TRONC TO NYDN: DROP DEAD
Everyone knows the newspaper business is dying. The ad dollars dried up, the classifieds went to Craigslist, and people want online news for nothing. Some papers that managed to be profitable despite all those factors have been gutted by vultures like tronc, the annoyingly uncapitalized Bain Capital of news conglomerates, which is far more interested in extracting short-term profits than doing journamalism. If there are still J-schools in 20 years, tronc's insane decision to suddenly fire half the staff at the New York Daily News Monday will be an essential case study. Especially since tronc admitted to the remaining staff yesterday that the company has no actual strategy for what comes next. Maybe they should brainstorm -- lots of empty desks to roll out newsprint to sketch on.
Tronc (it stands for "Tribune Online content," though it may revert back to its old name, the Tribune Company) is a familiar villain in the news business, and has been notorious for slashing newsroom staff and budgets. It fought unionization -- unsuccessfully -- at the Los Angeles Times. It saddled LAT with a scummy, (allegedly) sexual harrassy publisher, Ross Levinsohn, the subject of an NPR exposé earlier this year, who brought in as short-lived editor-in-chief some dork from Forbes.
In fact, that dork from Forbes had previously embarrassed that magazine by introducing pay-to-play among its columnists, and intended to do similar at the Times, with a bunch of "partnerships" with online bloggers taking the place of a DC bureau. The Forbes dork, having been summarily shoved out of the LA Times by staff revolt, is now tronc's chief digital content officer. That might be important by the end of this post.
Tronc finally sold the LA Times in June, but first, it did a few more mass layoffs at the paper. The sale of LAT to a biotech billionaire accomplished one big achievement for tronc: it wiped out its $327 million debt, hooray (but then tronc's stock price took a nosedive). New Republic called that move, and the NYDN layoffs, typical of
Tronc's so-called business strategy, which amounts to paying a small number people off at the expense of hundreds of people's livelihoods.
Tronc has been selling itself as a canny online operator, mostly because it's really good at deploying high end lean-n-mean business jargon. It touted how it would make its publications "flatter," with "fewer job titles across the newsrooms and across the company and a higher reporter-to-editor ratio." We bet tronc had a lot of paradigm shifts and core competencies too, at least until it fired the competent writers and editors.
The Daily Beast got its hands on hands on a partial recording of a post-firing pep talk given to stunned survivors of the layoff carnage at the Daily News. Grant Whitmore, tronc's executive vice president, and brand new editor in chief Robert York let the staff know that everything would be just peachy, although they were remarkably quiet when it came to explaining the strategic vision behind eviscerating the newsroom.
At one point, York asked for 30 days to develop an editorial strategy, which prompted dismay from some staff.
"I would've thought we'd have had a strategy, and then we would've made decisions based on how to carry out that strategy," one staffer remarked [...]
"That's a very reasonable question. That's not the way that we did it," Whitmore replied, prompting audible sighs and some chuckling among staff.
Whitmore also offered some inspirational nonsense that surely must have been of great comfort, telling what was left of the paper's staff that "the road to success is never straight," and that it was time for the team to "pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off." He even managed to promise the tabloid -- Superman's paper -- would continue its mission of Truth, Justice, and the American Way, subject to living within budget constraints:
We will hold truth to power [sic], we will fearlessly report on this city and our country, though we will obviously have to be focused differently.
Fine, maybe some fear in the reporting might be acceptable, if it's cheaper that way. Whitmore also reportedly presided over a second, smaller meeting with some of the sports staff and somebody from HR who told them about their severance package. That one sounds like something out of Up In the Air. Whitmore did the whole "sorry this had to happen" routine, but wouldn't say why:
"Are we going to get an opportunity to ask you questions about how that process went about?" one employee asked.
Whitmore declined. "He read off a fucking piece of paper, he couldn't look at us," another laid offstaffer remarked immediately after Whitmore left the room.
Nope, not even George Clooney smiling and nodding at his best would help there. Thank goodness Whitmore has a lavish wedding to a former NYDN advertising manager to look forward to, or he might feel right bad about just how badly the Daily News has been hollowed out. No more worries about having to chase after another Pulitzer, at least for now.
In the meantime, former Daily News editor-in-chief Jim Rich, one of the editors shitcanned without warning Monday, has changed his Twitter bio to "Just a guy sitting at home watching journalism being choked into extinction." We'll give him the next-to-last word:
In conclusion, tronc is evil, and if you subscribe to one of its papers -- the Chicago Tribune, the New York Daily News, the Hartford Courant, the Orlando Sentinel, the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, or The Baltimore Sun -- your money should go to good people who don't suck, like Yr Wonkette, The End.
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.