More Punishment From Lee Abrams

I'm not even going to try to explain these think pieces from Tribune Co. innovationalist Lee Abrams any more, or break them down. Not sure why I'm sharing them here anymore, either, except to spread the misery. Seriously, am I missing something here?

Anyhow, here's Abrams' latest screed to the minions at the Sun-Sentinel and others across the diminishing Tribune empire:


I have begun to visit our fertile TV stations that generally perform extremely well. I do sense a big opportunity that I plan to help move forward. It is a greater spirit of adventure and even experimentation.

Most local TV stations are only scratching the surface of their creative potential. "The magic BETWEEN the shows...the news...and on the streets", the zones they control. I don’t sense resistance. I do sense reticence and a little 'why fix it if it isn't broken'. I don't think it (the creative side) is broken, but it's not flourishing either, I believe it's just been stuck in "the TV way of doing things" aka tradition. It's probably remnants of having been over researched and over consulted. Accepting that playbook and never challenging it. On one hand, creativity in the zones that local stations control isn't going to be an immediate profit center, but in the medium and long term, stations can create a dramatically more interesting viewing experience. You used to be able to say that it didn't matter because all of the stations looked the same and no-one was complaining. As with newspapers, I wonder if TV stations are meeting the competitive challenges on the creative front. Discovery, National Geographic and some of the 'smart' cable channels are doing some pretty adventurous stuff. To me, and a wide range of comedians and comedy shows, local TV can look a little trite by comparison.

I hope to challenge the creative status quo. I know Charlier, Compton and the other guys in the TV trenches are on board. Where the look, sound, news packaging and other local ingredients challenge the standard issue timbre of TV stations. If you listen and watch--The Voiceovers, the look, the sound---it's all pretty standard issue. Not BAD, but not maximizing the

talent that exists at our stations. There seems to be a holding rather average standard that gets met...and is accepted.

There's a restaurant analogy where the best places tend to be spectacular or SO divey that have character. That middle ground of average is where there's a distinct lack of magic.

I guess it's the TV culture which is driven by the programs that are acquired and the critically important but complete focus on sales. Imagine if a station was a revenue machine, had the best shows AND a different (REALLY different not TV different) sound, look and feel. It would undoubtedly be powerful.

A key reason I believe this needs to be a priority is because my limited exposure to TV staffs at Tribune have been filled with meeting some pretty amazing people. Carrie King at WGN-America completely blows me away. I first met her a few weeks after I came to Tribune. I kinda figured she was old school because WGN "Superstation" was pretty average. Upon meeting her, I found that ALL she needed was a green light and a framework. She took the ball and came out of the creative closet, and her team is and will continue to do some outstanding work that traditionalists frown on, and viewers don’t. Met with John Zeigler and his crew at WPIX...same impression...and in phone conversations and a few other meetings, I see the same trend. The talent is there...we need to create the culture to PUSH the boundaries. Sounds cliché, but the opportunity to do some amazing things with our TV stations in terms of what we control, is pretty damn exciting. Eccentricity...all the way to the bank. A bad thing for judges and generals, but for creative TV? Perfect.

At one station, we were debating the merits of early Warner Brothers Cartons and Fawlty Towers. Anyone who thinks like that can create something that busts average...and gets our stations ahead of the invention curve.

My biggest concern: Big talk, no AFDI. Like radio, I'll bet TV stations have a lot of that trigger pull fear. Big plans...big visions...but then it all gets compromised, and settles into the zone of average.

We can't let that happen. There's too much repressed talent, and too many competitors on your cable system to allow anything short of a high PRIORITY to create paradigm changing components at our stations.

I was consultant for the original MTV. The thing there was everyone was FORCED to come up with new angles, and say what you will about the original MTV, it was original, and it worked. We GOTTA have that same start-up spirit at our TV stations....instead of relying only on the right shows, aggressive ad sales and history.

Here's an excellent article about creativity and PIxar:

The Chicago Tribune and Harford Courant re-invent happens in a week. I sent this note around to the Chicago Tribune re-invent leaders. They have been a joy to watch in action. Feisty, smart and passionate. I have no doubt that this newspaper will reach new levels of success and importance. The Courant is also in high gear.

A few pre re-invent thoughts:

OK, a week away. Below are some thoughts, based on experiences with prior re-invents---Tribune papers, Rolling Stone, Swatch, MTV, radio stations etc...). These characteristics are common among all these projects...and the hope is to re-enforce a few things and fight any potential for "pre-launch jitters". Please take a look:

ELEGANTLY HARD SELL: If WE don't "sell" both our big vision and our specific changes, it won't happen by osmosis. WE need to elegantly and creatively use the ole 2x4 to sell through what we are doing.

NEW TRADEMARKS: Many of our new components have the potential to turn into trademarks. These "trademarks" are things that you can't buy...they're golden. We have to treat them like elements that'll mold our future, instead of simply "new things we're trying".

GROW...NOT SAVE: It's all about GROWing this thing, not saving it. If we reach 30% of the 40+ population...there are 70% still out there!

ELITE RADAR: Frankly, The Chicago Tribune, The LA Times and other papers suffer from a bit of an elite perception. Musically, are we about the Eagles coming to Chicago for two giant shows, or the Cambodian modernist dance movement? We can cover both, but IF we want to reach that other 70%, we have to have our elitist radar on. We need to be more about Fox and CNN than NPR and PBS competitively. (There’s a lot to like and respect about NPR and PBS…and there’s also a lot to like and respect about Fox)…it’s about balance!

NOTHING IS ASSUMED SACRED: That assumption will just hold back progress. Some things MAY be important to protect, but those things should need to be proven rather than assumed.

THE WEB SITE: The more we treat it like an afterthought, the more it will remain one. The more we tie it at our print hip, the more powerful as a 21st Century media powerhouse we will be.

EVOLUTION IS A DAILY PROCESS: The reinvent is a plunge into new territory. Then we need to move forward...on a daily basis.

QUALITY, INTEGRITY AND EXCELLENCE remain #1. What we are doing is simply packaging, presenting and re-thinking those qualities so they'll resonate in today's competitive environment.

THREE OPTIONS: We need to make it CLEAR that we offer quick, complete and DEEP.

GUTS: What we're doing is gutsy. No-one else has the guts to do this. Most newspapers are stuck in a time warp. Yes, there is passion and excellence, but those qualities are being undermined by fear of change, and a lack of, well, killer instinct to re-claim and OWN News, Information and entertainment on 2008 terms.



Passion Character Muscle

Passion you can feel when you pick up the paper; Character--we are not generic, but we have a sprit and even an eccentricity; Muscle--WE ARE DEALING FROM A POSITION OF STRENGTH!

BRAND CONFIDENCE: Aka Swagger. Believe in it.

COMPLAINT MAGNIFICATION: Even 10,000 complaints is mathematically insignificant. Comments and complaints WILL help us discover the good and bad, but we need to keep complaints, AND accolades in perspective.

DISPLAY OUR STRENGTHS: Again, the 2x4. Mobilize our graphics...our investigative, our "from the clubhouse" sports coverage. PUSH OUT what we do best.

FEARLESSNESS: We talk about fearless reporting. Good! Everything else should be fearless too. LEADERS are fearless. If we're to LEAD the renaissance in newspapers, it ain't going to happen via fear and caution.

DELIVER THE GOODS: It's fruitless to promise and then not deliver….as frankly, most newspaper redesigns are too subtle and end up a questionable use of time.

These are times that define who is going to be around in ten years.

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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.
Contact: Bob Norman