Sam Zell’s message to the employer-owners at the faltering Tribune company: There’s going to be fewer of you, and the ones that stick around will have to get a lot more productive, pronto.
Sam laid out his new plan, which really isn’t that new to the dwindling newspaper industry, during a conference call yesterday for investors: Print fewer pages at the likes of the L.A. Times and the Chicago Tribune — because they’re selling fewer ads — and employ fewer journalists to fill the pages you have left — because it turns out you can squeeze a lot more work out of them.
No details on how many cuts Tribune has in mind, but Zell and COO Randy Michaels did explain that they’ve already been measuring productivity, paper by paper, and have a pretty good idea of where they can trim fat. No news to the folks at the LA Times, but they’ll want to keep their resumes handy.
Mr. Michaels said that, after measuring journalists’ output, “when you get into the individuals, you find out that you can eliminate a fair number of people while eliminating not very much content.” He added that he understood that some reporting jobs naturally produce less output than others.
He said that The Los Angeles Times produced 51 pages of news for each journalist there, while the figure for two other Tribune papers, The Baltimore Sun and The Hartford Courant, is more than 300 pages.
What will the remaining journalists do to fill those pages? Pack them full of “maps, graphics, lists, ranking and stats,” Zell says. “We’re in the business of satisfying customers, and we will respond to what they say they want.
As unpleasant as this may sound for our ink-stained colleagues, it can’t come as a surprise: Even the most ostrich-like newspaper folks know what’s happening to their businesss, and the broader media business. And if they think getting measured by page production is unpleasant, we’ve got bad news for them: It gets much worse online, when you can tell if anyone’s actually reading the stuff you’re writing.