Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tribune Co. Makes Problems For Itself

The Tribune Co. is like the Palestinians in that it continually makes problems for itself. It compounds every disadvantage it faces, and it seldom learns anything constructive from its mistakes.

All this comes to mind when we contemplate the hole the inept CEO, Dennis FitzSimons, has dug for himself by putting out the word that unless the FCC acts by Dec. 18 to either grant the Tribune Co. waivers allowing it to own major newspapers and TV stations in the same cities, or grants it that right permanently, the deal to sell the company to real estate magnate Sam Zell will go the way of the dinosaurs.

First, it should be said, the federal government seldom acts with such dispatch on anything, especially not something fraught with so much controversy as this, with a potent threat of lawsuits or legislative delays.

But, second, it is very unlikely that the Zell deal will come crashing down if there are no waivers by Dec. 18. If Zell is determined on the deal, and there is every sign that he is enjoying all the attention he has been getting as the next owner of one of the largest media companies, then I strongly suspect the deal will be put together, even if the waivers are not created by the deadline, and it is possible it will be put together even if the waivers are not complete, and the Tribune is forced to sell properties in Hartford and even Chicago by the plan that has tentatively been cobbled together by the FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin.

It may be, as has been said, that if the deal is not finalized until next year, it would cost Zell $100 million more and compound financing and tax problems. But maybe not. This is like the car dealer who tells you you won't get such a good deal unless you buy the car that afternoon. Usually, he doesn't really mean it.

I certainly remember, when I was covering the ever-changing plans for the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, it was always said that unless something happened by a certain deadline, all proposals would be dropped. Here, we are, years later, and despite Sam Farmer's excellent story in the L.A. Times Sports section recently suggesting that the Coliseum bow out of efforts to bring a professional football team to Los Angeles, plans for the Coliseum keep popping up.

So, we'll have to wait and see. But I bet Zell will be around after Jan. 1, even if the deal is not closed by that time. After all, he is putting so little money into the purchase of the Tribune Co. now that another $100 million won't mean all that much.

In any case, even before he has the company, he may already be making mistakes, such as we see in the report out yesterday from blogger Joe Scott that he intends to sell the Times building and move the paper somewhere else in Los Angeles. (L.A. Times publisher David Hiller issued a statement Thursday saying this is not true).

I hope not, because this would raise the possibility that Zell is not interested in running a newspaper so much as he is in conducting a fire sale of lucrative properties, and that like some other corporate scoundrels he plans to take the money and run. Such policies, however, have occasionally landed their perpetrators in jail, and, so far in his career, Zell has avoided jail. In any event, Hiller said in his statement that Tribune Co. does not actually own the Times building now, that it is owned by one of the Chandler Trusts and is leased to Tribune at the moment. He indicated Tribune might exercise an option to buy it. This is naturally, somewhat reassuring.

Of course, in the 1990s, there were proposals to sell what was then called "Times Mirror Square," but wiser heads prevailed and it wasn't done.

The square, regardless of what its present name is, (and the Tribune has made such little reputation in Los Angeles that I'm not even really sure), is symbolic of the power and influence of the newspaper. Selling it would be another blow to the paper's fortunes.

It's a shame, really a shame, that at a time when Times managers are making a lot of constructive moves, such as I discussed yesterday in commenting on various changes that have been announced, FitzSimons and Zell seem, like the Palestinians, to be reported to be throwing a stinkpot into every possible barrel of perfume. But in the matter of the building sale, we apparently are doing them an injustice. Now, if they just stop talking about deadlines for consummating this long-delayed venture.

(In regard to new decisions, I should also have mentioned yesterday David Lauter's announcement he is naming Richard Kipling as a kind of shepherd of the paper's young reporters. When he was running the METPRO training program for minority reporters, Kipling was known for his extreme solicitude for his charges, and was responsible in a most important way for that program's outstanding success. This is another Lauter idea that has great promise, since, like almost all newspapers, the Times has a habit of throwing its young reporters into the storm of everyday newspaper life with little support or guidance. Some young reporters, like Matea Gold and Narda Zacchino when they came to the paper, don't need the support, but others do).

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The King of Spain, Juan Carlos, is a class act. He provided vital support for the young Spanish democracy that followed the Franco regime, coming out with a decisive no when there was a momentary threat of a new junta, and now, he has stood up valiantly against Hugo Chavez, the petty tyrant from Venezuela, at a summit last week, curtly telling him to "shut up" when Chavez, as is his wont, turned disruptive.

Now, if Hindenburg had only slapped down Hitler, which at one point he could have, the world would have been a better place.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Deal needs to be done by 1/1/08 in order for the "S" corporation tax designation. Otherwise it will cost hundreds of millions per year in additional tax payments

11/15/2007 9:09 PM  

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