Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Columbia Journalism Review Tells Tribune Co. To Get Out Of The Newspaper Business

The whole world of journalism is coming to believe that the "axis of stupidity" formed by Dennis FitzSimons, Scott Smith and David Hiller at the Tribune Co. is truly hopeless and that the infamous trio ought to sell the L.A. Times and, in fact, get out of the newspaper business altogether.

The latest prestigious entity to adopt that eminently sound position is the Columbia Journalism Review, which, in an unsigned editorial, remarks, "Tribune has great resources, but those resources aren't doing much public good. The company seems less than the sum of its parts. And so, like (Donald) Rumsfeld, it should go. We'll take our chance with the gaggle of billionaires who are lining up to buy those newspapers."

But, as I've pointed out before, FitzSimons has demonstrated all the smarts of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who didn't know when to quit and ended up dangling by his feet in the last days of World War II, the victim of Italian partisans. He holds on, when he should have quit long ago.

After the Columbia Journalism Review editorial, Gary Dretzka, whose working experience makes him an expert on Tribune Co., wrote to Romenesko that the editorial could have been even better informed.

"If the editorial editors at CJR had dug just a bit deeper, they might have been able to point out that, immediately before joining the Bush Administration, Donald Rumsfeld served as a director on the board of Tribune Co. It also might have referenced the recollections of the current publisher of the Los Angeles Times, in its Current section, of playing squash with the just-fired Defense Secretary. It was David Hiller's first byline in his new post at the LAT."

Very informative. But we've known from the beginning of his tenure that Hiller is a putz of the worst kind. He treated his editor at the Times like Mussolini treated his son-in-law, Ciano: He got rid of him.

The Columbia Journalism Review remarked in its editorial, "Good editors will cut costs when it is part of a sensible business plan. But in time Tribune appeared to be simply harvesting the assets of its properties. Newday and others were picked nearly clean and Tribune began turning to L.A. again this fall. To Jeffrey Johnson and Dean Baquet, the former publisher and former editor of the Los Angeles Times, Tribune must have sounded like the motorcycle thugs in Hunter Thompson's first book, Hell's Angels. In Thompson telling, the Angels come up to you in a bar and say, Give me a cigarette. Then: Give me another cigarette. Then: Give me a pack. Give me your shirt. At some point you realize you might as well fight..."

In short, a good editorial. It's time that Tribune Co. executives take heed, lay down and quit. All their plans have failed, and only one honorable course remains: GO.

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Compliments to David Streitfeld in the L.A. Times Business section Tuesday for his article on Amazon's policy of pricing its books, specifically raising the prices after customers indicate their interest in books. It's like giving a regular book store clerk some books to hold until later in the week, and then finding, when you come back, that the books cost more.

This is good consumer reporting. Even though, I happen to be a stockholder in Amazon, I enjoyed it completely.

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