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Re: “Publisher Jim Warren Is Leaving the Chicago Reader

Is it possible that a dog named Toto wandered into the Reader, discovered a curtained room away from the master's throne and revealed him to be just another huckster from Kansas ... or was it Chicago? Before catching the next hot-air balloon leaving the depot, the great-and-powerful Wizard of Oz bestowed medals, diplomas and other placebos on loyal employees in the office.

Too bad the flying monkeys couldn't find Jim O'Shea -- who probably was too busy granting interviews to dazzled reporters from faraway lands -- and drag his ass back to the Wicked Witch of the Midwest's castle.

Posted by skeptical on 03/09/2010 at 2:45 PM

Re: “More Chicago in the New York Times, Courtesy of Reader Executives

Dear Wired: Do you actually believe what you wrote, as it pertains to the publisher of the Reader ("A real journalist would be able to write a column per week and do a lot more than be publisher of a weekly newspaper ..."). If so, do you also believe that running "a weekly newspaper" is somehow less taxing than overseeing the operations of any other substantial business?

Let's forget for a New York minute that writing a weekly column (or, indeed, two) for a publication not one's own -- and presumably being paid to do so -- constitutes a conflict of a) interest and b) loyalty. How much time should a publisher devote to his/her primary employer ... 35 hours, 40 hours, 50 hours? How much of that publisher's free time, then, should be devoted to making sure he/her is writing the best possible column for one of the most demanding newspapers on the planet? Then, too, how much of his/her time should be devoted to eating, sleeping and meeting family needs?

Remember, Wired, at last count, there are only 168 hours in the average week. How much time is left for living a life worthy of executing learned commentary?

The same applies for the wee Irish fellow, who, in addition to "inspiring" the CNC, is a member of the editorial board of the Reader and its sister publications ... and, we're told, is writing a book about his valiant efforts to save the Los Angeles Times from further layoffs and budget cuts, after he agreed to do what Dean Baquet and John Carroll refused to do.

Isn't Mr. Miner really asking in his column: where do these news executives' first loyalties lie, the Reader or the CNC and, by extension, the Times? What happens, for example, if Mr. O'Shea and/or Mr. Warren become aware of parallel investigations of parking meters, say, or police brutality, by the staffs of the Reader and CNC? If I were the Reader reporter working either story, I'd want to know that the information I was gathering in my company-owned computer was privileged ... or that a CNC deadline might not be moved ahead to trump a Reader cover piece.

I do believe that Mr. O'Shea and Mr. Warren are honorable people, but, as news execs (a.k.a., "pretend journalists"), could they resist the temptation to boost one company's business over the other? To me, such a predicament practically defines the concept "appearance of a conflict of interest." But, then, I don't work for the Reader. I am merely a reader ... what, me worry? (And, not being a subscriber of the Times or Tribune, I'll do what I always do ... peruse them on the Internet. And, when the Great Wall of News goes up, borrow my brother's subscriber code to access them.)

I would think that the poobahs of the New York Times would have similar concerns, unless, of course, they consider the CNC to be a minor-league franchise or still buy into the "Second City" theory. If not, why not simply add a couple more folks to the bureau and cover Chicago as if it were a real city?

And to Mr. Tuxedo, if you believe that the Tribune editors mentioned in your missive fought the good fight until the bitter end, I refer you to the history of the above-mentioned Baquet and Carroll at the Los Angeles Times. Those gentlemen quit before the Times could be put on the downward spiral. (By contrast, the Tribune editors hung on until they were fired and offered a soft pillow upon which to fall.)

As far I know, neither of the Times execs accepted a sweet buyout package, with a non-disclosure clause. The publishers, Puerner and Johnson, likewise, quit when the writing was put on the wall by their former bosses in Chicago. Mr. O'Shea, who left the Tribune voluntarily for a prestige job in L.A., quit only AFTER the Zell regime was installed and became an intolerable burden to any editor. He quit AFTER he helped ruin the careers and lives of nearly 100 highly trained professionals. And, guess what?, after hundreds more layoffs, the Times remains a better paper than the Tribune was when Ms. Lipinski, Mr. Warren et al were jettisoned. Meanwhile, Times subscribers consider the current product to be an abomination and dark shadow of its former self. Its circulation is hundreds of thousands short of its base only a decade ago.

