Sam Zell

Today in Sam Zell

The anonymous L.A. Times staffer (plural?) behind Tell Zell has posted a list of the LAT journalists who have left the newsroom in the past two years and a link to some of their work. Impressive job to pull it together. InkStainedRetch, as the blogger refers to him or her self, also posts the prototype going around of the redesign for the Zell-owned Orlando Sentinel where Lee Abrams and others plan to experiment with their ideas for tinkering with newspapers. ("A shock-jock approach to newspaper marketing is almost certain to backfire," says media analyst Alan Mutter.) Also, Variety's Brian Lowry observes that Zell might be in over his head.

After the jump, today's innovation sermon from Tribune's Abrams emailed to the staffs:


Two months in. There are consistencies I see in every newspaper. Here are 15 things that I strongly believe can GROW newspapers. It's of course not this simple, but I see these as fundamentally critical from a content perspective. Points I've discussed before, but are becoming glaring:

1. COMPARTMENTALIZING: Want baseball scores? It's all there on the baseball pages of the Sports section. Market report? It's all there on the stock market page. But why aren't other important categories compartmentalized?? In LA, I noticed that the entertainment business stories are there...but they are scattered around the paper. I believe, as an example, the LA Times could OWN Entertainment Business information, IF it was all on one page (es). Right now, you find a story on it...then turn a few pages and there's another story...then turn the page, and another story, it's kind of all-over-the-road. The content is there, but it's not consolidated. The result is that they are not getting the credit or ownership. Same thing with literally ANY important category. Consolidate Crime, environment, gas etc....Newspapers generally "kinda" do this, but as with literally everything, it's so underplayed that it's not noticed. Again, think 10pm News on TV. It's organized. It's consistent. Newspapers are not--or at least not to the point they NEED to be in 2008. If grocery stores were organized like newspapers, you'd wear out your shoes looking for vegetables, as carrots would be in aisle 6, tomatoes in aisle 8, etc...

2. ASSUMPTIONS: Possibly the biggest problem. Assuming. I met a reporter who spent 4 years in Baghdad. Dodging bullets...staying in Hotels protected by the Marines. Yet, I'll bet NO-one outside of the building knew this person was risking their life in Iraq to get YOU the news. If it were CNN, you'd see rockets and RPG's in the background as the reporter ducks shrapnel. In the paper, it's usually a small byline.

Hell, papers should have photos of the reporter with Iraqi writing diaries. Before I joined Tribune, I had NO idea that reporters were around the globe reporting the news...Because the paper "assumed" I knew. Then I saw an article on Broadway shows. Again a small byline with no mention of "Reporting from New York". These are assumptions that are shooting ourselves in the foot. People DON'T know that you have REAL people exclusively reporting, because we ASSUME they do.

3. THE NPR FEEL? Newspapers strike me as being a little TOO NPR. I like NPR, and their shows like Morning Edition do well. But NPR can also be a bit elitist. Morning News Radio has a lot of similarities to papers: Similar target audience; Old Media; Time restraints. It's probably a good thing to study the feel of a well honed All News Radio station. Yeah, a different medium, but I sometimes get a slower more intellectual NPR feel from papers than a usually quicker paced and more mainstream News Radio delivery. It's all about being INTELLIGENT...not intellectual. We are in the mainstream business. The 2008 Mainstream business. SMART...but not elite....and we DO get a little NPR at times. (And I DO like NPR...)

4. BRAGGING RIGHTS: Ever watch ESPN? They OWN sports. Tiger Woods has a hangnail and they will have the exclusive report. Newspapers need to live in that world a little more. Not sensational...but a little swagger. Words like Exclusive are ok, especially since you ARE often exclusive. Papers still seem rooted in the 50's, before CNN, FOX, ESPN and other modern news vehicles. The thing is---The content is there...but it's SO weakly packaged that the other guys are running right over the papers...we look tired next to 21st Century media...we ARE tired compared to ESPN types. Our tiredness is in our packaging, assumptions and lack of COMPETITIVE DRIVE that insures EVERY page is THE BEST...not OK...THE BEST.

5. LIBERATE THE DESIGNERS. I heard one paper had sections "off limits" to designers. Huh???!!! That makes NO sense. They are the ones that will package the information into greater engagement. Eye power!! THE ENGAGEMENT IS NOT THE HEADLINE AS MUCH AS THE LOOK. The right headline AND an amazing look and you WILL get engagement into the content. That engagement turns users into Fans. But headlines alone, short of a HUGE story ain't going to do it. You need BOTH.

