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Daily Democracy

Ryan Blethen discusses the press, media and democracy. Daily Democracy is part of the Democracy Papers, a series of articles, essays and editorial opinion examining threats to our freedoms of speech and the press.

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December 21, 2007 9:29 AM

Saddle up, Tribune's new sheriff

Posted by Ryan Blethen

It is official. Tribune is now under the control of Chicago real-estate mogul Sam Zell. The story is here. I assume Zell is sending FCC Chairman Kevin Martin a nice Christmas gift. Martin made it all possible by granting cross-ownership waivers so the deal could be completed.

It is worth reading the Zell profile in last month's New Yorker. The story can be found here.

What will a Zell owned Tribune look like? Probably much different than it has. Zell had some telling statements at a press conference Thursday where he wasted no time shaking things up by drastically changing the company's board.

"There's a new sheriff in town, and the name of the game is excellence, relevance tied to revenue," Zell said at a news conference less than three hours after the deal's closing was announced. "I'm sick and tired of listening to everyone talk about and commiserate over the end of newspapers. They ain't ended, and they're not going to end. I think they have a great future."

His comments scare me, and give me hope. The worrisome part of the above quote, "relevance tied to revenue," is sure to send a chill down the spine of Tribune journalists. Not that it is right on. Newspapers do have to be relevant, and make money. But with out any elaboration it is one of those comments that spreads worry like wildfire through newsrooms. Does that mean content will be catered to advertisers, or other revenue streams? Or is it a journalistic rally cry to do great work while the business side folks figure out how to make money?

It is encouraging that the new heavyweight in the newspaper business things there is a future for the industry. Time will tell if Zell can navigate the newspaper business. An industry that has not been kind to outsiders.

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