I’d like to add to my previous entry on why I think Sam Zell, in the long run, will be good for the Tribune Co., and hopefully for our industry in general.
Too many journalists scoff that Zell knows plenty about real estate, not nothing about the fourth estate. To them, I say maybe WE need to learn more about real estate if we are to keep the fourth estate alive and healthy.
Like most of the folks in the business, I came in at the time of Woodward and Bernstein with aspirations of the affecting the same type of change they were able to create. I read Royko religiously as a teen and also aspired to be a thorn in the side of the machine. I saw “Deadline U.S.A.” and lived for the day when I could tell a source “That’s the press, baby … and there’s nothing you can do about it!”
And early in my years as a reporter, I was able to slay some local windmills that were in the way of my quest. I uncovered local corruption, saved the careers of two fine associate judges, and won a few awards along the way.
But, as I became a manager and editor, I also realized that newspapers are not that much different than any other business. And, as a journalist, I was not immune to things like paying a mortgage and utility bills. But as long as we had readers and advertisers kept pouring money into our businesses, we were able to spare no expense in the name of a good story.
Well, we don’t have the readers and advertisers as we used to. We’ve written tons of copy on how other industries, like automobiles and steel, lost their revenue base and have had either made difficult decisions to change their business model, or have died off.
Yes, we can hold our heads up high and say we are different, we have an obligation to uphold. We are a public watchdog protecting the American democratic system from corruption and abuse. We are righting wrongs in the system. We are helping the nation maintain itself.
But that ain’t paying the company’s bills. And that will likely mean I won’t be able to pay my bills.
I don’t believe Zell is saying the Tribune Company … and the newspaper industry … needs to give up its core values and ideals. What he is saying is that they (and we) need to really look deeply at ourselves and “is this the most efficient way to create our product?” (which, by the way, is news and information, not a newspaper or web site). And … are we giving our customers what they really need in a format they want? Those answers may mean changing or eliminating some “sacred cows” in the industry … like just how many editors are needed on a story. And it could mean fewer jobs all around.
The biggest threat to journalism isn’t Sam Zell…it’s those of us from within who aren’t willing to recognize that this business model is busted, and we need some major repairs to get it working again.