The Tribune CEO, appearing this morning on CNBC, says that newspapers have been "insulated from reality," and that none of what's happening should surprise anyone who bothered looking at years of results from focus groups. "Nobody paid any attention to them,” he says. As for business? Don't ask. Via Romenesko:
CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla: HOW IS THE AD MARKET GOING TO HOLD UP THIS YEAR?
Sam Zell: WHAT AD MARKET?
Quintanilla: WELL PUT.
Zell: I MEAN, ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT THE PEOPLE WHO BUY ADS? I'M TRYING TO FIND ONE OF THEM.
The bit about not paying attention is, of course, true. Mark Potts blogs that "newspaper executives simply sat on their hands while all of this started to happen." For all the buckshot that Zell & Co. has taken over the months - some of it well-deserved - we're still hearing too many laments about the good 'ol days of newspapers. With few exceptions, newspapers have a long history of horrendous management (circulation departments, in particular, were notorious for ineptitude and worse). Here's more from Potts:
Those of us who were privy to newspaper boardrooms and executive suites over the past few years saw firsthand how these problems took root, as top industry executives moved slothfully–if they moved at all–to adjust to the changes around them." A lot of smart people got frustrated and simply left, all of them with horror stories of missed opportunities and clueless executives–many of whom, alas, are still in place. It's impossible to understate the management incompetence that made this happen. Complain all you want about Sam Zell, but at least he's bringing some fresh approaches, right or wrong, to a hidebound industry (though his failure to fully understand the problems at Tribune Co. before he bought it have contributed greatly to those cuts in Hartford, Baltimore and elsewhere in the chain). The whiners complaining about Zell's relatively minor changes in Tribune papers are missing the point that the entire industry is in freefall and needs to change radically. And that starts with radical changes in business management. That's where the cuts should be occurring these days, not in the rank and file.
Some of the coming changes at the Times were briefly outlined by Publisher David Hiller in a memo to employees. It's over at LAO.