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Will Sam Zell Really Bankrupt the Tribune Co?

December 8th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


A year ago Sam Zell told everybody that he knew how to make newspapers make money.
(The implication being that most of the ink stained wretches actually working in the newspaper business didn’t get it.

Then yesterday, the Wall Street reported, (followed by the New York Times and everyone else) that Zell’s humungously-leveraged deal to buy the Tribune Company may be headed for bankruptcy protection.

Here’s some of what the NY Times said on the subject:

The Tribune Company, the newspaper chain that owns The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times, is trying to negotiate new terms with its creditors and has hired advisers for a possible bankruptcy filing, according to people briefed on the matter.

Tribune is in danger of falling below the cash flow required under its agreement with its bondholders, but it is not clear how seriously Tribune is thinking about seeking bankruptcy protection. Analysts and bankruptcy experts say that the hiring of advisers, including Lazard and Sidley Austin, one of the company’s longtime law firms, could be a just-in-case move, or a bargaining tactic. The company would not comment on Sunday.

A few days before yesterday’s bankruptcy rumor, Peter Osnos, the vice chair of the Columbia Journalism Review (among other titles), wrote an interesting commentary on Zell and the Tribune Company for the Daily Beast. (And by “interesting” I mean interesting in the way that a hideously calamitous accident is interesting.)

Here are some clips:

By now, it is clear that Sam Zell loathes the newspapers he acquired when he took control of the Tribune Company. In every interview, he is contemptuous of what he says has “historically been a non-business business…I can tell you unequivocally that model is a failure.” He sneers at the Pulitzer Prize and mocks coverage from places such as Afghanistan. “Local, local, local” is what readers want, he said at a media mogul conference last month. On the Chicago Tribune website, that means, under the banner of news: “Woman says ex-husband stole half of their bed.” Elsewhere on the homepage is a key to a calorie counter for turkey and a report on the finale of Dancing with the Stars.


But the more he talks about the catastrophe, the more obvious it is that Zell was clueless about the role of journalism in a democratic society. Sam Zell bought a company whose revenue came from advertising and circulation, while much of its intrinsic value came from reporting the news, an indispensable asset he did not understand or respect. …

I personally don’t believe in the concept of hell. But Sam Zell is one of those people who make one wish for hellfire and brimstone to be real after all.

Posted in Economy, Los Angeles Times, Zell | 1 Comment » The Inkstained Retch Speaks Out

July 30th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

sam-zell-2.gif—-the homegrown blog that was originally launched
to give Times reporters, editors and other editorial staffers (fired and not) a place to share news, vent feelings, rage, greive and possibly plot insurrection—has now gotten nationwide attention. The increasingly well-read (and amusingly, if tragically written) site was created by an anonymous LA Times reporter (still not fired) who signs his posts: The Inkstained Retch.

Athough there has been speculation about The Retch’s identity, no one has yet unmasked him.

I contacted the honorable Mr. (or Ms.) Retch and asked if he’d mind answering a few questions about the blog’s genesis, its high and low points, and where he hopes and believes it can go from here.

His/her answers to all that and more are below:

1. What was the tipping point got you from Times journalist unhappy with Zell world, to Times journalist doing something about your unhappiness with Zell world by launching Tell Zell?

There was no single moment. It was more of a slow burn. First, Sam Zell and Randy Michaels took this “tour” of the Tribune empire. At each stop, it became more obvious that they had no new ideas and a great deal of contempt for journalism and journalists. They swore at a reporter in Orlando. Made off color references in Los Angeles. And called the entire Tribune operation in Washington “overhead.” Then Lee Abrams [TribCo's Chief Innovation Officer] started posting his long, unintelligible diatribes. Something just sparked. I figured I had to start writing.

2. Since you’ve launched the blog, what have been the three high points? By that I mean moments that you either saw that you were doing some good, or were helping express the feelings and thoughts or many, or saw how far it was reaching…or whatever it was that brought you satisfaction and made you feel the time you were putting in was worth it.

This is going to sound corny, but whatever. I’ve always enjoyed the comments section more than anything else. I get some trolls, some angry, unhelpful remarks. But mostly, I have felt like I get smart comments, on both sides of the issue. And that’s valuable to me.

High points would be: the banner drop; the distribution of bumper stickers inside the newsroom; and simply bringing attention to Sam Zell’s actions.

3. What have been the lowest points? (Either with the blog, or at the paper, or both)

I am constantly battling the thought that none of this matters. That nothing that we can do can stop Zell, or job cuts, or the dumbing down of the Los Angeles Times.

