Wednesday, October 06, 2010

An American Tragedy: How A Bunch of Frat Boys Destroyed Tribune

David Carr's take on the management team that came in to run Tribune -- and further dismantled the once proud media company -- is already the talk of journalism.

Carr's piece, in Wednesday's New York Times, paints a crass environment championed by Sam Zell, Randy Michaels and crew. Lewd behavior is rewarded, sophomoric humor allowed and questionable business practices encouraged:

Less than a year after Mr. Zell bought the company, it tipped into bankruptcy, listing $7.6 billion in assets against a debt of $13 billion, making it the largest bankruptcy in the history of the American media industry. More than 4,200 people have lost jobs since the purchase, while resources for the Tribune newspapers and television stations have been slashed.

The new management did transform the work culture, however. Based on interviews with more than 20 employees and former employees of Tribune, Mr. Michaels’s and his executives’ use of sexual innuendo, poisonous workplace banter and profane invective shocked and offended people throughout the company. Tribune Tower, the architectural symbol of the staid company, came to resemble a frat house, complete with poker parties, juke boxes and pervasive sex talk.

Carr does a thorough job explaining the issues facing Tribune -- and notes that even as the company struggles to climb out of bankruptcy, senior management has still been handed hefty bonuses. It's as if simply stripping the Tribune Tower bare wasn't enough -- these guys felt the need to torch the place.

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