Our local media conglomerate, the Tribune Company, has apparently decided that 10-15% operating profits aren't enough for some of their newspapers, notably the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. They are looking for 25% profit margins.
So, they are cutting newspaper staff which means less coverage of government and politics, which means a less informed electorate.
MoveOn.org is sponsoring a petition drive here (sign it now) to call on the Tribune Company to reverse the cuts and invest in more reporters and editors.
The Tribune (through an LA Times article) was good enough to write about the petition drive here, and essentially argued that economic necessity forced these cuts.
At the Chicago Tribune, which recently reduced its editorial staff of more than 600 by 28, Publisher David Hiller said the reductions were similar to those being made at many other newspapers, including those owned by Knight Ridder Inc. and the New York Times Co.
"The necessity to make these cuts is unfortunate, but it's the reality of the marketplace that we are in," Hiller said.
I wonder if that's true. Isn't that what Conrad Black said about staff cuts at the Sun-Times when he was stealing hundreds of millions from Hollinger International? I'm not suggesting that anyone at the Trib is stealing anything, but I am suggesting that if the Trib is generating 10-15% profit margins now, is it really necessary to cut staff?
Of course not -- it's just a question of corporate greed versus civic values. If the managers can squeeze more money out of the papers for the shareholders, then they'll do it, civic consequences be damned.
It's a problem with corporate governance -- the push for shareholder value (making money) trumping every other value (democracy, education, and other non-money-making things that make our country great).
Here's the MoveOn email that makes the case on the numbers. The best quote is here:
Steve Wasserman, a former deputy opinion editor at the Chicago Tribune's sister paper, the Los Angeles Times, described how the Tribune Company is running journalism into the ground at his former paper:Tribune Co. insists that the paper deliver annual operating profit margins nearer 25% or 26% than its more customary return of around 15% or 16%. (Last year...the paper reaped an operating profit margin of about 20%, a figure that failed to satisfy the Chicago moneymen.) The paper's top managers and editors are determined to do so or die trying
Maybe a financial guy (Nathan Kaufman?) can dig into the Trib's balance sheet to see whether the Trib is already making a healthy profit on the papers, and now they're just greedily looking to make more at the expense of the rest of us.
I find this frustrating, because I think the Chicago Tribune should be one of the world's best newspapers (that's what Tribune-owned WGN stands for -- World's Greatest Newspaper), and to do that takes bureaus around the globe running original stories, not a collect of AP stories from pages 5 through 12 of the front section. It's frustrating that people who want to read top-notch news can't also read about the Chicago City Council or the Illinois General Assembly, because the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal simply do not have Chicago Metro sections in their papers. If I had my wish, I'd have the Tribune Company decide to make the Chicago Tribune one of the world's premier papers and double the editorial staff. Then maybe they could get away with charging a dollar per print paper instead of 50 cents (as the New York Times does) and they could start charging for some content on their website. Make no little plans, Tribune!