4. Have you had any contact with any of Zell’s people or do they just ignore you (and everybody else)?

I have had no direct contact from Zell or any of his people, so far as I know. but then, i don’t really know. I don’t have any real sense of who is reading the blog, or who is writing. it’s only fair. if I’m anonymous, so is everyone else, pretty much.

5. Has there been any attempt, that you know of, on the part of the Times management or the Tribune Corp. to find out who you are?

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles writers, media, Zell | 2 Comments »

Sunday’s Must Reads

July 27th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


DON’T MISS: In no particular order:


The WaPo’s 12-part-series-with-an-Epilogue that re-investigates the murder of California-raised Congressional intern, Chandra Levy, ends today. (Clearly no one in this nervous newsprint environment wanted a thirteen-part series.) Does the story have any social justice value? Oh, probably not. But it’s a compelling—if still tragic—read and a smart choice for the Post to string it out over two weeks as a continuing narrative.

In the brave New Media world, there is much wailing about readers’ short attention spans. But here’s the thing: web readers take very well to the series form. (Why do I know that, and the Post evidently knows that, and the LA Times—despite the existance of today’s new “fire” series—seems not to get it? Wake up, people!)


Sunday the LA Times started a five part series that explores various aspects of the problem of “bigger and badder”—and way more expensive—wildfires that are increasingly plaguing the Western states in general, and California in particular. Today’s installment, that looks at fire as Big Biz, is a promising start.

NOTE: Despite the fact that the (nervous-making even if quickly controlled) outbreak of a wildfire in Griffith Park on Sunday should have made the new fire series even more relevant, by mid-afternnoon, ALL references to the series had utterly disappeared from the front page of the LA Times website. (You could find it only by clicking on the California link.) Nice commitment to your news reporting, guys!


In an unsigned editorial (cough JimNewton cough), the LA Times talks about the end of the freestanding Opinion and Book Review section, and the move of those pages to other sections (MUCH more on this tomorrow morning).


Blogfather, Marc Cooper already wrote a very good (and funny) version of this a week ago. Now in Sunday’s New York Times, Frank Rich looks at the whole phenom that we witnessed in what the Daily Show called Obama Quest …..and nails it.

IT almost seems like a gag worthy of “Borat”: A smooth-talking rookie senator with an exotic name passes himself off as the incumbent American president to credulous foreigners. But to dismiss Barack Obama’s magical mystery tour through old Europe and two war zones as a media-made fairy tale would be to underestimate the ingenious politics of the moment. History was on the march well before Mr. Obama boarded his plane, and his trip was perfectly timed to reap the whirlwind.

The growing Obama clout derives not from national polls, where his lead is modest. Nor is it a gift from the press, which still gives free passes to its old bus mate John McCain. It was laughable to watch journalists stamp their feet last week to try to push Mr. Obama into saying he was “wrong” about the surge. More than five years and 4,100 American fatalities later, they’re still not demanding that Mr. McCain admit he was wrong when he assured us that our adventure in Iraq would be fast, produce little American “bloodletting” and “be paid for by the Iraqis.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in crime and punishment, Elections '08, Fire, Los Angeles Times, National politics, Presidential race, War, Zell | 10 Comments »

Zell and The Art of Protest

July 25th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


I’m a bit slow on the uptake this morning
so didn’t check my email until just now….or I’d have had this up earlier. Courtesty of Mr. Sam Izdat over at TellZell.

LOS ANGELES, Calif—Merry pranksters scaled a Los Angeles Times building Thursday to unfurl a three-story high banner protesting news cuts by the paper’s owner, real estate billionaire Sam Zell.

The banner was hanging from the historic Times building in downtown Los Angeles. It read: “Zell Hell: Take back the Los Angeles Times.” A website address on the bottom directed the curious to the mysterious protest site by an anonymous Times employee:

“Like many of us, he got in over his head in the mortgage crisis,”
said one Times employee who participated in the banner drop. “He can’t afford what he bought. But instead of selling his house, he’s chopping it into pieces.”

The banner was taken down
rather quickly after its unfurling. “The security guards were smiling, though,” reports TellZell.

Kevin Roderick at LA Observed has some speculation as to the identity of Sam Izdat aka the Instained Retch who is the now nationally read blogger behind TellZell. The Retch answers here and says he’s definitely not a union guy, but an LA imes journalist.

Here’s a video of the last moments of the banner drop.

Posted in arts, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles writers, media, Zell | 6 Comments »