Maurice Possley, a Chicago Tribune criminal justice reporter who was on the team that helped free wrongly convicted death row prisoners, asked to be included in his paper's involuntary separation program. Like some reporters here at the Times, he's fed up with the disintegration of the newsrooms that Sam Zell bought:
It just doesn't seem possible that less than two months ago, some of us gathered at Columbia University for the Pulitzer luncheon with Ann Marie to celebrate our prize for investigative reporting. I understand that there are no guarantees in life -- that God laughs when we say we have plans -- nevertheless, how stunning it is to see the dismantling of our newspaper in such a short time.
I always had envisioned retiring from the Tribune, but events of the past year, including Ann Marie's resignation, convinced me that now is the time for me seek my fortune elsewhere.
Rest at Romenesko Memos.
After the jump: Lee Abrams' latest quotes the editor of the Tribune.
There's a reason our company is getting so much dramatic coverage in the blogosphere and in print. There are some dramatic issues facing Media companies, and we're meeting the issues with dramatic solutions. Thus, the drama. While there's the very, very unfortunate reality side of the equation, I think our taking an approach of action, with the intent of creating growth, is forcing some very inventive thinking and actions around the Tribune Nation....and some spirited conversation from those who don't get what we're doing, or want to get it. It's OK...comes with the turf of change.
Dramatic issues require dramatic change. It ain't gonna happen sitting still and hoping the other guy figures it out.
On the TV front, it's premature to talk detail, but there are some pretty interesting new approaches being looked at in Portland, New Orleans and St.Louis as well as San Diego. I'm sure there's more around the TV group, but in early discussions with these guys, there are some very non-traditional things being thrown around. I think these things are components that simply never got discussed before that are part of the "magic between the shows...and on the streets". The zone that TV stations can own locally. And I love that WGN did an outstanding parody of the slick, trashy news promos...in fact those guys do a lot of pretty good news parodies. (most are on Youtube) I think a key to local TV is just THINKING about areas they haven't traditionally thought about. Quite honestly, what I notice about Tribune company properties is a lack of balance in terms of input into the product. Newspapers are Journalism driven and TV is Sales driven. Of course a newspaper IS about journalism, and TV IS all about selling ads...but there are other positions I think need greater input. Examples are the design element in print to work WITH the purely journalistic side...and another example is the creative people to work WITH the Sales and News people at TV stations to create a more complete package. We NEED all cylinders firing to compete and prevail. Writers NEED designers to take their work to a wider audience in today's TV rooted reader...and TV stations NEED creatives (who are unleashed) to create a station image that isn't based strictly on what shows they carry. It all gets back to creating fans instead of users.
..And we gotta find and liberate the talent here. Grow stars whether they're in print, on air or behind the scene. I KNOW there must be hundreds of stars here who may have been repressed under prior regimes. I've actually heard stories that people weren't allowed to talk to me or Randy because it might make their boss look bad...or whatever. That is SO incredibly lame. That's sitcom stuff. It does NO-ONE nay good to hold back talent...or people with ideas. They'll just eventually get frustrated and use their skills somewhere else... Not good.
One thing I believe needs more attention is paying closer attention to other media. I was at a few Editorial meetings, and they were passionate and intense. But I noticed a lack of attention paid to the competition. Competition meaning everything from Drudge to USA Today to Yahoo to Fox News to Smoking Gun. I'm not taking about copying...in fact, the reaction might be "they are all wrong". That's fine...but we don't own news anymore. We are best at it...but there are SO many options that I think it's a critical exercise to have a keen and complete awareness of what everyone else is doing. A reference exercise. A higher competitive level. You see it in literally every other business or sport---knowing what the other guy is doing. Not to copy, but to put the BIG picture in perspective and possibly force YOU to deliver a better angle on a story.
...and admitting if someone else is doing a better job...and thinking how you can do an even better job at presenting something. The naysayer would relate to this as dumbing down. Nope. It's intelligence...information...input on doing the BEST you can do in today's competitive situation.
Another area of strong discussion is "Superbrands". Wouldn't want to call it that, but the idea is combining the resources of different newsbrands in a city where each brand fiercely maintains its own identity, but there's also a united front. We are exploring this is South Florida where the Sun Sentinel is the center of their news and information universe, BUT---there's a marriage between the paper, the TV station, the website and other prosperities that make each one stronger. Personally, I think this is an important part of our future. It's not about cost savings, it's about brand consolidation to compete better and share resources in a way that has a positive impact with the public. It can also create a total demographic coverage vs. the paper being older...the free apaper being younger, etc...as in most cases, this is being done---but not with the finesses and intensity that resonates with the public.
