Monday, November 24, 2008

Eleemosynary vs Secular and Times vs Tribunes

Media Bistro's Fish Bowl New York feature points to a Portfolio.com Interview with Sam Zell, who recently purchased the Tribune Company, parent company of the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and Boston Tribune, among others.

Zell talks about trends in the newspaper business in very blunt (ie money) terms, and Media Bistro PULLS this juicy quote about Pulitzers:
I haven't figured out how to cash in a Pulitzer Prize. There was a day when a newspaper put "Winner of Pulitzer Prize" on the front page, and people flocked to read the Pulitzer Prize story. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that that's the case today But I also think that there are scale issues. In other words, I think that if the goal is a Pulitzer, it's in the wrong place. In other words, we're not in the business of, in effect, underwriting writers for the future. We're a business that, in effect, has a bottom line. So as far as we're concerned, I think Pulitzers are terrific, but Pulitzers should be the cream on the top of the coffee. They shouldn't be the grounds. And I think there are a lot of scenarios in the newspaper industry where the entire focus is on Pulitzers.

What Media Bistro DID NOT include is the next four sentences from the interview that finished the above thought:
The entire focus is on becoming an international correspondent. I mean, I know that because our newspaper sent somebody to Kabul to cover the "Afghan Idol Show." Now, I know Idol is the No. 1 TV program in the world, but do my readers really want a firsthand report on what this broad looked like who won the "Afghan Idol" Show"? Is that news?

Read the whole interview. Zell is clearly rethinking the whole business, which is good. I won't say he's coming to all the right conclusions, but when the industry is eroding in the double digits, everything has to be on the table to save it.

If you're wondering about the blog entry title, eleemosynary is a word Zell uses for what he isn't - a charity.

2 comments:

Carradee said...

I guess Media Bistro figured that anybody interested would look up the entire interview? *shrug*

And thank you for that word definition.

(I found this blog due to your comment on the YA Myths post.)

Dal Jeanis said...

It's really just a style-thing for that site, which is long on snark and low on context. It's also typical "gotcha" journalism, where you Dowdify the quote by removing enough context to make it look worse than it is. It's hard to argue that a newspaper should be sending correspondents to Afghanistan to cover Idol.

I'm not sure if that's what gets you Pulitzers or not; presumably, Zell should know, but from some of his other quotes in the article, I think he's taking an exaggerated stand in the interview. I wouldn't bet on whether he really believes what he says, in the way he says it.

For instance, he carps about delivery being 30 cents while newstand price is 50 cents. First of all, I doubt his claim of the paper delivered to homes costs ten times as much as the one in the nesstand. Perhaps the delivery aspect might cost that, but the paper pulp, ink, content, printing and people costs are identical. No way the delivery routes cost ten times the base cost of the paper, or they'd have dropped them long ago.

And what's the sell-through? Every home-delivered paper is sold. What percentage of newsstand papers are sold? I'd expect less than 70%, or they aren't printing enough copies. So compare the marginal cost of delivery to the marginal cost of the papers you throw away, and then we'll talk.

It's a business. It's good that Zell's re-thinking it from the bottom up - creative solutions come from that. But you also have to be aware of the trade-offs.