6. THROWAWAYS: 90% of the Section indexes are throwaways...afterthoughts. Take a look. It's sort of like "Oh...incidentally, here's what's inside". These are DRIVERS. In 1958 maybe people had time to discover what's they don't. Or how about "For More...go to" More what??? Another throwaway. In one re-design I saw an article followed by three web comments with a pointer to the website. That was great. Gave you a TASTE. A generic "For More..." is a waste of ink. Go through EVERY page and you'll see generic throwaways that assume.

7. CONSISTENCY: At most papers, the folks show me their greatest hits. Great pages they've done. Then--I'll look at the date and it was 2004. Yes, it was an amazing piece that LOOKED right...had great graphics, compelling writing and cool support (graphs etc...). But it was 4 years old. We need to do that every page...every day. Why?

a) That's the ONLY way it'll get noticed.

b) You HAVE survive...and grow. Difficult? Yes...I know. But a reality of competing in 2008.

EVERY PAGE...EVERY DAY needs to be amazing.

8. LIVING IN THE NEWSPAPER WORLD: Being satisfied with a good traditional looking newspaper isn't going to do it. Gotta break free. Gotta accept what's going on out there and adapt (and flourish) or tweak (and die a slow death). Don't look to other papers. (except foreign ones) YOU are in the position to re-invent. If you look at other'll continue to live in the past.

9. GETTING NOTICED: An ongoing theme. Papers DO things that'll get noticed, but package it so it's a mystery. I already said this, but it warrants a repeat. The look...the intelligence...the in and day out. Tweaking will kill you. Aggressively and NOTICABLY changing the look and feel can and most likely WILL grow you.

10. MANANA: Urgency! It's a media war out there that is NOT being won...but CAN. Recipe for failure: Focus Group...evaluate the focus group...have a committee meeting to evaluate...more focus groups.

This isn't rocket science. It's HARD logistically...but GROWING isn't rocket science. The biggest problem is lack of urgency. Dramatic problems require dramatic solutions.

11. HITS: That's the focus. Use the 2x4. Gas Crisis. I don't think a box on the front page EVERY DAY with a Gas update is out of the question. I still see stories that, well, are kind of obscure. (aka boring)...OR worse...great stories that are SO under-packaged, they just don't get noticed.

12. LUDDITE PENALIZATION: Don't hide cool stuff on the web. Reverse publish to the paper when it makes sense. Can't quite figure out why we ASSUME people will find cool stuff on the web. They may. But the newspaper should SHARE in the often amazing web content--particularly the graphy stuff that is pure eye stimulation and can go miles in supporting a story.

13. FREE PUBLICATIONS: I can't help noticing that there's some very cool things being designed into Free Publications. Existing and Prototype. Why can't some of that be in the core paper? It's almost as if the core paper is sacred and REAL innovations have to be saved for the free paper. Huh?

14. MAKE IT EASY: Newspapers have a habit of making things SO hard to read absorb and engage in. We're in the age of Media ease. Make it hard, and they'll go away faster than a CD buyer. You'll have to break away from instincts at'll have to think like a 2008 consumer-easier said than done...

15. MAPS: We are in the GPS age. The eye candy age (and I'm not talking about Page 3)...I mean MAKE INTELLIGENT CONTENT EASY TO ENGAGE IN. There's no law that says intelligent content must be difficult.

....More to come. I realize all of this isn't easy. It's a tough, challenging and logistically complex business...but these are, in my opinion, a start. I'm thinking that we can, through smart and dramtic evolutions, drive the core papers to new heights, which in turn will drive the ENTIRE BRAND and everyone wins. I think this is all attainable.

Oh---check WGN-AMERICA. They have blown it up and rating impact has been immediate!


More by Kevin Roderick:
Standing up to Harvey Weinstein
The Media
LA Times gets a top editor with nothing but questions
LA Observed Notes: Harvey Weinstein stripped bare
LA Observed Notes: Photos of the homeless, photos that found homes
Recent Sam Zell stories on LA Observed:
Sad but true: Sam Zell writing a book called 'Gravedancer'
New CEO named at Tribune, old publisher at Times
Tribune exits bankruptcy after four years, ending Sam Zell era *
Judge says he will OK Tribune's plan for ending bankruptcy
Finally, some good Sam Zell news
Zell throws a hundred grand Karl Rove's way
Times employees' suit over Zell deal officially wrapped
Tribune has paid $231 million in bankruptcy fees so far


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