San Jose Can You See? Zell’s Tribune Warnings Echo Elsewhere

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By: E&P Staff

Yesterday’s conference call and memo emerging from top Tribune Co. leadership, including CEO Sam Zell, strongly hinting at major and unexpected page and staffing cuts at the company’s papers (and a new way of judging productivity) has echoed far afield, causing worries about future moves.

Perhaps the best evidence was a memo sent today by Editor Dave Butler to staffers at the San Jose Mercury News. It was first posted at the Romenesko site at www.poynter.org.

Excerpts follow.

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I’ve had lots of people ask about our budget for the next fiscal year in light of the drastic cuts that Sam Zell is proposing for the Tribune Company newspapers, both in terms of people and newshole. Here’s where we are:

1). We’re still crunching numbers like crazy for the budget year that starts July 1. The tough component ? and it’s not mine to do ? is to predict where advertising is going to be a year from now. Who knows? We should have this wrapped up in late June. Could it change later? Of course. But from what I’ve seen ? and I’ve been in plenty of meetings ? every effort is being made to produce an attainable budget while launching all sorts of efforts to find new business as Mac Tully has reported to you on other occasions.

2). We are doing all that we can to limit any newsroom staff reductions to attrition. So far, so good, though I can make no promises.

3). We will likely have some newshole cuts in light of a 15%-plus increase in the price of newsprint for the next year. One thing we’re exploring ? as are a number of other MNG newspapers ? is to produce “Quick Read” Monday and Tuesday newspapers. As you all know, we’ve been moving down this path for some months and would likely continue to do so, particularly tightening up Monday.

4). We’ll likely have some other nip-and-tuck newshole cuts. Kevin Wendt is reviewing some ideas to see if they are practical and the editors will be discussing them over the next few days.

5). It is CRITICAL that we all work together to reduce the length of stories so we can get in as much information as possible for our readers. It has never been more important than it is today for all reporters and editors to demonstrate their outstanding writing and reporting skills by cramming the same information ? or what’s essential for the story — in less space. This is hard. It does not work on every story, but please, please, work harder at making stories ? particularly the more “routine” ones — shorter. We want to continue having in-depth work and we will ? but we have to be much more disciplined in what merits 25 inches and what merits 5. …

6). We need to think about how we can bust up stories and packages and put sidebars or graphics online only as an added bonus for readers. Many newspapers do this better than we do….

7). I suspect you’ll be reading a lot as this Tribune saga unfolds about story production. All I can say about that is I expect everyone to carry his or her appropriate load ? and that certainly differs by job, by assignment, by how much online work you’re doing. We all know that. We also know some people are doing less than they could while others are working their butts off. Those who could do more are likely to hear about that from me and the other editors….

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