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商业 - 传媒与文化

深度解读:美国报业巨头的没落

Doron Levin 2011年06月27日

论坛报业集团承诺创新,但却走上了削减成本的老路子,最终以破产收场。

    詹姆斯•欧西【论坛报业集团旗下《洛杉矶时报》社著名编辑、记者——译注】新著的副标题是“巨头与华尔街如何联手劫掠美国伟大报纸”。听起来,这本书是个人对美国报业是如何及为何一败涂地的一孔之见。

    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。

    正如许多商业刊物的读者所知,泽尔将论坛报业公司的资本结构改为雇员所有后,不到两年就宣告失败了。经济形势惨淡,加之广告收入急剧下降,公司债台高筑,不堪重负。在欧西和论坛报业公司其他记者看来,这一路走来,泽尔与其同僚们,其中包括广播公司前任高管兰迪•迈克尔,堪称颜面扫地。当时,众多报纸本已深陷一轮轮愈演愈烈的削减成本风潮,而编辑部的同仁们则一直指望泽尔能兑现承诺,为它们注入全新活力——以及资本。

    可是,从欧西的讲述看,泽尔的团队并未让大家如愿。他们继续大幅削减成本,数额高达数百万,同时解雇了上百位记者。泽尔还到论坛报业系的各大报纸召开巡回见面会,质疑历史悠久(但却成本高昂)的新闻采集方式,并为此屡次与记者、编辑们恶语相向。

    在这一过程中,欧西这位声望卓著的前驻外通讯记者、曾获新闻大奖的记者和编辑,失去了他在《洛杉矶时报》的编辑工作。回顾这段往事时,他却为自己的所见所闻进行了辩护,认为那是报纸追求公共服务式新闻工作的职责使然。在他看来,报纸必须揭露腐败,曝光不良政客,聚焦撒谎成性的公职人员,还要为了保持民主体制的健康不惜大造舆论。

    然而,诸多难题却亟待解决:广告主开始将越来越多的费用投向数字媒体,报纸如何负担格调高雅的新闻工作?克雷格列表(Craigslist,大型免费分类广告网站——译注)这样的免费网站出现后,人们不再认为报纸的分类广告经济实惠,报纸该用什么来取而代之?

    简而言之,报纸传统的报道方式行不通了。报社必须一再自问,对于卡特里娜飓风或阿富汗战争这样的事件,如果明知已有人在报道,是否还有能力派出自己的记者前往报道。

    针对论坛报业系的众多报纸所存在的重叠和重复现象,泽尔本可以在其批评意见上更委婉一些;但他却直截了当地表达了观点。

    欧西承认,没有丰厚的利润,报纸就无法生存。报纸盈利才有钱购买印刷机设备,支付员工劳动合同并负担前往飓风地区及革命地区进行报道的记者的费用。但他也不愿认同生存的紧迫性,不愿意面对现实,即在收入萎缩的情况下,必须削减费用,而且行动要快。

    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。

    译者:清远

    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.

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