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Wall Street Bonus Culture Destroying the Newspaper Biz

Those of you who haven’t read David Carr‘s most recent column in the New York Times on the intrusion of Wall Street bonus culture into the newspaper business need to take a look now. Carr mainly focuses on former Gannett robber baron…er CEO Craig A. Dubow–who left the company with $37.1 million in retirement benefits after guiding the company’s stock into a ditch and laying off nearly 40% of its employees. But the Tribune Company and its current multi-million dollar executive bonus plan don’t escape Carr’s notice.

The Tribune Company, a chain of newspapers and television stations run into the ground by Sam Zell after he bought it in 2007, is paying out tens of millions of dollars in bonuses as part of a deal in which it would exit bankruptcy.

Over 4,000 people in the company lost their jobs, and the journalistic missions of formerly robust newspapers it operates — including The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune and The Baltimore Sun — have been curtailed. And even though Randy Michaels and some of his corporate fraternity brothers who operated the company into bankruptcy are gone, more than 600 managers who were there while the company cratered remain.

Not only do they have jobs while so many others were sent packing, but the remaining leadership will be eligible for a bonus pool from $26.4 million to $32.4 million under the current plan. …

[H]ow in the world could a board, any board, justify such huge payouts to media executives at a time like this? It’s not that any of them were flight risks, in need of incentive to stick out a bankruptcy. Most had no place to go, and even if they did, many would have trouble shaking off the taint of their previous tenure.

We’ve been saying this for years. The Internet isn’t what launched the decline of the newspaper business. Reaganomics did. The Internet just gave newspaper execs the justification to make the more-with-less philosophy brutal and irreversible.

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