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Zell: Pulitzer, Shmulitzer, just show me the money

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by goalmouth, Nov 25, 2008.

  1. WriteThinking

    WriteThinking Well-Known Member

    This is the most interesting, critical and telling question/answer in the whole interview:

    JOANNE: But the newspaper is supposed to be giving you something more than the instant news that you get on the Web. Would you argue that your newspapers—after the year of cutting and attempting to fix the model—would you argue that the journalism is improved from when you purchased your newspapers?

    SAM: Interestingly enough, my customers say yes. My customers say yes.

    ME: Exactly which customers are those?...By every count, and in every account that considers the spending of money -- i.e., every measure other than non-profit clicks/page-views -- customers and advertisers are dwindling.

    Zell also mentions the "success" of Red-Eye and Marsh, two free publications he and others say have gained a following, circulation and popularity. Well, if they're free, how are they "successful," in Zell's eyes -- in a business/monetary sense, as the Tribune owner is so fond of questioning about mainstream newspapers, including his own?

    And how long will they last if those products are free copies being given away? A version of Marsh, called Varsity Times, operated similarly a few years ago out of the L.A. Times. It was a weekly publication of 8-14 full-color tab pages that was given away free at hundreds of high school campuses throughout Southern California.

    It proved popular among the students, coaches and teachers at the schools, and finding one past about noon on the day they were delivered was no easy task at some places. So, sure, it was "reaching" one of the toughest demographics to reach. But, as Sam would probably say, the business model was flawed by the fact that they were free copies, and, without much advertising in them to support them, Varsity Times was shelved after a year.

    Zell, to me, seems to talk out both sides of his mouth, probably because he doesn't know what to do to improve things, but still, I wish he'd stop it, and quit being so condescending regarding a "business" he knows nothing about.

    And, as far as Pulitzers and stories that win them, in my book, most of the time, they are good journalism, the very definition of it, even. To say that they're not is to simply sound ignorant, or, perhaps, jealous that you haven't won one.

    Have people -- especially Zell -- forgotten some of the stories for which the Times, for example, has won the prizes? If so, here's a list:


    Let's see, there's the multi-media report on widespread environmental impacts on the world's oceans (anyone who has read/looked through any/all parts of that could not help but see the quality and importance of it) that has become a gold-standard report even in schools, where it is now a reference material.

    The MLK public-hospital patient and financial issues at a facility much-needed and relied-upon in the L.A. area that was shut down because of those problems; widespread, devastating Southern California wildfires, shady Wal-Mart business tactics and employee-treatment practices at what is probably the world's most successful and popular store chain; something on automobiles, something that, yeah, nobody's interested in, or impacted by; state government issues; problems of the mentally ill street population of L.A., where there is lots of that; unsafe prescription drugs, something we all should, or one day will be, interested in; corruption in the entertainment industry, definitely a geographically-centric and high-interest topic, even by Zell standards; the North Hollywood shootout, which engulfed an entire city and mesmerized TV watchers elsewhere; the 1994 Northridge earthquake; the 1993 L.A. riots; a couple of fantastic, engrossing and emotionally gripping features...

    I don't know about anybody else, but this all sounds like stuff that is, or would be, of interest and importance to an awful lot of people, and well worth doing, to me. I don't know the numbers, but you'd never convince me that the issues of the paper with those stories/topics in them did not sell, and make as much, or more -- even much more -- money, than any more recent issues/papers that Zell claims are improved or more popular because of content that is more in line with "giving people what they want."

    I'd submit that many readers may not have even known or realized that those Pulitzer-worthy stories were what they wanted, until the Times did them and put them on their customers' doorsteps.

    Average readers do not always think like journalists. That's why they, and this country, need, them, whether they always realize it, or not.

    It's beyond me how Zell can think of nothing except tearing down the best of what newspapers/media have to offer so that it, in his opinion, should be nothing but dumbed-down garbage because that's what he thinks is "giving people what they want."

    It isn't like the Times, or other outlets, don't also do daily work, and stay on top of bread-and-butter beats, while producing Pulitzer-worthy stories at the same time.

    What Zell needs to fix, and the expertise we need from him, if he has it, concerns the advertising/monetary model, and not the editorial content, so that that will translate to the web.

