry from “offering” to commit a crime.

  13. Bill Baar

    They didn’t fire the editorial F***ers…They had no assurance Blago wasn’t working with Obama either and that Obama wouldn’t fire Fitz eventually and nix this whole investigation.It took some courage on their part.We’re going to find out who lacked courage too over the months……ABC just reported Jesse Jackson Jr was Candidate #5 too… hardly a profile in courage.More is comming…

  14. bob gardner

    So if a politician just asks for a bribe, and promises that they will, say, get a liquor license approved if they are paid off, and then don’t produce the license, would you say that they are: 1. guilty of a crime 2. technically innocent, but sleazy 3. courageous?Inquiring minds (as well as perhaps D Wilkerson and C Turner) want to know.

  15. mike_b1

    Assuming the “they” in your sentence is the politician, I would say 1., but I’m not a lawyer.I’m not sure how those scenarios connects to your earlier statement suggesting the Tribune was somehow guilty of something.

  16. Bill Baar

    1. I know one in Prison for pretty much just that.

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