商业 - 传媒与文化


Doron Levin 2011年06月27日



    实际上,该书所并没有这么宏大,它讲述的只是论坛报业公司(Tribune Company)2008年的破产事件。该公司是《芝加哥论坛报》(Chicago Tribune)、洛杉矶时报(Los Angeles Times)、《奥兰多哨兵报》(Orlando Sentinel)及其他众多报纸和电视台的母公司。这个故事的尾声尤为跌宕起伏,描写了芝加哥金融家山姆•泽尔孤注一掷的经历。当时,山姆冒险投入了超过3亿美元的自有资产——以及从美国各大银行和经纪公司借来的数十亿美元代款——将论坛报业公司从股东所有的公司转变为雇员所有的公司。








    欧西还对集团出版部门的调研不屑一顾。调研显示,大量读者对有关卡戴珊姐妹(好莱坞明星——译注)的绯闻趋之若鹜,但对美国食品与药物管理局(Food and Drug Administration)的最新丑闻却不屑一顾。

    在年过不惑的美国人中,很少有人能想象一个没有报纸的世界。在这个世界中,博客博主和自发的记者是唯一的新闻来源,这些新闻在未经《纽约时报》(The New York Times)或《华盛顿邮报》(The Washington Post)的高人们编辑或许可的情况下就堂而皇之地发布了。而另一方面,30岁以下的美国人中订阅报纸的人却又寥寥无几。

    在离开论坛报业公司后,欧西协助创办了芝加哥新闻合作社(Chicago News Cooperative)。这是一家非营利组织,它致力于发布公共服务类的新闻,即打算冲击普利策奖(Pulitzer Prizes)的那种类型。类似的组织目前正遍地开花,它们最终会找到全新的商业模式,维系重要新闻的报道,这些报道对于保障公众的知情权,做出明智的决策至关重要。然而,几乎可以肯定的是,这一模式中不会再有印刷机的身影了。


    James O'Shea's book, subtitled "How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers," sounds like it reads as one man's version of how and why the U.S. newspaper industry imploded.

    Actually, the book actually tells a narrower story, the 2008 bankruptcy of Tribune Company, parent of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Orlando Sentinel and numerous other newspapers and television stations. Figuring prominently toward the end of O'Shea's story is Chicago-based financier Sam Zell, who risks more than $300 million of his own money -- and billions in loans from U.S. banks and brokerages -- to convert Tribune from a shareholder-owned to an employee-owned company.

    As readers of the business press know, Zell's recapitalization of Tribune as an employee-owned company tanked in less than two years. A collapsing economy and severe falloff of advertising revenue were too much to support the debt load. Along the way Zell and compatriots, including former radio executive Randy Michaels, disgraced themselves in the eyes of O'Shea and Tribune Company's journalists. The newsroom crowd was relying on Zell's promise to inject new vitality -- and capital -- into newspapers caught in cost-cutting spirals.

    Instead, according to O'Shea's telling, the Zell team spent its time cutting millions more from costs, firing hundreds of journalists and conducting a road-show to Tribune newspapers where he challenged time-honored (and costly) newsgathering practices, often engaging in profanity-laced confrontations with reporters and editors.

    O'Shea, a distinguished former foreign correspondent and prize-winning reporter and editor, lost his job as editor of The Los Angeles Times in the process. Looking back on the saga, he defends what he sees as the duty of newspapers to pursue public service journalism. In his view, newspapers must uncover corruption, expose crooked politicians, shine a spotlight on lying public servants and generally raise hell to keep democracy healthy.

    But here are a few conundrums: How can newspapers afford high-brow journalism when advertisers shift more and more spending to digital media? How do newspapers replace classified advertising that's been rendered uneconomic by free sites like Craigslist?

    The short answer is that newspapers no longer can afford to cover the news as they once did. More and more they must ask themselves if they can afford to send their own reporters to cover Hurricane Katrina or the war in Afghanistan in light of others who are already doing it.

    Zell could have been more diplomatic in his critiques of the overlap and duplication at Tribune newspapers; but he had a point.

    O'Shea acknowledges that newspapers can't exist without robust profits needed to buy printing presses, pay Teamster contracts and cover the cost of reporters traveling to hurricanes and revolutions. But he also doesn't come to terms with the imperative to survive, the iron-clad reality that spending must fall -- and quickly -- when revenue shrivels.

    The author also despises the surveys from the publishing side of the house showing that many readers are seeking gossip about the Kardashian sisters and couldn't care less about the latest scandal at the Food and Drug Administration.

    Few Americans over the age of 40 can imagine a world without newspapers, in which bloggers and self-appointed reporters are the sole source of news, presented without editing or approval from the solons at The New York Times or The Washington Post. On the other hand, few Americans under the age of 30 subscribe to newspapers.

    O'Shea, after leaving Tribune, has helped found Chicago News Cooperative, a non-profit dedicated to producing public service journalism, the kind meant to win Pulitzer Prizes. Similar ventures are popping up here and there; eventually a new business model will be found that will support the important stories that are crucial to helping an informed public make good decisions. That model almost certainly won't involve a printing press.