Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Excuses Abound On Why Tribune Can't Sell LAT

We've now gotten to the point where everybody is writing about why the inept Tribune Co. managers can't arrange to sell the L.A. Times and the company's other mishandled properties back into hands that would know how to successfully run them.

Generally speaking, the Chandler family is being blamed, often because it wants to avoid paying taxes on a sale, or, it was stated in a L.A. Times article, the federal strictures against a newspaper company also owning television stations in the same market areas where the papers are doing business in effect negate the chances of a sale.

But since the television stations could be put on sale separately from the newspapers, that is not much of an excuse. If federal policy on cross-ownership is maintained, some of these TV stations, like Channel 5 in Los Angeles, would have to be sold separately anyway.

As for the Chandlers, yes, the existing branches of the family, want to realize value out of a sale and, just like everyone, would like to minimize taxes.

But can we blame the Chandlers for this? When the Chandlers had Times-Mirror sold to the Tribune Co. in 2000, they had as much reason as the rest of us for thinking they had entered into a sound deal. The leaders of Tribune Co. pledged to run good newspapers and to accord the L.A. Times an honored place within their business.

Who could have foreseen that Tribune would change leadership, elevating Dennis FitzSimons into a position he turned out to be utterly unqualified for, and that FitzSimons and his choice as Tribune president, Scott Smith, would immediately start downsizing all their papers and failing to invest money in circulation and Web site improvements, investments which are essential these days to keep papers in sound financial positions?

So, we reached the point last spring, where, alarmed both at the way things were going, and FitzSimons' remedies -- a stock buyback and continuing cutbacks of all kinds -- that promised nothing but disaster, the three Chandler members of the Tribune board rehired Tom Unterman, and solicited a breakup of the company, or sale of selected properties. Maybe, Jeffrey Chandler was viewed as unusually dumb, even among the surviving Chandlers, by people who knew him. Still, he and the other two Chandler representatives on the Tribune board were not being wrong in wanting out at that point.

As the New York Times said Saturday in a column Saturday by Joe Nocera, the time for a sale proved not to be propitious. The very ineptitude of the FitzSimons management made the Tribune newspapers less enticing a deal, and then the firing of publishers and editors at the L.A. Times came just at a moment when investors were looking. Getting rid of Dean Baquet at the L.A. Times alone was a powerful disincentive to making a satisfactory offer for the Times. Immediately, indeed, the Times lost some of its value.

So, it's proved difficult to arrange the kind of deal either the Chandlers or the mismanaging Chicago businessmen who run Tribune would like.

But that does not mean that Tribune ought not to go ahead and take the best offer it has.

Things are not going to get better under the present ownership, which simply does not know what to do. It is out of sound ideas. FitzSimons actually never had any.

It's clear from what the Chandlers have been telling associates privately that they would enter into arrangements, the best they could get. It's only the stubbornness of FitzSimons and his crew of incompetents that really prevents going ahead.

Sometimes, if you're totally witless, such as FitzSimons and his associates, you have to sell for less than you hoped to get.



Can we really blame them for this?

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

please, can you find an adjective other than "inept" to describe the Tribune Co.? Also, the "axis of stupidity" has become far too repetitive and much too heavy handed for the inane target. lay down the sledgehammer-- pick up the scalpel, pal.

2/20/2007 9:13 PM  

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