Published on Wednesday, 06 October 2010 06:03
In what is easily the biggest media story of the day, the New York Times published an expansive report on Page 1 of their newspaper this morning, detailing out the damage done to the Chicago Tribune and WGN Radio by current owner Sam Zell and especially by CEO Randy Michaels and his hand-picked crew of former Jacor & Clear Channel friends. The article, entitled "At Flagging Tribune, Tales of a Bankrupt Culture
," talks with numerous current and former Tribune Company employees nationwide, all of whom had less than flattering remarks about the current regime and their antics.
The article, written by the NY Times' David Carr, of course mentions the now infamous & illegal gambling/drinking/smoking party held within what used to be the posh office of Col. Robert R. McCormick. That party was brought to the public eye and national forefront by Chicago Public Media's Robert Feder in an online column on June 3rd
of this year.
It mentions how Randy Michaels, the controversial figure who many credit with the ruining of the radio industry while he was running Clear Channel Radio, made a first impression on other top Tribune staffers when he first came to town to help run the company. According to witnesses, Michaels offered a waitress $100 to show him her breasts. The waitress was well known by the other Trib staffers who were shocked by Michaels' drunken actions.
Carr's article talks about a time where Randy Michaels and one of his his old Jacor cronies, Marc Chase, who now runs Tribune Interactive, stood on a Tribune balcony overlooking a work area, purposely talking loudly about what it would be like to be having sex with various employees below.
Just as Randy Michaels had found himself in consistent trouble while at Jacor & Clear Channel for his boorish behavior, especially towards women, the same problem seems to have followed him here to Chicago's Tribune Company. David Carr's article says, "Mr. Michaels's and his executives' use of sexual innuendo, poisonous workplace banter and profane invective shocked and offended people throughout the company."
The article goes on to talk about Tribune Tower troubles, such as a senior male executive being caught having sex with a female Trib employee on the Tower's 22nd floor outdoor balcony, Lee Abrams' rambling & nonsensical memos, Zell using the paper to put pressure on the Governor because he was trying to sell Wrigley Field to the state, how Randy Michaels' old associates (WGN Program Director Kevin Metheny -- although not mentioned by name) have hurt WGN-AM's market share, the over 4,200 Tribune employees who have lost jobs since the take over, and much more.
Perhaps most damning is how the article details out how since the Zell/Michaels takeover, the Tribune media properties have lost market share, revenue and employees at a rate far exceeding that of other media companies and the national average.
Adding salt to the wound, while thousands of people of losing their jobs at the company and most others have dealt with pay cuts and pay freezes, the top executives, most of which are Randy Michaels' hand-picked pals from his old radio days, have collected over $63 million in bonuses.
The article is filled with quotes from both current and former Tribune employees, none of which had positive things to say about the once-classy company. Former WGN-AM star Steve Cochran is among those quoted.
Not surprisingly, CEO Randy Michaels did what he often does. He issued a memo to Tribune employees last night denying the researched and verified content found within the New York Times article.
Here is the entire e-mailed memo from Randy Michaels:
We have been informed that tomorrow's New York Times will run a column written by David Carr (http://www.nightofthegun.com/#). Many of the questions Mr. Carr asked us for this article concerned events, distortions and rumors more than two years old. He will apparently paint the work environment at Tribune as hostile, sexist and otherwise inappropriate. Many of the rumors Mr. Carr referenced were spread by an ex-Chicago Tribune employee who is now a contributing writer to the New York Times. Mr. Carr has made clear that he is digging up these old allegations because he believes that decisions about the company's management are about to be made, and he wants to influence those decisions. Mr. Carr knows that an outside firm investigated the most substantial of these allegations, and that they were found to be without substance. Mr. Carr intends to use them anyway.
As you know, it is our intention to create a fun, non-linear creative environment. I am tremendously proud of the results of that creative culture. Our websites on the P2P platform are the most advanced in media. We have reconfigured production of the newspaper with standard ad sizes, Media on Demand Modules, and combined editing, design, and layout functions using technology. We have "Breaking News Centers" that eliminate redundancy and give newsmakers one contact point for each market's most powerful news media. TOPS, TONS, and BRUTUS have changed the way TV is produced and aired.
It is our intention to have creative environment. A creative culture must be built on a foundation of respect for each other. Our goal is an environment where people are free to speak up, free to challenge authority, and free to fail on the way to success. Our culture is NOT about being offensive or hurtful. This is supported by our Harassment Policy. It's in the Employee Handbook which is posted on TribLink-Section 3.
The fact that so many at other media companies dwell on the way it used to be creates great opportunity for those of us willing to rethink our opportunities and recast our culture. Ignore the noise. Treat each other with respect. Have fun, and let's go create the future.
Michaels asked the employees to "ignore the noise" of the NY Times article. Ironically, it was Randy Michaels who coined the phrase "The Noise You Can't Ignore" when he was running Jacor Radio for Sam Zell. He even issued a press release soon after taking over the Tribune called "The Noise You Can't Ignore Grows Louder in Chicago
" in an attempt to resurrect the saying. Now he is asking others to "ignore the noise." The Michaels memo also included a link to David Carr's website for his book from a few years back that details how he overcame a drug addiction. There was no reason as to why that link was included. It was almost an insinuation that the NY Times author's article is perhaps less true because at one time in his past he had a drug problem.
Michaels also says that "an outside firm investigated the most substantial of these allegations, and that they were found to be without substance." The only one of the allegation investigated by an outside firm was the one of the senior executive who was caught by a security guard having sex with another Tribune employee on the Tribune Tower balcony. The investigation consisted of somebody asking the couple "Did you have sex out there?" and the couple saying "no." There was no security camera present and no physical evidence, only the word of a trusted security guard. The outside firm could not substantiate any wrong doing without any evidence or a confession. The security guard stands by what he saw, though.
The Chicago Tribune's Phil Rosenthal mentions this new memo of Randy Michaels' on his Tower Ticker page
on the Chicago Tribune's website today.
Robert Feder, who has been keeping a careful eye on various Tribune troubles in the past year and writing about them on his online column, also takes a look at today's article by David Carr HERE
For today, the only "Noise That Can't Be Ignored" is coming from the nationwide negative attention this New York Times article has thrust at Tribune Tower.