Sam Zell's rules for Tribune

A new employee handbook from the Zell regime went out to all 20,000 Tribune "owners" today. It tries to distance the new Zellian Tribune from the old group, and begins with rule #1 is "use your best judgment" and rule #2 is "see rule #1." It goes on to lay out a bunch of principles of the new Tribune, called "a mix of corporate earnestness, surprising folksiness and common-sense rules" in Thursday's Washington Post. The whole thing is available in PDF form on a journalism class blog at Moorpark College, but here are some highlights:

There are many old rules and regulations and handbooks and manuals that will no longer be relevant to those working at the Tribune Company of today and the future. As we replace those, we consider this a fresh start. Use Rule #1 as your primary guideline for how we behave, and for every decision we make....


1. KEEP YOUR WORD. If we commit to a viewer or a vendor, a customer or competitor, we keep our word. Especially to each other. So use your best judgment when giving your word, because the expectation is that you will keep it....

4. COMPETE. Play to win. Market shares add to 100%. We canít grow our share of revenue or audience unless someone elseís goes down.

5. PLAY FAIR. But remember that there is nothing unfair about taking advantage of a competitorís weakness. Itís not unfair to scoop a competitor on a big story or closet them on a key account. Not playing to win is unfair to your teammates and to all of the companyís stakeholders....

8. QUESTION AUTHORITY. In transforming Tribune, you are encouraged to ask your manager, supervisor, business unit head or anyone in Corporate, any question you have regarding the business. Question authority and push back if you do not like the answer. You will earn respect, and not get into trouble for asking tough questions. Remember, you are an employee owner. You have the right and obligation to ask questions.

9. SERVE OUR LOCAL COMMUNITIES. We take our obligation to serve the public interest, need, and convenience seriously. While much of our programming and content is light entertainment, we are committed to serving our communities. When bad weather keeps most inside and away from their jobs, we have a particular obligation to go to work. Emergencies and disasters are times for ďall hands on deck.Ē If this commitment is not in your DNA, Tribune Company may be the wrong place for you.

The company intends to actively discriminate based on job performance, ability and attitude....Discrimination based on gender, age, race, religion, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, disability, or any other characteristic not related to performance, ability or attitude, protected by federal or state law, or not protected (such as inability to tell a joke, the occasional poor wardrobe choice or bad hair day), is strictly prohibited.

Working at Tribune means accepting a creative, quirky, intelligent, odd, humorous, diverse, opinionated and sometimes annoying atmosphere. Working at Tribune means accepting that sometimes you might hear a word that you, personally, might not use. You might experience an attitude that you donít share. You might hear a joke that you might not consider funny. That is because a loose, fun, non-linear atmosphere is important to the creative process. This should be understood, should not be a surprise and is not considered harassment. Harassment means being told that a raise, promotion or other benefit is dependent on you going on a date with your boss or some other similar activity.

Also: Earlier this month, Zell himself sought to inject a new culture into Tribune's corridors. But the most prevalent reaction I've detected is eye rolling (or worse) at Zell possibly poking at the revelation in the recent New Yorker profile that he had characterized Hillary Clinton with a word that probably rhymes with runt. Zell's email:

January 07, 2008
Bad Language


I am personally reading the messages you've been sending to, and I am energized by your enthusiasm for the future of our company. We need to make sure that nothing gets in the way of our enormous potential for success.

So, I want to share my thoughts about some disturbing language I've heard used by Tribune employees internally. While I 'm not opposed to using colorful language to make a point, there are a few words by which I won't abide. One of them is the "C" word. I'll bet you know the word I mean, and I'll bet it bothers you too. The word is "can't."

This word is often improperly applied and overused, and reflects the old culture we are discarding. "We can't seem to do much without filling out forms." "We can't execute without getting multiple approvals." "We can't go forward without going through layers of red tape." "Can't" is used to explain why some of our best ideas never come to fruition.

Before you say or even think, "I can't," stop yourself, and use a better phrase. Here are some suggestions: "I don't know how." "I need help." "I need to figure this out." "Here are the risks." "It will cost x and take y time." "Here is a better way to get us to the same goal."

But don't lead with "can't."

I'm not suggesting that the word is always inappropriate. "I can't break my word," or "I can't let my team down," are great statements. But most of the time the word "can't" reflects an excuse for failing, or for not even trying in the first place.

I'm also not advocating anarchy. We still need rules and procedures. If we all could decide on which side of the road we'd like to drive, or whether we'd prefer to stop at green lights, and go on red, we'd have chaos. But, there are many areas in our company in which we need to stop doing things "by the book." We will never achieve enlightening, world changing, profitable greatness following a rulebook. Rules are a substitute for thinking. And we have a lot of thinking to do. I know many of you have great ideas just waiting to be tapped. So, we need to stop asking, "What is our policy?" and start asking, "What should we be doing?"

Our future depends on you and on your ability to improve what we do now. Top-down management won't work in today's competitive environment. Force and fear are poor motivators. We may not be able to choose whether we have to stop at red lights, but let's see how many red lights and stop signs we can replace with traffic circles and "yield" signs that say, in effect, "Use your best judgment."

I can provide a vision. I can ask questions. I don't know how to force you to succeed if you think you "can't." If you think you "can't," you are probably right.

I challenge you all to help each other eradicate the "C" word by collecting a quarter from any colleague who says it. Take responsibility for changing our culture. This is your company now.

Let's go for greatness. It's up to us. I know we CAN!

Sam Zell

P.S. You can reach me anytime. Send me your comments, questions and ideas. I want to hear it all. My address is And to see what I'm thinking, you can read my blog, now live at http://sam.trb.

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