Anyone who cares about The Baltimore Sun must read the shocking story on the front page of today's New York Times, "At Sam Zell's Tribune, Tales of a Bankrupt Culture".
In it, superb Times media reporter David Carr uses more than 20 sources, many inside the Tribune Company, to detail the sexist, incompetent, and callous leadership of the media conglomerate, which owns The Sun, as well as The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, The Orlando Sentinel, and The Hartford Courant.
The story, which lists The Sun as one of "the most important newspapers in the country," opens with a jaw-dropping story about Randy Michaels, the former shock jock and radio executive with no newspaper experience that Sam Zell appointed CEO of Tribune Company soon after he bought it in 2007. It describes how Michaels, at a lunch meeting with other top executives at Tribune offered a waitress $100 to show him her breasts. Unfortunately, this is only one of a series of stories detailing how Zell, Michaels, and the cronies they brought in from their years in the radio business brought a boorish and despicable attitude to the storied Tribune Company and its properties.
Beyond its tawdry behavior, the leadership displayed complete ignorance of the newspaper industry, using various ostensible redesigns and innovations at its properties as covers for cost-cutting:
James Warren, the former managing editor and Washington bureau chief of The Chicago Tribune, said: “They wheeled around here doing what they wished, showing a clear contempt for most everyone that was here and used power just because they had it. They used the notion of reinventing the newspapers simply as a cover for cost-cutting.
Those sentiments echo those we reported in our 2009 cover story about The Sun, in which one laid-off staffer referred to "the wacko guys in Chicago," who had tons of terrible ideas to save money, but "none of them are journalism-based."
Worse, even as the company shed 4,200 jobs as cost-cutting measures, the top executives who were ruinng the company took home millions in performance-based bonuses:
Despite the company’s problems, the managers have been rewarded handsomely. From May 2009 to February 2010, a total of $57.3 million in bonuses were paid to the current management with the approval of the judge overseeing the bankruptcy. In 2009, the top 10 managers received $5.9 million at a time when cash flow was plummeting.
The whole story, even at about 4,000 words, is worth reading. The hard-working people putting out the paper under these conditions deserve better. Baltimore deserves better.