Lee Abrams is an infamous figure around the Sun-Sentinel newsroom. He's chief innovation officer for the Tribune Co., which owns the Sun-Sentinel, WSFL-TV (CW), the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and a slew of other newspapers and television stations across the country.
Abrams ordered the dramatic redesign of the Sun-Sentinel last year, which ushered in the era of the enormous red-and-white S, and just two stories on the front page. But he's mostly known for his "think piece" emails, which are meant to motivate and inspire the troops but are often long, exhaustive, stream-of-consciousness diatribes, littered with trademark phrases such as AFDI -- Actually Fucking Doing It.
One famous "think piece," coming after massive layoffs throughout the Tribune company, told people to evaluate their offices and rid them of "traits" that make them "average" such as "UPTIGHT/PARANOID: You know the drill. You can FEEL the fear."
I reached Abrams by phone recently and asked him to explain some of his thoughts on the future of the Sun-Sentinel. Here's an edited version of the conversation, which shows that Abrams talks like he writes.
Will the paper eventually move entirely online?
Not in the foreseeable future, he said, calling the print edition "a significant part of the information pie." "We're pretty confident, generally, about the future of newspapers."
What about the lack of competition between the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald, and Palm Beach Post? All three South Florida dailies now share stories with one another.
"I think the competition still exists, but it's just the economic reality that [is] also part of the equation." Sharing stories, he said, helps "to avoid unnecessary duplication."
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SHOW ME HOW
Your background is in radio. Is your goal to make the Tribune's paper more like radio? If so, how?
"It's more an attitude that you see in the radio business," he said. "Openness to change, an immediacy. If we're gonna change or evolve, let's do it."
What's the purpose of your "think pieces"?
"Get people thinking and talking and debating," he said. Even if people disagree with his ideas, "from that usually comes better ideas."
Acknowledging that people have criticized his memos, "as if it's anti-journalism," he says that's not true. "It's trying to save and grow it."
He wants newspapers and TV stations to strike a balance between being too flashy or too stuffy, too elite or too "cheesy." Somewhere, there is a middle ground, he said. "Integrity is so important, but so is to stay in business."