What’s the Tribune’s Chicago future?



“Changes afoot”

At the fall equinox, the leading contender for Chicago media story of the year is the promised restructuring of the Tribune Company. (Among the Tribunes local holdings are WGN AM, WGN TV, CLTV, Chicago Magazine, Satisfaction Magazine, the free daily sheet RedEye, Hoy Chicago, the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field, ticket scalping firm Wrigley Field Premium Tickets, web properties ChicagoTribune.com, Metromix., and ChicagoSports.com and the landmark neo-Gothic Tribune Tower.)

From Friday’s coverage of Thursday’s board meeting:


After a five-hour board meeting Thursday, Tribune Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Dennis FitzSimons said he will substantially restructure the company in a process overseen by a committee of independent board members. “Everything’s on the table,” FitzSimons said after the meeting…FitzSimons and other sources said possibilities include taking the company private in a leveraged buyout, spinning off the company’s televisions stations and selling some newspapers. The committee hopes to approve a plan by the end of the year.


Calling Local Egotists and Satans

In light of the Tribune announcement and the failures and subsequent break-ups of other media super-conglomerates, Jarvis is amused by “all the mewling about big, bad, media consolidation. The mewlers needn’t waste their breathy angst on media companies getting bigger. The big ones are toppling of their own weight.”

But he adds a warning:

To those who celebrate that some newspapers will be freed from the yoke of remote corporate parents as they are bought up by local egotists, beware: New cash from would-be moguls and kingmakers in local markets will only stave off the inevitable.

Jarvis points to Jack Shafer’s examination of possible billionaire contenders for the LA Times, including philanthropist (and ethically-challenged real estate mogul) Eli Broad: “What would Broad’s L.A. broadsheet look like?” Shafer asks. He excerpts a June New York Times piece:

If the real estate billionaire Eli Broad had his way, the Los Angeles Times would run more photographs of donors at charity events. There would be fewer stories on movies and more about the city’s museums and classical arts. And it would champion civic projects, becoming, in his view, the glue to unite a diverse and fractured city.

Shafer concludes that “the least bad candidate for Los Angeles Times owner turns out to be Tribune. I know they’re perfect Satans, but they’re the Satans journalists understand. At least they know something about running newspapers.”

So, what Chicago “egotists” and “Satans” might bid for parts of the Trib’s local empire?

III. A New Hope

For those unfamiliar with the state of my local baseball franchise, the Chicago Cubs are a disaster. As early as spring training, Chuck at Ivy Chat has been reading the Tribune tea leaves desperate for signs that they may be planning to sell the Cubs. Thus, he followed Thursday’s board meeting closely. Chuck’s not convinced a sale is imminent, but concludes that even new management that “would take a more civic approach to the Cubs and less of a shareholder value approach tha[n] the current board (correctly and appropriately) has…What is imminent at this time is simply this: Major changes will occur at Trib Corp over the next 180 days. None of this can be bad for fans of the Chicago Cubs.” In the comments section , CT adds that “the only way a new ownership could be worse is if they came to my house and set me on fire,”—though I rather like the idea of a Craig Hodges Day.


IV. Towing the Company Line

I haven’t been one to complain about the Tribune’s coverage of its owned and operated Cubs—there are a couple more important issues locally— but Paul Sullivan sounds as though he’s taking dictation from Dennis Fitzsimmons with this lead to a summary of Friday’s loss: “Will Aramis Ramirez hold the Cubs hostage next month, or will negotiations over a new contract go smoothly?” he asks. So, exercising a contracted right to consider exiting from the contract is holding the poor Tribune Co. hostage? (For the record, I’m not in favor of locking up through 2011 an aging, over-weight, poor fielding third baseman with a poor attitude. In any case, wouldn’t it make sense to give Scott Moore a more extensive look?)


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