Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Chicago Papers: Aspiring to Pig Slop Relevance?

"You have to give the audience what it wants. Put the slop where the pigs can get at it." -- Neil Steinberg, Chicago Sun-Times

In a related note, your Chicago Tribune sits down with their new insect overlord new owner Sam Zell and discuss his vision of Tribune journalism:
An avid reader of newspapers who doesn't read news online or own a BlackBerry, Zell believes quality "relevant" content is the key to Tribune's future, whether it is on television, in newspapers or online. ***

"If you are relevant, people are going to buy the newspaper," he said. "If you're not relevant, then people will stop buying the newspaper and stop advertising and we'll all be in a stew of trouble.

"I use that word 'relevant' and I'll be the first to tell you I don't know what it means other than, in effect, ultimately just like anybody, you have customers, and some way or another we have to find a way how to service them. I don't have an opinion as to what you write, believe it or not, other than what you write has to be truthful and relevant. And if it is, then I think the customer is there for you, and that translates into viable businesses." ***

Asked about the relationship between editorial excellence and profit, Zell said quality matters. But he noted: "I really believe you can be relevant and editorially spectacular. And I think you can be irrelevant and editorially spectacular. The name of the game is to be the former and not the latter."
And now the really depressing part.
Zell said his favorite columnists are Charles Krauthammer, whose syndicated column runs in the Chicago Tribune, and the New York Times' Thomas Friedman and David Brooks.
Note to Trib writers: Conventional Wisdom + Big Idea Facade = Happy Boss.

Zell also spoke briefly about Trib management's policy of "improving" the newspaper by slashing its news gathering capacity:
"I'm a great believer in a meritocracy," he said. "My standard is they've just got to perform.

"To be honest with you, I don't know anything about job cuts. My focus is not to look at this thing and see how we can eliminate one more table leg, because, frankly, eliminating a couple more of this or that isn't going to make this work. What's going to make this work is raising revenue."
Although the piece was informative, it did leave some significant exchanges on the cutting room floor:
Q: What about going public again? Is that something you've thought through?

Zell: I think we've thought about this thing that we're going into a 10-year investment, at a minimum. We haven't thought at all about a liquidation strategy, and I don't think one is required.

Q: You look at Tribune as a business just like any other one?

Zell: You guys come up with extortionist theories about everything. You think I think about my barge business the same way I think about the waste-to-energy business? Every business is different, OK? But if it isn't based on economics, there is no business. Businesses that fail to learn that lesson don't exist any more.

Q: But there's not another business like a business that's full of reporters?

Zell: You ever been in the department store business? They make reporters look good. And that's really hard to say. ***

Q: If we wrote up a profile of you that just got under your skin and made you mad....

Zell: You already did, you already did.

Q: But you weren't chairman of the company.

Zell: It wouldn't make any difference. You'd still [omitted] me off.

Q: What can we expect if that were to happen?

Zell: The same thing that happened the last time -- Nothing.
And if nothing else is clear from the Trib's interview with the new boss, it is that Zell shares Steinberg's pig slop philosophy of journalism: "[I]f you write pieces that attract people's attention, that's relevant."

Does this mean that future coyote-in-the-Quiznos stories will be on the front page of both papers?

1 comment:

Carl Nyberg said...

I wish the Tribune the best.

They seem to be very upbeat about marching to the slaughterhouse.

It's the best of all worlds.


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