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Sam Zell Continues to Kill the Newspaper Business

zell12.02.08.jpgWhat a week for media moguls (and it’s only Tuesday). First, we have endless coverage of Michael Wolff‘s book about Rupert Murdoch and now Peter Osnos, a media fellow at The Century Foundation and vice-chair of the Columbia Journalism Review, is taking on Sam Zell and the Z man’s disdain for newspapers — of which he owns, you know, a whole bunch including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune.

The difference between Murdoch, “the last great newspaper guy,” and Zell is that the latter entrepreneur doesn’t seem to give a fuck about the papers he purchased when buying the Tribune Co. Or rather he does, but only as money-making enterprises (good luck with that) and not as they are currently constructed. Rid us of this investigative journalism and the international features, Zell says. Bring on the hyper-local news.

It’s a strategy that will surely fail, Osnos writes.

Zell misses the crucial fact that news organizations do best with their “customers” when they do what no one else does as well: cover the damn news with brass and courage. Ignorance about the main commodity is Zell’s fault and not the newspapers’.

The fellow goes on to explain how, with a few exceptions, the “news business despises Sam Zell” and how the mogul is destroying some of the country’s best papers. The takeaway: “If Tribune goes down, he will still be very rich, but he will have presided over the evisceration of some of our best newspapers.” Quite a legacy, Mr. Z.

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