So in case you haven’t heard, the Tribune is filing for bankruptcy. Now before all the shrill new media evangelists start celebrating, let’s take a moment to realize that this is the failure of bad management not bad journalism. Many of the Tribune papers–the Chicago Trib, the Baltimore Sun–were hallmarks of top notch reporting. And if they’d been properly run, we might have more of that top notch reporting around for longer.
But the Tribune was also the hallmark of managerial failure. As the WSJ explains, long before Sam Zell took the papers over, the Trib was in the financial hole. And while Zell undertook some smart redesigns and tried to cultivate the local focus, the community-curation, of the Web 2.0 age, he was half-hearted about it. The LA Times in particular never came to terms with the fact that it couldn’t really be a national or international news when LA readers can get that news from elsewhere. Not to mention the personality clashes among its top execs.
Meanwhile, at the Chicago Trib, Zell refused to merge an understanding of the new era’s culture with an actual embrace of the new technologies. He told reporters not to post juicy stuff online, and at least to this reader, the Trib’s website and blogs always seemed like a second class citizen to the print edition.
The message isn’t the medium, but you can’t have one without the other. Sam Zell never got all the pieces in place at the same time, but frankly, neither have most of the new media evangelists. So instead of seeing the fall of Tribune as a death sentence for print, let’s spend time trying to find a little common ground.