Tuesday, June 20, 2006

FitzSimons Mistreats The LAT, And The Employees Know It

In the evenhanded story by Thomas S. Mulligan this morning on the Tribune Co. CEO, Dennis FitzSimons, in the L.A. Times it's revealed publicly that in a survey of Times employees last summer, with 84% responding, only 34% felt the Times was "highly regarded" by Tribune Co., and only 27% felt they were "appreciated" by the Tribune.

It was Abraham Lincoln who once said, "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time."

That is obvious at the L.A. Times. Only a minority feel the Times is well treated by the Tribune, the low quality company that bought The Times in 2000.

But it may be not only Times newspapermen who doubt FitzSimon's dedication to newspapers. Mulligan quotes an anonymous high-level journalist who has worked for the Tribune CEO as saying, "He seems uncomfortable with discussions about the public-service mission of newspapers."

Other journalists are quoted as saying that FitzSimons "can be difficult to engage in conversation about their work."

Howard A. Tyler, a veteran Tribune executive who retired as a corporate vice president two years ago, is quoted in Mulligan's story as describing FitzSimons as "a very pragmatic, bottom-line guy who sometimes thinks journalists use that 1st Amendment argument to get away with things -- such as ignoring the bottom line."

This is no surprise. It means what has become obvious, that FitzSimons cares far more about making money than he does about journalistic quality. He has even selfishly raised his own salary, while Tribune fortunes sink.

It may also explain why the L.A. Times editorialized against Judith Miller and a reporter's right to maintain the confidentiality of sources last year.

With this bull-headed former broadcasting executive in charge, it is no wonder that things have gone downhill at The Times, with many employees laid off or forced into buyouts and circulation down by 350,000.

But in a New York Times story Monday about the failure of Tribune Co. to realize its goal of creating synergy between its newspapers and television stations, as it said it would do at the time of the acquisition of Times-Mirror, the status of the Tribune's business in Los Angeles is revealed to be even worse than had previously been reported.

The NYT, in a story by Richard Siklos and Katharine Q. Seeley, reports that while the L.A. Times has lost 5.4% of its circulation just in the last year, "the biggest drop among the top ten dailies and more than twice the industry average," its ad revenue was also down by 3% in the first quarter and its total revenue slipped 1.6% from 2003 to 2005.

The other big Tribune property in Los Angeles, KTLA (Channel 5) has, meanwhile, lost a remarkable half of its audience between 2001 and 2005, down, according to Nielsen Media Research, from 202,000 to 105,000.

This too is no surprise, since Channel 5's news programs have degenerated into a mish mosh, the announcers jumping from one kind of news to another without rhyme nor reason. It used to have a great 10 p.m. news program. It no longer does.

Other former Times-Mirror newspapers have been treated by the Tribune Co., even worse than the Times. Newsday, the Long Island newspaper, with its staff shrinking by hundreds in the last two years. has, according to a former editor, Howard Schneider, seen "a shrinking of editorial ambition back to where it was 30 years ago," leaving it essentially a local newspaper.

The Baltimore Sun has also fared miserably. A former Tribune executive was quoted last week in the Columbia Journalism Review as saying, "What's happened at Baltimore and what's happened at Newsday in terms of the bleeding of talent is staggering. It's like a purge of journalistic talent that's gone on in Tribune Co. It's really an amazing story."

Tribune has terminated 900 employees in the last year, and now, according to the ill-conceived stock buyback plan announced by FitzSimons will cut expenses another $200 million, which means further layoffs and a further diminishing of Tribune-owned newspapers.

FitzSimons cannot reasonably blame business conditions for these failures, since other newspaper and broadcast companies have fared far better. No, he is responsible and, if he were to do the right thing, he would agree to the independent advice the Chandler family urged he take on, and then, without a golden parachute, resign.

Mulligan quotes people this morning as saying he is a fighter who doesn't quit. So was Gen. Westmoreland, when he was commanding U.S. forces in the Vietnam war. Finally, there is no excuse for incompetence.

The facts are clear. We must all hope that the Tribune Co. will be broken up, the Times sold back to local investors, and FitzSimons perhaps take a teaching position at Fordham University, where he seems to have been so poorly educated.

All of California has been insulted by the policies of this man. It is high time, he goes.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Howard TYNER, not Tyler.

Factcheck, Ken.

6/20/2006 8:55 PM  
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