The New York Times is attempting to take advantage of the diminuation of the Tribune and Times ... but on the cheap, at least in Chicago.

Posted by skeptical on 11/20/2009 at 4:23 PM

Re: “More Chicago in the New York Times, Courtesy of Reader Executives

Part-time publisher ... what a concept. The Reader must really be on the road to recovery. I guess writing a column for the New York Times beats playing computer Solataire when a publisher runs out of things to do.

Has Mr. O'Shea ever considered the possibility that sharing Mr. Warren with the CNC's sole business partner might constitute a conflict of someone's interest? Or, that Mr. Warren might invest more effort into his New York Times column than serving the needs of the Reader, its employees and advertisers?

Or, is it Mr. O'Shea's ego that needs rescuing more than the Reader's bottom line? After all, the Los Angeles Times he helped dismantle has somehow managed to hang in there after his self-martyrdom. At a time when too few jobs are available for real journalists, some pretend journalists have too many.

Posted by skeptical on 11/20/2009 at 1:30 AM

Re: “David Greising Goes Future Hunting

Has it been reported anywhere how much money the CNC has available to it? Given that the two Tribune reporters recruited by CNC were making somewhere in the neighborhood of $70,000 per year -- not counting benefits -- it begs the question as to how far the MacArthur money might go, especially when the contributions of other staff members are factored into the equation.

What other revenue streams are expected to keep the enterprise afloat? Can't imagine the New York Times getting many more subscribers out of the deal, as the same people who would be interested in CNC copy already get the Times. Will the four CNC pages contain ads?

In response to Dack Rambo's question, I'd say that both regimes sucked/suck ... equally, but in entirely different ways. Ann Marie Lipinski and Jim O'Shea's bunch treated the paper and readers much in the same way as Mayor Daley and his cronies treat the citizens of Chicago, and with the same degree of entitlement and arrogance. Their biggest crime was using the award-winning features sections, writers and critics as loss-leaders. Ever since Koky Dischon was ousted as Features czar/diva, no subsequent DME/Features has had a background in features or a desire to stay in that position for more than two or three years, before moving back into news.

Kern & Co. are grasping at straws. Page One hits the target some days, but more often misses it completely. Everything beyond Page One is an afterthought. The Tribune's sister paper, the Los Angeles Times, continues to turn out a decent product everyday, despite the fact it's considered to be a shadow of its former self. That would be the model to follow, if the Tribune's infrastructure already weren't so decimated.

Another question. Is Mr. Warren going to be a part-time publisher at the Reader? Seems like a big responsibility for someone with no prior experience in the job. And, yet, it sounds as if he will contribute columns to CNC -- a conflict? -- and, perhaps, maintain his columnizing at Huffpost and various other outlets. No one I know at the Tribune or Reader expects Warren to maintain the wall between church and state, so it's worth asking how he'll be able to keep all of those balls in the air simultaneously.

Or, perhaps, the Reader's future is of less interest to O'Shea and Warren than that of the CNC, and, someday, the Reader will become the de facto features department of a more ambitious CNC.

Posted by skeptical on 10/30/2009 at 11:50 PM

Re: “"Chicago News Cooperative" Will Serve New York Times and Local Media

Here's a dissenting opinion from a Gawker blogger and former Tribune employee.…

By the way, the banner over the new, improved Sports page,"Smack," should also carry the caveat, "Expired after Jim Rome wore the phrase out 10 years ago." If they really want to compete with the Sun-Times, maybe they also should steal the ST's whole "In Your Face" marketing campaign, too.

Good luck on the Twittering thing ... apparently an ability to chew gum and cross a street
simultaneously no longer will be the test of cross-sensory coordination. It will be the ability to Twitter and a watch a ballgame and respond to Twittees simultaneously ... or Twitter and watch a Lyric Opera performance and respond to the Twits, er, Twittees simultaneously ... or Twitter and understand what's being said at a news confernce, formulate a question, ask the question and, then, respond to subscribers simultaneously. Better to have a reporter, columnist or critic who observes events, and someone else, sitting next to her, Twittering to the seven or eight people who aren't more interested in Twittering about Balloon Boy, Jon and Kate, and the First Lady's hula hoop.

