Media Resurrection

According to The New York Times, real estate tycoon, Samuel Zell, is shaking things up at The Tribune Company. After completing an $8.2 billion deal on Thursday that makes the media company a privately held operation, Zell made himself chief executive, announced a new set of directors and managers, and declared that the troubled company would look to raise revenue.
He disparaged the conventional wisdom that the newspaper industry — and the Tribune Company in particular — was suffering through a long, unavoidable contraction, and repeatedly stated that Tribune could increase its revenues.
“I’m sick and tired of listening to everybody talk about and commiserate about the end of newspapers,” he said. “They ain’t ended. And they’re not going to be.”
He said of Tribune, “I think it’s a very low-risk investment, but this wouldn’t be the first time that my opinion diverged from everybody else’s.”
“What this company needs is an owner,” he said later. “It needs someone who accepts the responsibility for what this company does.”
With an estimated net worth of $6 billion, Zell is the 52nd richest American as ranked by Forbes. He’s also a blast from the past—a time when newspapers were run by strong leaders, not by committee.

John Sugg of Creative Loafing, who is retiring from the newspaper business, frames some of the issues facing the industry today.

Those halcyon days of newspapering are gone. The rags don’t lead; they tremble in the face of technology and an economy they don’t comprehend. At a time when they should be dispatching legions of smart journalists to unravel the big questions of our day, newspapers are cutting back. So, few people pay attention to them.
One of the most powerful resources newspapers in the past brought to their towns was incisive thought – great thinkers in their own ivory towers and even greater minds from academia, industry, government and the nonprofit world. Now? We still quote sources, but we report the surface and seldom understand the depths of what’s going on.

While some fear cost-saving cuts at the Tribune, the International Herald Tribune’s story on Zell’s takeover says he’ll likely add to the company’s 20,000 employees over the next year.
Regarding editorial integrity, the Chicago Tribune’s own report quotes Zell on the topic, “I won’t stand for my newspapers publishing stuff that isn’t true or is, in effect, an editorial on the front page.”



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.