Tribune Company chief Randy Michaels rushed out a memo to all the properties tonight trying to shoot down a long New York Times story posted tonight by David Carr. (See At Flagging Tribune, Tales of a Bankrupt Culture.) Michaels flails at Carr's integrity and takes pains to say that Carr's allegations are old and that Tribune's work culture is creative and...fun. Hmm. Memo is after the jump, but first here's what Carr's got:
After Mr. Michaels arrived, according to two people at the bar that night, he sat down and said, “watch this,” and offered the waitress $100 to show him her breasts. The group sat dumbfounded.
“Here was this guy, who was responsible for all these people, getting drunk in front of senior people and saying this to a waitress who many of us knew,” said one of the Tribune executives present, who declined to be identified because he had left the company and did not want to be quoted criticizing a former employer. “I have never seen anything like it.”
Mr. Michaels, who otherwise declined to be interviewed, said through a spokesman, “I never made the comment allegedly attributed to me in January 2008 to a waitress at the InterContinental Hotel, and anyone who said I did so is either lying or mistaken.”
It was a preview of what would become a rugged ride under the new ownership. Mr. Zell and Mr. Michaels, who was promoted to chief executive of the Tribune Company in December 2009, arrived with much fanfare, suggesting they were going to breathe innovation and reinvention into the conservative company.
By all accounts, the reinvention did not go well. At a time when the media industry has struggled, the debt-ridden Tribune Company has done even worse.
Based on interviews with more than 20 employees and former employees of Tribune, Mr. Michaels’s and his executives’ use of sexual innuendo, poisonous workplace banter and profane invective shocked and offended people throughout the company. Tribune Tower, the architectural symbol of the staid company, came to resemble a frat house, complete with poker parties, juke boxes and pervasive sex talk.
Sounds like the fratboy culture that came in with Sam Zell and Michaels has caught up with them. "Like 14-year-old boys — no boundaries at all — but with money and power," said a woman who encountered Michaels' style at Clear Channel, before Tribune. Of course, as managers the Trib guys are, well, in bankruptcy. Carr also reports that Los Angeles Times circulation is down another 14.7 percent this year.
Michaels' preemptive spin is after the jump.
As you know, it is our intention to create a fun, non-linear creative environment. I am tremendously proud of the results of that creative culture. Our websites on the P2P platform are the most advanced in media. We have reconfigured production of the newspaper with standard ad sizes, Media on Demand Modules, and combined editing, design, and layout functions using technology. We have “Breaking News Centers” that eliminate redundancy and give newsmakers one contact point for each market’s most powerful news media. TOPS, TONS, and BRUTUS have changed the way TV is produced and aired.
It is our intention to have creative environment. A creative culture must be built on a foundation of respect for each other. Our goal is an environment where people are free to speak up, free to challenge authority, and free to fail on the way to success. Our culture is NOT about being offensive or hurtful. This is supported by our Harassment Policy. It’s in the Employee Handbook which is posted on TribLink—Section 3.
The fact that so many at other media companies dwell on the way it used to be creates great opportunity for those of us willing to rethink our opportunities and recast our culture. Ignore the noise. Treat each other with respect. Have fun, and let’s go create the future.