Tribune Co. boss Sam Zell paid a visit to CNBC’s “Squawk Box” this morning. He’s looking for some advertisers (seen any?) and says it’s his job to deliver some painful reality to the struggling newspaper business.
Sam’s been talking about the lousy state of the newspaper business, and his plans to fix it for a while. The short version: Fewer journalists, working harder, producing stories that people want to read. Sorry about the all caps, but in this case, it sort of befits Sam’s delivery.
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.
Quintanilla: YOU’RE ON YOUR WAY, THOUGH, TO EQUALIZING NEWS COVERAGE AND ADVERTISING, RIGHT?
Zell: THAT’S CORRECT.
Quintanilla: YOU’VE LAID OFF SOME PEOPLE IN HARTFORD, BALTIMORE. YOU’RE GOING TO SELL NEWSDAY TO CABLEVISION. HOW MUCH PROGRESS DO YOU FEEL YOU’VE MADE IN GETTING TRIBUNE TO A POINT WHERE IT CAN FINANCE, IT CAN SURVIVE?
Zell: I THINK THE CASE OF “THE TRIBUNE” OR THE NEWSPAPERS IN GENERAL BASICALLY COMES DOWN TO PRODUCING A NEWSPAPER THAT THE CUSTOMER IS WILLING TO PAY FOR. AND THE CUSTOMER IS THE ADVERTISER AND THE CUSTOMER IS THE READER. THAT’S THE CHALLENGE. I THINK THAT BECAUSE NEWSPAPERS HAVE HISTORICALLY BEEN MONOPOLIES, I THINK THEY’VE BEEN INSULATED FROM REALITY. I, YOU KNOW, AM IN THE POSITION WHERE I’M GOING TO HAVE TO, QUOTE/UNQUOTE DELIVER REALITY. I THINK WE CAN HAVE TERRIFIC NEWSPAPERS, BUT I THINK THE NEWSPAPERS HAVE TO RESPOND TO THEIR CUSTOMERS. IN MANY CASES A LOT OF THE THINGS WE’RE DOING RIGHT NOW WERE ALL IDENTIFIED IN FOCUS GROUPS OVER THE LAST EIGHT YEARS. AND THE FOCUS GROUPS WERE MADE, WERE TAKEN, AND NOBODY PAID ANY ATTENTION TO THEM. OUR CUSTOMERS WERE TELLING US WHAT THEY WANTED AND WE’RE GOING TO GIVE IT TO THEM.
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