Oh, but that would require more personnel ... never mind. Maybe they could pay CNC to cover events with its own reporters -- not "board members" -- who will work for free or 10 cents a word.

(How many New Age journalists will it take to replace a burned-out light bulb over a work station? A lot: one to call a janitor to replace the bulb; another to Twitter it to subcribers; another to blog about it; another to illustrate the process in a graphic device; another to construct a map, explaining where the light socket was in relation to other sockets in the building, city, state, country, continent and planet; another to survey on-line techies about the efficacy of using traditional round bulbs or those new twisty things; another to write about the procedure for the next morning's paper; another to send the story out on the mojo wire; someone at the HuffPost to re-write the piece under his own byline; another to editorialize on it; a pair of columnists to argue about it via IM dispatches; another to constuct a clari based on an inaccuracy of the original item; an editor to call up Editor & Publisher to brag about how much more economical it's become to screw in a lightbulb in the newsroom of the future; a marketing team to insist that the Trib does such things way better and cooler than the S-T; a publisher to decide that the job could have been performed more efficiently if it were outsourced to a janitorial team in the Philippines and, then, announce a new round of layoffs; and someone to leak the memo to Romenesko.)

Posted by skeptical on 10/22/2009 at 5:59 PM

Re: “Chicago Reader enters Atalaya Era

IAC: I'm not sure longtime readers of the LATimes will be appeased by your strictly-business arguments. By those standards, it's OK to trim to the bone; export the copy desk and local reporting duties to India (certain Singleton papers); and require subscribers to call someone in the Philippines for customer service (Tribune and others). I get it. Wall Street must be fed.

In America, when quality doesn't contribute to the bottom line, business demands profit over quality. That's just the way it is. I may not like it ... but I get it. Taking Tribune or any company private occasionally makes that reality mute.

However, none of that excuses shoddy business practice and myopia. During the due-diligence period of the Times-Mirror deal, Tribune Co. inexplicably ignored warning flags waving from the west coast on a billion-dollar tax scam by the Chandlers. In the case of Sam Zell, the trailer-park czar and slumlord convinced himself that he not only could rescue a sinking ship not in his native waters, but he could get other people to pay for it (Tribune employees and taxpayers), as well.

Before the Tribune purchased the Los Angeles Times, it was only a new editor and publisher away from being able -- once again -- to compete with any newspaper in the world ... again, using strictly journalistic standards. Indeed, Tribune Co proved that by pouring money into its new flagship (while pulling money away from the old one); hiring Baquet, Carroll and at least a dozen new top-shelf staffers; firing the execs responsible for the Staples Center debacle and other atrocities; and raising the news and marketing budgets. The immediate result: a nearly record number of Pulitzers; increased prestige; and hope for a better product from subscribers.

Within two months, however, after basking in the afterglow, Tribune executives did exactly what IAC suggests they should have done all along: slash, burn and get back to the business of meeting Wall Street expectations. Mind you, even while bloated, profit margins there had risen to nearly 20 percent, compared with the low-teens in the Chandler era. It wasn't enough for the boys in the Tower.

It was then, and then, only, that Carroll and Baquet realized that the return for their hard work would be a call to eliminate many of the people who helped the paper succeed over the past 30 years (the Otis Chandler era). At first, these editors and publishers (Puerner and Johnson) were able to go along, agreeing that some staff members were hanging on pathetically and were expendable. By the time, O'Shea and Hiller came along, there was only bone to cut. They saw fat where others saw lean and did what they were told.

After the acquisition by Zell, the sky was the limit as to the number of buyouts required at the Times. O'Shea understood this and martyred himself. Hiller was bounced for a strictly business guy from the satellite-TV dodge (David was having too much fun and not focusing on the bottom line). The LATimes shrank and became a shadow of its former self. Readers responded by not buying the paper and advertisers followed their lead.

Even, then, however, the LATimes was and continues to be a much better paper than the Tribune. (Check it out yourself.)

From a strictly business point of view that probably indicates to you, IAC, that there's still some fat left on the bone. You're entitled to your opinion. As a onetime subscriber to both papers, I'll continue to vote with my wallet. If I want to read the Times, I can go to the library or website, and, no, I won't pay for that privilege.

