OFF THE GRID

Can Our Business Be Saved? Should I Take the Job?

Aug 26, 10 | 8:03 AM   byMichael Wolff
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I can confirm the press reports: I’m in talks to take over the Chicago Tribune. It’s me, I understand, or Michael Eisner, who once was in the media business. (The media business may be interesting to nobody else, but once you’re in it, you’ll never get enough of it.) Discussions are ongoing. Tribune Co. creditors are, I admit, imploring me. JPMorgan Chase and the two hedge funds, Angelo Gordon & Co. and Oaktree Capital Management, who now control the company, can’t stop calling me. My family is supportive of whatever decision I might make.

This is, however, not so much a business decision, but an existential one. Can anyone, anywhere, rescue our business? Can I?

Among my big dreams, one has always been to run a big city paper. But I have had to harden my heart.

There are no more dreamers, there are only bottom fishers.

Sam Zell, who bought the dying Tribune a few years ago in a great cloud of nostalgia and flim flam, was a bottom fisher. The current bond holders are even lower than Sam, which nobody ever thought was possible.

As it happens, Newser is based in Chicago, not just, I’d like to think, because Newser’s CEO, Patrick Spain, lives in Evanston, but because Chicago was, once upon at time, the world’s greatest newspaper city. But, of course, no longer. I have often left the Newser offices and looked up at the Tribune Tower (since sold) and thought, WTF? The Chicago Tribune, perhaps the most troubled newspaper in America, has also been, for many years, among the worst (and that’s saying a lot).

I have, in the recent past, walked through the Tribune newsroom, which still houses a good 400 or 500 people, and was overheard to have peevishly remarked: “I challenge anyone to figure out what in the pages of the Tribune could require more than 25 people.”

Well, that’s the future staff.

But what can I say? Even with my hard heart, I’m still a newspaper guy. My mother was a newspaper reporter, as I have been, and as my daughter has been. You don’t spend nine months jabbering with Rupert Murdoch, as I have done, if you don’t love newspapers.

Can I really refuse this opportunity to try to save what is most precious to me? What is a world without newspapers? Just young people run amok.

The bond holders, of course, believe the answer is a paywall. They love Rupert and blindly trust in the fat chance he knows what he is doing. And, while I haven’t gotten into it yet, I’m sure there’s a lot of tiresome iPad and app talk. (Investors will believe anything.)

But I’m not going there. If I take the job, I’m climbing on the city desk and jumping up and down. We’ll only save our business if we cause a fuss and have some fun.

I’ll let you know what I decide.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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OFF THE GRID is about why the news is the news. Here are the real motivations of both media and newsmakers. Here's the backstory. This is a look at the inner workings of desperate media, the inner life of the publicity crazed, and the true meaning of the news of the day.

 

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