Sam Zell apparently got enough feedback about his boorish (at best) remarks at the Times and Orlando Sentinel last week that he sent out a mea culpa this morning posing as a lesson from the master. Meanwhile, the publisher and editor of the Orlando Sentinel politely called BS on the new boss's explanation for dropping the f-bomb on a photographer.
First, the latest missive from Chairman Sam:
During my visits to our business units over the past few weeks, Iíve gotten a lot of feedback, and Iíve loved all of it. People have told me how excited they are for the future; how they are believers now, when they had given up hope; and how theyíve been waiting for this bus for a long, long time.
In some of these meetings, I used language that was deliberately outrageous. My goal was to shock you, to shake you out of complacency, and to help you understand that the game has changed, and we have to change with it. You may not like me or the way I say things, but Iím thrilled and delighted that for the first time, you may actually have an opinion about your CEO.
Nevertheless, itís possible that, in the process, I may have violated Rule #1. Mea culpa.
Youíve heard Randy and I talk about taking calculated risks with limited downside, and Iíve applied that principle in my presentations. Overall, Iíve achieved my intended impact. The enormous buzz around our visits to the business units reaches well beyond our company. Weíve created an extraordinary level of interest and commentary. So I ask you, when was the last time the industry sat up to take notice of Tribune, or cared what we had to say? How long has it been since Tribune was seen as fresh or cutting edge?
Extremism in the pursuit of opportunity is not a vice. Youíve seen me step over the edge, if only to get you to take a few steps toward the line.
So he's glad the buzz around Tribune is that the boss is vulgar and possibly a buffoon, rather than anything about the product? Good luck with that. Meanwhile, Zell's explanation for saying fuck you to an Orlando Sentinel photog doesn't add up for at least two women who saw it go down — the publisher and the editor of the Sentinel. From the paper's public editor, via Romenesko:
Zell's spokeswoman, Terry Holt, told the Los Angeles Times -- like the Sentinel, part of Tribune Company -- last week that it was Fajardo's "sarcastic tone" and her turning her back on him as he was speaking, not her question, that prompted his vulgarism.
If that's what happened, it escaped Sentinel Publisher Kathy Waltz's notice. Seated next to Zell on the dais, she saw Fajardo "shaking her head, shrugging her shoulders and walking away. There was applause from the audience to Sam's response, which is why many of us did not hear Sam swear at her. That is also why it appeared to me that his response was over, and it did not appear to me that Sara left while Sam was still talking. Sam apparently saw it differently."
Waltz noted, "Much of Sam's answer was his view on being able to afford to do both 'soft' stories and serious, public-service journalism. All of that was appropriate, and I agree with that goal. The invective he used toward the employee was inappropriate in my view."
Editor Charlotte Hall had a similar view: "I feel the obscenity Sam directed at Sara was not appropriate, and I've never known Sara to be arrogant. . . .
Add the photographer, Sara Fajardo, to the list of those perplexed through the years by Zell's rough edges. "It was not my intention to offend him," she said. "I thought that he had finished his statement, and so I left the microphone so the next person could ask their question."
Regarding those strip club ads: I'm told it might be awhile before the Times actually runs any ads from what Zell calls "gentlemen's clubs." Seems other advertisers let the paper know it's them or us.