    Because the editorial content already does that, pretty well.
  2. forever_town

    forever_town Well-Known Member

    That's the problem, though. The bean counters continually look to editorial to cut back when the problem is the business model is horrendous.
  3. Can we please stop acting like Pulitzers and "good journalism" are mutually exclusive?
  4. Double J

    Double J Active Member

    Oh, shit....hahahaha.....okay, I feel shame. :-[ :-\

    All together now......DUH, Double J.....

  5. Ben_Hecht

    Ben_Hecht Active Member

    One of the main problems, of course, is that Lee Abrams is drawing a check.

    "But . . . but . . . THAT'S DIFFERENT!"
  6. Fredrick

    Fredrick Well-Known Member

    I wish we'd just change the name of it.
    Don't call them newspapers any more.
    It's an insult.
    And don't call it Journalism.
  7. IGotQuestions

    IGotQuestions Member

    This quote alone - "I haven't figured out how to cash in a Pulitzer Prize" - speaks volumes as to where the ideals of journalism rank in the minds of the bean counters and how they're so easily able to slash newsrooms without a second thought.
  8. Double J

    Double J Active Member

    "I haven't figured out how to cash in a Pulitzer Prize."

    Has he never heard of eBay?

    I'm betting a Pulitzer could fetch some righteous bucks on there......
  9. poindexter

    poindexter Well-Known Member

    Regardless of the innovations, today's LA Times sucks balls in comparison to even a couple years ago.

    There's no "there" there.
  10. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Well-Known Member

    For ages, we kept the business side separate from the editorial side of newspapers. But every time some tyrant or jackass buys one of these places, they mess around wholesale with the editorial side. Never seem to shake up the business side in an equal way.

    If these pig-bastard owners are such swell businessmen, how about they dazzle us newsroom morons with some impressive fiscal footwork before they start pushing around journalists? The editorial product was fine for a long, long time, right up to when these jerks decided the newspaper was a business worth buying.
  11. jackson 5

    jackson 5 New Member

    What irritates me the most about Sam Zell is that he has yet to take responsibility for putting the a $13 billion company at risk with the foolish deal he engineered in the first place. Anything the guy says about changing the culture of the business or about redesigning the papers is purely a smoke screen for him to try save the Tribune company from going bankrupt. People who know the numbers expect the company go bankrupt. They still have 11 billion worth of debt to pay down. The interest for those loans jumped from $175 million in the second quarter to $233 million in the third quarter. Do the math. He's going to pay over over $900,000 million (Yes, that's close to a billion) in interest alone over the span of a year at that rate. Zell is making these changes (which essentially amount to cutting staff and newshole) with one thought in mind: He is desperately trying to save his ass and the company. He doesn't really care about the product. The Tribune company has cut its staff and newshole two, three or fourfold compared to what other media companies have essentially because he was greedy and audacious enough to believe that he could run a media empire by putting down 50 cents on a multibillion dollar deal. He doesn't have time to figure out what really works and what doesn't. His comment about having the temperature on the front page is ludicrous. I've read the paper for 30 years and even more closely the last two months to try to make an objective judgement about the redesign and I had no idea the temperature was on the bottom of the front page. I went back to check it out after I read his little Portfolio interview and there it was, in a gray box, that wasn't necessarily easy to read if you weren't looking for it. My point is that a newspaper is useful in different ways to different people. I could care less about that the temperature being scrawled across the bottom of the page. What I hate about the new redesign is the sports pages (usually six pages during the week with one to two pages of ads), the live section (it's not nearly as thoughtful or interesting as Tempo, the prior features section), the random placement of the business section (sometimes it's a standalone, other times it's not) and in general, the inconsistency with which the paper is sectioned now from day-to-day. The front section is more of a page turner and more interesting than the old front though nothing about this redesign is more comprehensive nor would I say better than what the Tribune gave its readers a year ago.
    It's all mostly bad and it doesn't appear to be getting better soon.
  12. Twoback

    Twoback Active Member

    If you really believe the business and editorial sides have ever been truly separate, you're kidding yourself.
    In the end, it's always been a business.
    How many papers have to close to convince you of that?
    Again, not defending Zell here, because his purchase of Tribune was structured to fail. But he did say in this interview he's shaking up the business side very significantly. How many times has any of us griped about the ad team's inability to sell, say, a football tab? Well, that's because they had no incentive to sell it. They weren't even on commission most places. Zell straightened that out in his shops. It may be his only good contribution to this business.
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