There are some very positive things brewing at the Chicago Tribune. Some of the designers have come up with some pretty amazing directions that maintain the dignity of the paper but launch it into the new century. As well as a wrath of other interesting ideas from all camps. Gerry Kern, the new editor sent out a note to his staff that I wanted to share, as I think it is really well said:
Many of you know me. Those who don't, will soon.
For 11 years I worked shoulder to shoulder with you in every corner of this newsroom. It was a privilege then to be part of the Chicago Tribune staff, and I am honored now to rejoin you. Your professionalism, dedication, innovative spirit and commitment to journalistic excellence are inspiring.
In her farewell message to you, Ann Marie wrote that I was inheriting a treasure in this newspaper. She is right. It is a treasure that belongs to all of us, our readers and this city.
Many eloquent words have been written over time about the Chicago Tribune's rich legacy in shaping the history of this country and this city from the bleakest days of the Civil War to the present. I will not add to this homage here, except to say I am proud of our past.
In the days and weeks ahead, many things will change, but not all.
Courageous public service, credibility, integrity, fairness and accuracy form the foundation of this newspaper. We will stand watch over our country, our city and our communities because this is our special duty and because they demand it of us. You have made this our hallmark.
But the economics that have supported our newspaper for decades are in disarray. I do not have to tell you how significantly this affects the newsroom.
Still, amid the dislocation and uncertainty lies an opportunity we can seize. We can transform into a news organization that is ideally suited for a new century defined by breathtaking technological innovation and a voracious appetite for specialized information delivered over multiple digital and print channels.
It is paradoxical that our total audience is larger today than any time in history, but the revenue that supports us is at low ebb. We must adapt quickly to these economic realities.
In the future, this organization will not look like it does now. You already have been in the forefront of reinvention in response to these forces. More will be needed. We will collaborate with others to produce and distribute news and information across all our media. Newsroom practices and processes will be re-engineered to reap the most from our resources.
We will work with colleagues in other departments to ensure the success of the business that ultimately supports our journalism. They are stewards of the Chicago Tribune too.
Our readers and Web site visitors expect us to be useful and relevant in their personal lives, to be their indispensable survival guide. They want information that helps them make thousands of choices in life, to be better consumers, better citizens.
They expect us to be their leading source of news and knowledge about their communities, Chicago and the region. But let's be clear about our definition of "local." It does not just mean geographic proximity; it encompasses news that carries special resonance to readers here, no matter where it occurs.
While they expect us to provoke and enlighten them, our readers want us to be more fun and surprising, too. The experience of the news is nearly as important as the news itself.
Today, we compete with everything from iPods to DVRs to video games, and news comes at us from every direction. It is more important than ever to stand out by emphasizing our unique voices, perspectives and personalities.
The Chicago Tribune is one of the best newspapers in America. You made it that way. This newspaper became great by always aspiring to be better.
We have a lot of hard work to do. Some of it will be painful.
I seek out those who want to help me in this transition, those who are willing to think differently, take risks and face the future with optimism despite the difficulties.
Over the coming days I will be visiting with you individually and in groups to talk about tackling these challenges. I am confident we will succeed. The Tribune's best days are still ahead.
...I also have to point out the collaboration happening in the T-6 Group. The sharing of ideas is turning up some pretty amazing new angles both graphically and in terms of executing to the new standards. The group is actively COMMUNICATING with a positive approach to the dramatic exercise of re-invention.
Speaking of T-6. Had some interesting dialogue about the term "WIRE REPORTS". To me, that says nothing. In fact, I'll bet it doesn't really mean anything to the average reader. Will using that line hurt a paper? Hardly. BUT, it's one of those little things in that there may be a better way to say it. I suggested "From the Newsroom". Earl Maucker at the Sun Sentinel quickly reminded me that we would be lying if we said that. SO--they're thinking of a fresher term that talk to the line. Probably the highest level of nit-pik...but we can't afford not to look at EVERYthing.
Finally, I would continue to encourage compartmentalizing The National election if you aren't already. The kind of thing that a student could pull out the page and bring to school as THE definitive daily update on election info. Covering all the polls...local maps illustrating local trends...quotes of the day...bullet points for a quick read...with a BIG PUSH to the web for deep, deep information. If you talk to TV, THEY own the election coverage...Web guys say THEY own it. I think it's in everybody's best interest if you OWN it via consistent, visually stunning and same page every day compartmentalization....vs. assuming people know what you have and where it is.
Dramatic issues require dramatic change. It ain't gonna happen sitting still and hoping the other guy figures it out.