Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Clueless Remain That Way at Tribune

With Los Angeles Times Gutting One-Sixth of Newsroom, Sam Zell & Co. Show How Desperation Trumps Innovation

Don't be fooled.

Yesterday's announcement that The Los Angeles Times would cut 250 jobs, including 150 from the newsroom was even worse than the reductions expected after ad revenue plunged 15 percent in the first quarter.
While editor Russ Stanton readily conceded the cuts suck and that newsroom morale is next to nonexistent, he still chirped about still having one of the largest corps of journalists in the country.
Just like the Hartford Courant's brass tried put on a happy face earlier in the week, despite the shedding of about 60 newsroom jobs. The party line: the Courant would still have the largest newsroom in Connecticut. Which tells you a lot about journalism in the Nutmeg State.
This is not the end for those papers or any other Tribune property. This is not "right-sizing," to better reflect the new reality of circulation and advertising. This is a Band-Aid, plain and simple. And it's going to fall off real soon.
Instead of nip-and-tuck, we get slash-and-burn, and not because the economy is so horrid, or readers prefer to get their news fix on the Internet.
For Tribune, it's $12.8 billion in debt. The bankers are calling the shots. They don't give a squat about good journalism, they just want their dough. As The New York Times points out:

"[Tribune] reported operating cash flow in 2007 of just under $1 billion, barely more than the annual debt service payments it now faces, and revenues are dropping fast. In addition, the company faces $1.4 billion in payments over the next year.

The L.A. Times plans to cut 500 pages a week, a 12 percent reduction. That could be viewed as a start toward solvency. But there's a long road ahead, and Sam Zell is having trouble seeing over the steering wheel.
For those employees left, be afraid. Be very afraid.

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