Pilot Down: The Sequel

John O'Laughlin, one of Sam Zell's geniuses who is "redefining" newspapers, sent a memo out Tuesday to employees at Times Community News, the community news division of the Los Angeles Times. Tell Zell blogged about it.

This could prove to be the final nail in the coffin of the Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot, once one of the best daily community newspapers in the country. (This is a very personal issue for me because I worked as editor of the Pilot for 10 years, helping resurrect it from near-bankruptcy into a top-flight local paper, editorially and financially).

First, Zell's boys drove off Publisher Tom Johnson, the finest newspaper executive and advertising salesman I've known in 25 years in the business. Then Ron Katzman, the Pilot's best salesperson (by far), announced Tuesday he's leaving the Pilot because his "brother" (Tom Johnson) had been forced out. (Katzman will be working at Greer's OC, a new media company run by my wife -- she knows how to take advantage of an opportunity.) Finally, O'Laughlin's memo arrives in everyone's in-boxes, leaving the demoralized staff comatose. Great work, John! Take the rest of the week off!

OK, let's parse this memo -- designed, I guess, to inspire the troops.

Dear TCN Colleague
(John never bothered to visit the Pilot's headquarters until the day Tom Johnson left, the markings of a loyal "colleague.")

As we embark on a new era at TCN,
(The dark ages?)

our future success will be grounded in our ability to collaborate and consolidate where needed,
(I know it sounds stupid, but we need to centralize our community newspapers so one size fits all. This means more layoffs and other exciting innovations. If the LONG BEACH Press-Telegram can be run out of the South Bay, we have the brainpower to do something similar; I know this type of arrangement has never been done before but we're going to shift the paradigm! Soon, we'll be able to centralize all operations in India -- imagine the mind-blowing cost savings.)

scrutinize all policy and procedure that limit growth,
(Sam loves this shit so I just threw this in. Sam also loves the word "shit.")

and relentless focus on reinventing our daily process.
(Sam loves this shit, too, so I just threw it in.)

To get started, I want to briefly share the following updates:
(The following is bad news in case you're not demoralized enough. But there's an upside. If everyone bails out of TCN, we're talking HUGE profit margins!)

1. Content- All editorial functions need to be reviewed across all of TCN.
(There will be blood.)

While reporters and their beats are local, copy editing and design can be, to varying degrees, optimized across the whole empire. Tony Dodero and Danette Goulet will jointly determine how all TCN editorial resources can be optimized across the entire organization.
(We'll have a centralized operation, with the few reporters we have left staying in their communities -- for now. This strategy has been successful in many markets, including ... ah ... uh .... never mind.)

2. Advertising - Scott Pompe is working with Hector Cabral and Lisa Cosenza on sales force management. The new structure will be performance based and will focus on selling across the entire spectrum of TCN products; LAT MARCOM under Anna Magzanyan and Mike Kechichian is aggressively working on improvements in collateral, cross-media packages, promo opps, etc.
(This is going to work FOR SURE because local advertisers in Newport Beach REALLY need to reach Times Community News readers in Glendale and Burbank. Customers will FOR SURE drive 60 miles to patronize a local merchant.)

3. Special Sections - Under Lana Johnson's leadership, the excellent content that has served OC so well will now be applied to all of TCN. In addition, coordinated planning w/LAT Custom Publishing / Annastasia Stafford's team will be paramount and processes/calendar reviewed and established.
(Despite Sam Zell's initial words, we HATE local autonomy. We like the business model of the Soviet Union -- centralization works; I learned that in business school!)

4. Web - Under Tony Dodero, this function will now service all of TCN including site maintenance, redesigns, site launch and expansion
(Again, WE DON'T WANT LOCAL PAPERS TO HAVE LOCAL CONTROL. This goes against my MBA-trained mind.)

5. Adv Opns – These functions will be migrating to LATMG over the next two periods, this function will be optimized within the context of the larger LATMG organization
(You probably don't know what "Adv Opns" is -- it's a term I learned in business school! And you probably don't know what this sentence means -- good!)

Over the next few weeks, Gordon, Scott and I will be asking a LOT of questions,
(You might as well bend over right now)

including exploration of options for GM/Publisher role(s),
(This seems to be an unnecessary expense when you have ME!)

all with the goal to better assess structure to increase revenue and readership. What is certain is that managing TCN as a whole we will be better able to serve our communities, revitalize our existing products and launch new dramatic new initiatives while enhancing opportunities for all.
(Did you see what I did? I combined the crap Sam Zell loves -- "dramatic new initiatives" -- with my MBA-speak -- "to better assess structure" and "enhancing opportunities for all" -- and the Soviet Union model of centralization. It's PURE brilliance! I just hope the new publisher of The Times doesn't catch on to what I'm doing.)

Thanks for your continued commitment to our readers and advertisers.
(That you're still thinking about your readers and advertisers is amazing considering everything I've done.)

Best, JTO
(JTO -- that was my frat nickname at Notre Dame! Don't you just love it?!)

26 comments:

jvolzke said...

I worked there before you did. Financially, the paper did struggle, especially after it lost the Gannett contract to print USA Today locally.

Editorially, however, it was not a joke. Before your arrival, the paper was edited by Tom Tait, who went on to a fine career, and the City Editor was Steve Marble, still doing well at LA Times, I believe.

We had a good staff that put out a lot of copy, breaking stories and letting residents know what was going on in Newport and Costa Mesa.

I enjoy your blog, and wish you the best, but the bitterness is a little hard to swallow. I was hoping for some insight into what's happening at one of the country's major media companies (yes, still) instead of rather low-level schoolyard bashing.

Jonathan Volzke, Daily Pilot 1988.
jvolzke@thecapistranodispatch.com

DeAnna Cameron said...

The Pilot runs on such a shoestring budget, it's insulting that the Zell folks think there is fat to cut. And what the Pilot provides is the perfect example of news you can't find anywhere else. It's not like the AP sends reporters to the Newport-Mesa school board meetings or Planning Commission meetings, well, unless they've read something that piques their interest IN THE PILOT.

(Yeah, this is personal for me, too. I worked there from 1999 to 2002 and for sister papers for a year or so before that.)

HBgal said...

It's truly a shame to watch the slow, painful destruction of an institution. Obviously, the Times has been a world-class paper for generations. And the Daily Pilot, in its heyday (which in my opinion was during the Lobdell-Marble era) produced fabulous works of journalism--stuff that got picked up by the wires and the major dailies.

It seems as though the Times and TCN operations have been in a constant state of tumult since Times Mirror sold out to Tribune. And now, it's worse than ever. The harsh criticism and a degree of bitterness are understable.

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