Sunday, June 11, 2006

Columbia Journalism Review Assails Tribune Co. Management

Powerful and direct language is used in the Columbia Journalism Review Daily to describe the lack of coherent strategy at what it calls "the intrigue-wracked Tribune Co." in another acid outside critique of the administration of Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons.

This passage drives the CJR point home:

"...The vision guiding Tribune since it bought Times Mirror Co. in 2000 -- of 'a local-media conglomerate with a stable of TV stations complementing one of the nation's finest collections of newspaper titles,' as the (Wall St.) Journal put it, 'is now widely perceived as a failure."

"The hoped-for advantages in synergy and national print advertising haven't paid off," a former company executive told CJR Daily, leaving serious cost-cutting in the former Times Mirror papers to pick up the slack. For the Times Mirror papers, said the former executive, "it's been a journalistic catastrophe these past five or six years."

"What's happened at Baltimore and what's happened at Newsday in terms of the bleeding of talent is staggering," the executive said. "It's like a purge of journalistic talent that's gone on in Tribune Co. It's really an amazing thing."

I wonder if the former executive quoted is John Carroll, the former editor of the L.A. Times and Baltimore Sun, who quit in disgust last summer.

Regardless who it is, it has become abundantly clear that the only strategy FitzSimons is using is to cut back, cut back and cut back, no matter what the cost to the quality of the newspapers he runs.

No wonder there is a virtual rebellion in Los Angeles, as staff members not so covertly seek a buyer who would reflect local interests and growth priorities.

The CJR Daily article says the problem is, "There is no vision, only piecemeal strategies -- no reassuring explanation of how Tribune will navigate journalism's rocky transition and emerge from it triumphant."

It is all somewhat reminiscent of Benito Mussolini, who plunged Italy into World War II without any reasonable strategy to prevail. But FitzSimons may not actually have his talent. After all, as has been said, Mussolini at least made the trains run on time.

This is why, if he won't voluntarily retire, FitzSimons ought to be retired, with a stockholder-forced breakup of the Tribune Co.

And in the process, the L.A. Times would stand a good chance of recovering from its present slump in circulation and its poor editorial pages.

One amazing thing in the CJR article was the statement that the Tribune Co., as a whole, remains highly profitable, with a 2005 plus margin of 20.5%. Yet at the same time, the obtuse FitzSimons continues to preach further layoffs.

The only people who should be laid off at Tribune Co., are FitzSimons, Publishing President Scott Smith, and maybe that Chicago Tribune columnist, Phil Rosenthal, who cravenly said last week that FitzSimons had a "bold strategy."

It's not bold to fire journalists right and left while increasing your own salary, as FitzSimons has done.

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