Saturday, January 20, 2007

$269 Million Set Aside For Incompetent Tribune Executives

One of the most shocking things about American corporate life is that the dumber the executives are, the more they get when everything crashes down and they are forced to leave.

I'm not talking about the jail terms they often deserve. I'm talking about the golden parachutes set aside for the miscreants.

So, it's really not surprising that it turns out that if the squalid Tribune Co. does take one of the offers it has solicited for its newspapers and television stations, a whopping $269 million has already been set aside for the executives who have driven the country into the ground, diminishing the quality of all its newspapers and laying people off by the hundreds.

Dennis FitzSimons, Scott Smith, David Hiller and 47 other top people at the company -- who have wrecked so many professional lives and have proven their incompetence time and time again -- would walk off with all these millions, so that they could live luxurious lives until they die and probably go straight to hell. Divine justice, is, of course, more appropriately retributive than human justice.

Executive by executive, it is not as great an amount as Mark Willes stole from Times-Mirror when he was ousted as CEO in the ill-fated sale to the Tribune Co. Willes got at least $64 million, and perhaps, according to reports, as much as $105 million. Then, he had the gall to even take the cold drinks in his office refrigerator. And this was a man who supposedly came from a religious family. even if he had grossly violated journalistic ethics in the Staples scandal.

If the Tribune executives now had any sense of values at all, they would leave without a whimper, proven failures in years of tomfoolery.

But there is one bright side to the news about the set-asides: That is that with so much at stake for these executives, the chance they will accept one of the offers made for the company may be brighter than Wall Street analysts have predicted. When the Tribune board meets today to consider the Broad-Burkle, Chandler and Carlyle offers for all or part of the company, the $269 million may be a potent card on the table. We are dealing here, of course, with greedy men.

On Saturday, the Tribune board met for several hours to consider what to do but adjourned with no action. It issued a statement saying the board is considering its next moves, which might include action by the company to keep itself going. This would be the most foolish thing it could do, since there is no prospect this woebegone company could aright itself.

Meanwhile, Tim Rutten has a column in the L.A. Times today in which he makes the incredible closing statement that "it doesn't matter" where the new owners of the L.A. Times and the other Tribune properties reside, because, Rutten opines, local ownership of newspapers "is not an end to itself."

Much as I usually respect Rutten, I think on this he is all wrong.

It does make a difference that a great Los Angeles institution like the L.A. Times is owned locally, because the odds are that a locally-owned institution will be more beholden to the public interest in the community than one living, as Rutten puts it, in "Davenport, Iowa, or the dark side of the moon."

The dark side of the moon may be the place for the permanent home of FitzSimons and Hiller. With their share of the $269 million, they could afford to hire a well-equipped spaceship and go and live there.

But a Los Angeles newspaper should be owned by Los Angelenos.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Newspaper Ownership Is Turning The Page
In Orange County, The Private Model
By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 16, 2007; Page D01

Freedom president Scott N. Flanders.................

Half of Flanders's job is running Freedom. The other half is figuring out how to buy out Providence and Blackstone and return the paper to full family control. Flanders would not offer specifics on how to buy out the equity firms, but one obvious method is to raise revenue through new advertising initiatives.

"When an industry is under siege, revenue streams need to be considered that were heretofore considered sacrosanct," Flanders said.

Flanders offers up the experience of former L.A. Times publisher Mark Willes as an example. Under Willes, the paper brought an ethical scandal on itself in 1999 by publishing a magazine about the newly opened Staples Center arena and splitting ad revenue with the venue, breaching the editorial-advertising wall. "No one would bat an eye at that today," Flanders said, though he added it was important to maintain Freedom's journalistic standards. "Mark Willes was ahead of his time."

1/20/2007 12:14 PM  

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