The Tribune Company, owner of such newspapers as The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times, has recently announced plans to reduce the number of news pages in its publications and the journalists that produce them.
With the increasing penetration of the Internet and proliferation of news sites on the Web, many traditional newspapers are increasingly finding it difficult to make ends meet. Such institutions have tried many things to turn things around - jazzing up appearances, pruning staff and content, and developing online versions of themselves. The Tribune Company is only the latest publishing entity to adopt this route.
Chairman Sam Zell and chief operating officer Randy Michaels said they would trim 500 pages of news each week from the company's dozen papers and aim for slimmer publications with pages - excluding classified advertising and special ad sections - split halfway between news content and advertisements.
Speaking to analysts, Michaels said the papers must be "right sized" to cut expenses and give readers more of what they say they want. The changes will be completed by the end of September.
Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman said Newsday is not part of the initiative. The paper's $650-million sale to Cablevision is expected to close between 1 July and 30 September.
The company said that selling control of Newsday, its New York paper, and the auction for Wrigley Field and the Chicago Cubs ball club, for which potential bidders will receive the long-awaited financial data within days and submit indications of interest next month, should take care of its big bills due this year and next.
Citing company research, Michaels said Tribune's remaining nine daily papers would have pages equally divided each day between editorial content and retail advertising, minus classifieds and special ad sections. He said about 500 news pages would be cut a week across the papers, representing 12.5 per cent of the total content.
Zell adopted a more strident tone, saying, "I promise you he is underestimating the level of aggressiveness with which we are attacking this whole challenge."
Michaels came down heavily on employees whom he thought were not pulling their weight in the company. Citing statistics he showed that the average journalist at its flagship Los Angeles Times contributes about one-sixth of the content produced by counterparts at Tribune Company papers in Baltimore and Hartford, Connecticut.
"You find out that you can eliminate a fair amount, a fair number of people, without eliminating very much content," he said. Even allowing for investigative reporting and other circumstances "we believe we can save a lot of money and not lose a lot of productivity."
He stressed that even after these reductions, the publications will still offer extremely good value for money, as they will continue to be ''pretty big papers''. Comparing the company's products with established peers, he said, "The Chicago Tribune is typically an 80-page newspaper. The days that we're 80 pages, The Wall Street Journal is typically 48 pages. Nobody picks up The Wall Street Journal and says: 'Wow, what a lousy paper. I've been ripped off.'''
As the Tribune Company phases in the more economical papers, the change will be accompanied by what Michaels described as "a new look and feel in each market, emphasizing what people are telling us they want in the research: charts, graphs, maps, lists."
Analysts were divided on this strategy. Even though the move may reduce costs in the long term - extremely important for a company reeling under $12.8 billion of debts - it does not provide any insight towards increasing advertising revenue.