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Lee Abrams Isn't Playing Anymore

In his latest "think piece," Tribune Co. Chief Innovation Officer Lee Abrams draws a line in the sand for EVERYone in the company's newsrooms (including the Sun-Sentinel):

Revolutions are about "we". The leaders need to engage EVERYone. And EVERYone needs to engage the cause. You are either WITH the revolution or AGAINST it. You will either be embraced by the company and win or the company will beat you. No middle ground. If you are IN--cool--Bear down for battle. If you are OUT---Cool--Good luck with your future. Just figure out where you want to be... Middle ground wastes EVERONES time.

Abrams' entire screed appears after the jump.

Also today, Editor & Publisher has a story about yet another partnership between the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, and Miami Herald, this one with Florida International University. They are creating something called the South Florida News Service, with news stories reported by students. This is smart and definitely geat for the school, but in these tough economic times, you have to carry some cynicism. Will this help lead to more job losses in the three newsrooms? We'll see. 

December 01, 2008



Chicago Breaking News Site: If you haven't seen it, check it out at: www.chicagobreakingnews.com It's important in that for the first time, all of the Chicago news brands are uniting. Chicago Tribune, CLTV, WGN Radio and TV, RedEye. It's still a work in progress but significant in pulling together and branding ourselves. If there was ever a home page for Chicago news , this is it.

I thought the front pages of The Mint & The Telegraph, two English language papers in India might have been interesting to show online and in print. Few things take you there better than the local newspaper. Both Drudge and some of the International and National cable news channels did that...maybe we should too...within our newspapers and sites .

Some very interesting ad shapes are being used by the LA TIMES and ALLENTOWN MORNING CALL. Email me if you'd like to see a file of them.

Rupert Murdoch's comments have been all over the web, if you haven't seen them, they're worth a look here:


Another interesting blog on Keeping Newspapers Strong from the Washington post:

From John Zeigler at WPIX:

we had an all hands meeting at the station today and we showed the video that you sent a link to (the "did you know" video). got to tell you man, powerful stuff. really made everyone stop and think!

i'll give you my two quotes from the meeting - the one i'm sure you've heard, the other one i either made up or stole so long ago i think i made it up...

after your video we talked about the need to reinvent ourselves...
"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who can not read and write. It will be those who can not learn, unlearn and relearn."

the other one was...
if you are happy with our product, you should be nervous as hell.

I went on to say that AOL was very happy with their search engine while Google was quietly creating a better one.

anyway - just wanted to let you know we played the video and it blew 'em away...thanks!!

...we might consider showing that video at your staff meetings. I've yet to hear from someone not impressed by it. The link is:


As we get into the Holiday season, we might want to re-think Holiday coverage. MAYBE there are better ways to talk about the inevitable Mall feeding on the Friday After Thanksgiving, and of course Holiday Airport snarls:

TV & NEWS CLICHÉ 457-B: Holiday travel coverage:

*Standard issue reporter interviews a tired traveler in front of the United Airlines counter at (put major airport here). Usually has a crying baby in a stroller for effect. Complaining how their flight was cancelled.

Then.... segue to:

Arrivals monitor, preferably showing CANCELLED a lot

Then....segue to:

*Interview with delayed traveler

* reporter reports on delays from outside the terminal.

Damn! You would think there'd be better ways of covering this since you KNOW that it's going to be a key story 4 or five times a year.

One possible solution:

*Get out of the terminal and into the technology. Being a pilot, there are SO many ways to present air travel in a far more compelling way. Such as:

--Capture the stunning displays at any ATC facility.

--Talk to controllers...an Approach Control facility is A LOT cooler than a terminal.

...use the Star Wars visuals that define the Air Traffic system and actually dive into the system instead of a terminal arrival monitor and an angry passenger.

Some interesting stories on the Web & News:

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/11/watching-the-ti.html http://www.37signals.com/svn/posts/1407-why-the-drudge-report-is-one-of-the-best-designed-sites-on-the-web


Someone forwarded me a summary of Sam Zell's comments at a recent symposium:

:: A monopoly mindset: "The newspaper business basically grew up as a monopoly, and like every other monopoly, it built processes and approaches that reflected its monopoly status."

:: Order taking vs. effective ad sales: "You need a Ph.D. in order to understand the rate card. In the days where the customer had no options, you could give him the rate card and say, 'Take it or leave it.' But today, that doesn't work. I think the newspaper industry truly still doesn't understand that it is in a business with customers, and the business must reflect the needs and demands of the customer."

:: Order taking vs. effective ad sales, cont'd: "Every single newspaper has a cadre of salaried salesmen.... I've never seen any kind of a sales force that was effective if, in fact, they had no incentives."

