As you know, I’ve given Sam Zell and his crew the benefit of a doubt as they try to bring the Tribune Company out of its stuffed-shirt spiral and into a model of success in the media industry. However, I’m concerned whether their latest plan steps across the line from innovation to insanity.

Granted, the plan to reduce newspaper pages and newshole makes economic sense. If you’re bleeding profusely, you need to apply a tourniquet, then turn it tightly. This is an economic tourniquet designed to stop the bleeding of revenue from fewer ads and declining readership. Hopefully, when times get better and the bleeding stops, it can be removed.

However, the idea of measuring productivity is a major concern, and could get into cutting out muscle instead of fat. Plans are underway to measure journalists’ productivity by how many stories appear in the paper. Those who produce a lot of stories, the bosses say, are safe. Those who do not, they add, should start to sweat.

First off, the idea of measuring a reporter’s work by the number of stories they write is nothing new. Many newspapers have done byline count for a long time. And, as a manager who has done that on occasion, it does provide a decent reference to what the writer has done over time.

However, if the byline count is the ONLY measure, then you run into problems. You are measuring quantity, and not quality , of the work. So, using this as a measure, you can easily say that the staffer who compiled your sports agate page every night is producing far more than an investigative reporter who pieces together an expose or interpretative story every month, or even your most popular staff columnist who write two to three times a week.

All three serve a purpose to the paper and to its readers. Saying one is more productive than the others in terms of inch count is lunacy. There needs to be other checks and balances put in place to assure that “productivity” includes how the person uses their time to develop the results they put forth, and not just the results alone. In my mind, the person who is always networking, always researching, always checking facts and turning those into solid, interesting and readable stories is the most valuable person in my organization.

So, can Sam Zell and Randy Michaels stand there and say that the Trib’s agate person is more valuable to the organization than Eric Zorn or Maurice Possley? For the sake of the company’s future, I certainly hope not.

And, we’ve seen a lot of draconian talk from the chiefs. Granted, draconian is necessary in today’s climate. But, for the sake of the Tribune Comapany and those of us who are yearning for a success story, let’s hear and see more innovation. Let’s hear from Zell and Michaels about things beoing done to regenrate the newspaper company, not ratchet it down more and more!

Enough with the tourniquets already!

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