tribune corp head honcho sam zell was interviewed

at some town hall dealie and answered lots of questions and was as straight-shooting as normal.

he has a way with making people’s eyebrows raise. two things that made my eyebrows raise was when he explained how one could kill newspapers, and when he talked about the tv station that he owns that i grew up with and how he wants to change it.

since WGN (which stands for Worlds Greatest Newspaper) is near and dear to my heart, harking back to the days of Ray Rayner, my first tv hero, lets start with that first:

QUESTION FROM THE AUDIENCE: Richard Bilotti, GSO Capital. I would submit that today the Tribune is truly a television company that happens to sell newspapers. Your television assets probably significantly…in any environment will be significantly worth more than your newspaper assets for the next couple of years. What are the essential changes that you need to make to the television business that you own, if any, given that we’re in the beginnings of a very severe downturn in advertising there, as well?

SAM: Well, in the case of the Tribune, you’re right that we have 23 TV stations and one superstation and one radio station. Whenever you talk about TV as it relates to the Tribune you have to start with the superstation. We have one of two superstations. Our superstation earns $80 million a year. The other superstation earns $480 million a year. We hit 75 million homes. I think they hit 90. So, obviously, this is a dormant asset that needs desperately to be addressed, which is, frankly, the first place we went to work.

We also basically doubled the amount of news that all of our TV stations do, because that news is 100 percent owned by the local station, is an enormously successful revenue producer, and is very local targeted. So that’s two.

And then, of course, we also put all the salesmen on commission and did other irrational things like that.

But net-net, we’re very, very aware of the TV role, and we’re very aware of what we need to make it better, and we’ve brought in a lot of extraordinary people, who are beginning to make a measurable difference.

if he says he wants to make a new Ray Rayner morning show for the kids, i swear i will kiss him right on the lips. sadly i dont think that is gonna be the case. and hopefully he isnt thinking about taking the Cubs off the superstation, but you never know.

anyways, here he explains what you would do if you wanted to kill (or really hurt) newspapers:

As you and I talked about earlier, somebody has to address the home-delivery question. Right now, if you go across the street and 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.

That’s right – if you hate newspapers, or hate Sam Zell, or are pissed off by something that you read, for God’s sake don’t threaten to cancel your subscription – do just the opposite… subscribe! and if you already have a subscription, get a few more for your neighbors friends and loved ones.

read the whole thing here and chuckle as i did when Jeff Jarvis was identified as Jim.