Things might have been quite different if the Tribune had cut the Times loose before the sale to Zell, giving a guy like David Geffen a chance to take the paper -- if not the chain -- private and succeed at lower margins. It's also possible that the Sun-Times might not be the wreck it became if the Fields hadn't succumbed to greed and sold to Murdoch. There were alternative investors around then, too.

We'll see how the new board handles adversity, if any, when it rears its ugly head at the Reader. Let's hope Mr. O'Shea continues to object to the slash-and-burn strategy and makes his feelings known in time for another more, civic-minded interest to consider purchasing the paper, giving it a more fair chance of success, however marginal. (Remember, according the Randy Michaels, NONE of the Tribune papers are losing money. It's the deal that sucked.)

Posted by skeptical on 08/27/2009 at 3:26 PM

Re: “Chicago Reader enters Atalaya Era

To IAC: First off, I wasn't comparing the Reader to the Los Angeles Times. There are too many differences between them to mention and almost all of them are obvious.

I hope Mr. O'Shea is true to his word and uses his position on the board to restore the Reader to some semblance of its former glory. Immediately re-hiring some of the Reader's former stars would go a long way to achieving that goal. I'm "Skeptical," because, while Mr. O'Shea talks a good game in advance, he's likely to bail when it stops going his way. It was no secret why he was made the editor of the Times and Mr. Hiller the publisher: they had a track record at the Tribune of playing along with the brass, whose eyes then were on Wall Street, and could be counted on to make the cuts that Mr. Baquet and Mr. Johnson couldn't abide.

There was no good reason for O'Shea to stick around during the Zell era, other than collecting a pay check ... and losing that wasn't a burden for him. He was a Chicago guy and was happy to return home. The Times' staffers he encouraged to keep on doing the good work of journalism weren't as fortunate.

At the time of the first post-Baquet cuts, yes, the number of Times employees was "in the thousands" ... 2,625 to be exact. The number of newsroom employees, however, was about 920, and it would shrink to about 850, down from a high of some 1,200 in the "Velvet Coffin" era. The news hole would shrink 15 percent, at least; features, columnists and political cartoonists would be dropped; the actual size of the broadsheet would be reduced; and a couple dozen reporters/editors would find a new home on the Internet.

These cuts may not impress IAC, but they were sufficient cause for alarm among L.A.'s political, business, activist and advertising communities -- as well as stupified subscribers -- to speak out against them in public and private forums. (Where was the outcry in Chicago when even more drastic cuts were being made?) And, ironically, the worst was yet to come.

At the beginning of O'Shea's tenure, the New York Times had 1,200 newsroom employees and, after a then-recent buyout, the Washington Post had about 750 (with a significantly smaller circulation than the both of the Times). The LATimes currently has about 550 newsroom employees, fewer sections and even less prestige.

This decline had little to do with the LATimes' longtime aspiration to become a national or, even, the SoCal paper of record. Those sank of their own accord, poor distribution, lack of late scores and news, and general disinterest outside Hollywood in the movie biz.

It should be noted that the newsstand price for a daily edition also had gone up to 75 cents, from its time-honored 25 cents, and thousands of readers would lose the daily habit. (Today, you can subscribe daily/Sunday for $110 a year, and get great access to the Internet.)

Unlike Carroll and Baquet, who were hired after the Tribune/Times-Mirror deal. O'Shea did represent the official Tribune opinion that the Times was monstrously bloated and wrong in its stand against the consolidation of bureaus and running more Tribune-produced copy. He got religion when he saw what it took to cover the world, nation and SoCal in something other than the zone-crazed and brief-happy way the Tribune did. Suddenly, he enjoyed having that big, smart and respected staff behind him.

Knowing what Zell had planned -- all O'Shea had to do was consult with his shell-shocked pals back home in the Tower -- he fell on his bayonet. There was no upside in staying.

The Reader could easily benefit from his news sense and drive. Good luck to him and the Reader and readers of the Reader. Board members, remember, are required to be more responsive to investers than customers. Optimism based on O'Shea's self-martyrdom at the LATimes, however, should be tempered.

Posted by skeptical on 08/26/2009 at 2:50 PM

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