Thursday, January 17, 2008

Is Sam Zell for real?

The report about new Trib owner Sam Zell in The Hartford Courant this morning gives some hope that a real estate magnate can drag an industry mired in ink and paper, into the 21st century. It seems like front page news to me, but it was buried in the business section.

So, I wrote an email to some reporters who might have been there, and asked them to reply to some questions. Two answered. One of the two was not at the meeting. The other, a long-time, respected writer had some interesting replies.

I'd love to hear from other staff.

1. Is Sam Zell the real thing?
I don't know. But I'm encouraged by the fact that he made money in railroad cars. He seems to see value where others don't.

2. Are you encouraged/discouraged by his speech, and why?
I was encouraged. Sam has at least figured out that Tribune was being run by dullards and bean-counters with no other plan than to keep cutting budgets and ruining very good and productive products. We have had five rounds of staff reductions in the last several years. I think - I hope - Sam stopped the bleeding. He understands we need people to put out a decent product.

3. Do you agree with him about the eventual decline of The Courant if it
remains, simply, a print newspaper?
Yes. The paradigm is changing. We have to view ourselves as a content provider, in as many media as we can reasonably participate. The trick is to find a business model that supports it.

4. Is there a sense of liberation amongst the staff, or are people worried?
I think Sam's speech was very good for morale. Worst-case scenario, he buys us some time. Best case, we do good journalism and make som money from the ESOP.

5. What’s your idea to push the paper in a new direction?
I'd try to provide the information people can't find on the web - really intense local reporting, mostly. Then use it to drive really good websites as well as the paper.

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