Monday, June 9, 2008

More Bad News for LA Times, Chicago Tribune -- and Other Major Newspapers

During a recent conference call with financial analysts, billionaire owner Sam Zell said that the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune will cut staff and the size of each paper to get to a 50-50 ratio of editorial copy and advertising.

The Los Angeles Times could lose 82 pages a week, leaving regular daily issues with just 56 news pages. (Sundays issues would have bigger page counts.)

Of course this means cutting reporters. How will Tribune Co. determine which reporters to layoff?

By measuring journalists’ output. According to a New York Times article, "Tribune Co. Plans Sharp Cutbacks at Papers," Randy Michaels, the Tribune Co.'s COO, said, “'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."

This is a new approach to the industry, but one, that according to the article, "would save on newsroom and newsprint costs, which together typically account for 25 percent to 30 percent of a newspaper’s operating costs."

Additional changes include: redesigning newspapers' formats, like the Orlando Sentinel, to feature “maps, graphics, lists, ranking and stats...(because reader surveys showed that's what readers want, and) we’re in the business of satisfying customers, and we will respond to what they say they want,” Zell wrote in a note to employees.

In other words, the readers' experience with the paper will be totally transformed.

Even though the company says decisions will be based on productivity, the result means that Tribune Co. newspapers will be unable to adequately cover their markets. We've already heard that response from reporters themselves at the Boston Globe, Associated Press, Reuters and other news outlets. That does a disservice to readers and the community.

But at least they'll get the perception of more ads in their shrunken papers -- and we all know how people's main complaint about newspapers has been they just haven't gotten enough ads.

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