:: Giveaway subscription rates: "If you buy a newspaper from a vendor, you will pay 50 cents. But if you get it home-delivered, which costs the company 10 times as much, you pay 30 cents. I don't understand. Okay? I mean, you try and make those numbers work, and it don't make any sense."

:: An outmoded concept of news: "When I grew up, the definition of 'breaking news' was [the newspaper delivered to] your front door.... Well, that's not the case anymore. Now, you hit your homepage, now you turn on CNN, or some other news-TV program, and that's how you find out what the latest news is."

:: The chief competitive advantage: "Most...newspapers do not have a comparative advantage on international news.... On the other hand, [they] have staff and people and knowledge locally that nobody else has.... That's the only thing I can't find from 10 other sources."

:: The chief competitive disadvantage: "Eighty-six percent of the cost of the newspaper business is print, paper, distribution, and promotion. That's untenable long-term and short-term.... If you attack the problem and solve it, you then make newspapers a much more economic advertising venue. Right now, that infrastructure sets the floor. That makes newspapers uncompetitive."

His comments will likely get twisted, as our approach seems to make some people angry, so it was refreshing to see some honest coverage of what he said.

.... Revolutionizing media isn't about dumbing it down...it's about re-thinking it so more people will embrace it.

Integrity and Quality are timeless concepts---but the execution requirements have changed since the days of Cronkite. I see where some try to "bring back" quality and integrity, but fail to do it on 21st Century terms. It's timeless in definition, but getting through to the public requires an open-ness to new thinking.

Every aspect of Radio, Local TV and Newspaper content can be dramatically improved and updated if we let it. That's not always easy to do as there's always resistance to change. ... If Weather is BETTER on the Internet...Business News is BETTER on Bloomberg...etc... Time to get in the "better" game by identifying what we can do brilliantly...and doing it. NOTICABLY and consistently..

Cell phones re-invent themselves every six months. While that re-invention is often technology driven, Joe Citizen doesn't care. All he knows is that these things in their lives keep improving. Maybe Local TV and Newspapers haven't noticeably improved in decades. Time idea of "ongoing improvement" shouldn't be taken lightly. Usually it is. we all talk about it, but too often we sit on things. Compared to the power days of newspapers or 4 a local channel TV when things changed on a slow basis...things today change practically daily. To stay in sync, the SWAT mentality needs to be engrained in terms of fast, fearless and noticeable.

Revolutions are about "we". The leaders need to engage EVERYone. And EVERYone needs to engage the cause. You are either WITH the revolution or AGAINST it. You will either be embraced by the company and win or the company will beat you. No middle ground. If you are IN--cool--Bear down for battle. If you are OUT---Cool--Good luck with your future. Just figure out where you want to be... Middle ground wastes EVERONES time.

Need to create FANS not just users. Fandom isn't necessarily a sports or music thing. It's people who are passionate about a product...beyond 'users'. We need to touch nerves...work at breaking out of the ordinary. Become important to the mainstream on today's terms. The more a TV station looks like everyone else, or the more a newspaper fails to touch nerves, the higher the probability we'll have users instead of fans. Fox news sure has fans. (I'll get letters from Fox haters, but they are dominant in TV news, so probably worth accepting and understanding that) So does the New York Times.
Whatever our M.O. is in creating fans, we need to work at it. It's too competitive to succeed by simply being reliable. That's a given. Creating fans out of users is probably a pretty foreign concept open to gross misinterpretation. But it's really all about connecting beyond utility. REALLY connecting to the new mainstream. A way of thinking: What can we do to electrify ourselves? Get people talking about our content. Arguing about it. Supporting it or trashing it...but talking about it. No one is immune:

TV Stations: Do they all look the same?
Newspapers: Can't I just get it online?
Websites: Do the big name aggregators do it best?

These are things we need to aggressively THINK about. In fact, We absolutely need to address. There's no doubt the talent is within the company to win these battles...we just need to get in there and do it. A bad time to be culturally conservative. A good time to liberate ourselves and WORK at the kinds of changes that'll keep us around and successful for a long time. If there are roadblocks, culturally, internally or personally, remove them. We can talk all we want about evolving and prevailing, it's up to us to have the courage to do it.

The opportunity is so strong because it seems there are many fear driven, complainers or folks simply imprisoned by traditional, the "if it ain't broke" excuse, and/or old school corporate committee thinking instead positive, adventurous, interesting and smart actions will give us a tremendous edge. We just need to be courageous enough to make the moves we need to make

Posted by Lee at December 1, 2008 07:47 AM

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
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