Apocalypse 10: What Tribune Did Wrong

Posted: December 8th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Apocalypse Series, Business, Journalism | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

LinkSo 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.

Apocalypse 5: Change begins at home

Posted: July 6th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Journalism | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

In a previous post, I flagged Sam Zell’s approach at the Tribune newspapers as a future business model for the industry. What Zell is after is “a smaller, slimmer, all-print, all-local product that capitalizes on the fact that internet news sources have an edge in fast breaking headlines, but don’t have the time for local color coverage,” to quote myself. Of course, I’m not alone in saying this. Jeff Jarvis has similar comments about some bold moves at the Tampa Trib, while Jon Fine has some thoughts on how bloggers could seize the local space too.

If there’s one city where every internet source, ever TV source, and every paper DO compete for local credibility, however, that city is New York. Over the last five years, the New York Times has beefed up the Metro section, added a Metro blog, and a section of local human interest stories, “The City” on weekends. But to rise above neighborhood newsletters and blogs galore, the Times had to do something more.

On Friday, they took a snapshot of New York’s demographic diversity, achieved by sending a whole team of reporters and photographers to ride the Subway across the Brooklyn bridge and interview commuters. Not only did this make for a great 4th of July story, but it was the Times’ way of saying that with the big resources of a major paper, they can do local color better than the smaller fry in this media saturated town. Whether anyone buys that claim, sales figures in the next few years will show, but the attempt is noteworthy none the less.

Apocalypse, the spinoff

Posted: June 9th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Apocalypse Series, Journalism | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

In two previous posts, I’ve blogged about the news media in the digital age. Based on parallel movements at CondeNast and at the Washington Post, I predicted that in the future, major “old” brands will aggregate the expertise of various niche bloggers to produce a product that is mostly digital, with occasional print specials. But Sam Zell’s approach to the Tribune Company’s papers suggests a different response to the threat from Google news et. al: a smaller, slimmer, all-print, all-local product that capitalizes on the fact that internet news sources have an edge in fast breaking headlines, but don’t have the time for local color coverage.

In all frankness, I think the future holds a combination of those two models, but if I were trading in media futures (do those exist?) I’d guess that the Washington Post/CondeNast approach is likely to be more lucrative. There are way more places to monetize on that food chain (the daily website, the affiliated blogs, the print specials, advertising in each of the above) than there are in single local dailies. Then again, Sam Zell has done okay for himself so far, so maybe he knows something I don’t?