Disney's former chairman to take over Tribune?

September 1, 2010, 8:51 AM · I tweeted about this a few days ago, but haven't yet addressed it on the site. It really doesn't have anything to do with theme parks, but since it involves one of the bigger names from the Walt Disney Company's history, I thought it worth mentioning here.

Michael Eisner It looks like former Disney chairman and CEO Michael Eisner is set to become the next chairman of the Tribune Company, the (now bankrupt) publisher of the Los Angeles Times and Orlando Sentinel, among other newspapers. Tribune also owns 23 TV stations and has a stake in several websites and the Food Network.

I'm so conflicted on this story that I really don't know what to say, having worked and consulted for several Tribune properties, and worked for Disney during Eisner's time there.

So I'll punt this one to you, instead. What do you think?

Replies (16)

September 1, 2010 at 10:49 AM · I fumbled the punt. You retrieved the fumble. Please give us your opinion.
September 1, 2010 at 11:15 AM · I will..

Print ad sales are dying and real journalism is tough to find these days. Newspaper publishers are failing to make the transition to online with their revenue intact because people are getting their news online. The companies either don't know how to or refuse to change with the times. They need to get it through their head that nobody pays for the paper anymore. Advertisers however, will still pay for a high traffic website, especially a local one.

In short, the newspaper is dead. In the words of Dwight Schrute, it's deader than anything that has ever died. Even though he left the company a bit of a mess, Eisner once brought a dying Disney back to life. Maybe...just maybe he can do something with the Tribune if they finally figure out that the old way just doesn't work anymore.

September 1, 2010 at 12:50 PM · I can't comment on the whole Tribune thing as being an Englishman, (albeit now living in wales!), I don't really understand the ins and outs of the companies involved.
However on the general point of the death of newspapers I think Derek is over stating the case. I am one of plenty of people in the UK who do not want our newspaper content delivered online. It's not to do with where I get my news from - that comes from the radio or TV - it's to do with analysis of the news read at a time and place of my choosing, not in front of a pc screen. Sure newspapers are going to decline in terms of circulation, but I think it's way too early to declare them dead just yet. I have a subscription to The Times over here, (yes - I pay for it and happily so), which entitles me to free access to the online version as well as the daily paper version, (and yes, over here you pay for the online content - it's not free to view). But I hate the online version. It scans totally differently, presents differently, and is much harder to read or make sense of as well as the fact that it really doesn't combine well with lunch!... I can see the economic challenges ahead and changes are definitely coming to the newsprint industry, but the death of the newspaper? I can't accept that.
September 1, 2010 at 3:27 PM · He's baaaaaaack ...

Mr. Potter writes: Print ad sales are dying and real journalism is tough to find these days.

I Respond: All of the papers now have news websites.

Irony: The Orlando Sentinel website has a section called the 'Daily Disney.'

September 1, 2010 at 6:51 PM · So why are there so many newspapers failing or declaring bankruptcy then T.H....because newspaper sales are a fraction of what they used to be. It doesn't appear that those websites you speak of are doing much to save the sinking ships.

Having a "website" isn't enough. People actually have to want to visit the site and read it. Now that it's online, it's also free, so the traffic has to be such that the ad space is really worth something. One method would be to charge for online content, but most people won't pay for something if they can get it for free. The site better be really good and engaging, otherwise most people will just log on to their favorite national news source for the low cost of nothing.

September 1, 2010 at 8:31 PM · if you think newspapers are not dead, i have several bridges to sell you. it's not just papers but magazines. I used to subscribe to Entertainment Weekly for some crazy amount. They have for the last 2 years offered me a 1 year subscription for $10. I didn't take it this year because i get their same articles as soon as they come out- online! They thinned out the magazine and upped the ads, but it is still not helping. 1 person in my office reads a paper. I usually only see newspaperst in hotels- for free. Or in a coin operated newspaper machines.

I can view a paper's website from my ipod no matter where I- and it's not yesterday's news. We want to know right now what is going on... the microwave generation. Papers are far more in depth and insightful... sadly, today that is apparently not as important as speed...

i am not sure my grade school nieces and nephews even know first hand what a newspaper is. It's something they've seen on tv or in theory. That is how you know it's dead. The next generation will have no use for a newspaper. As it is, when my 3 year old nephew wants to see Cars or Thomas, he asks me to look it up 'online'. They KNOW what that means. hmmm- i wonder if they've ever seen VHS.

i don't know what Eisner could do other than gut the dead flesh and keep what's working... or revamp and reposition the online structure... it will be interesting to watch

September 1, 2010 at 8:37 PM · I love the newspaper. Without it, what would I use to help me build a great out door fire, or use for packing material when I make a sale on Ebay and have to ship something out. Staples wants too much for bubble wrap....blah!
September 2, 2010 at 3:03 AM · I agree with David. Online news sites don't deliver ( no pun intended )as well as their parent newspaper. Maybe it's a tactile thing. I don't know.
What I can say is that London's premier evening newspaper, the Standard, has been reduced to being a free handout. Two free evening newspapers that contributed to the revenue loss of the Standard have also gone to the wall.
The plain truth is that , despite our misgivings, the tangible , hold-in-your-hand-and -turn-the -pages newspaper is dying. Rapidly.
So here we have an anomaly. Despite it's popularity the newspaper is losing it's fight against the internet.
Anyone who can breath life into a newspaper desperate for survival is going to make the raising of Lazarus look like cheap trick.
I wish Eisner luck ( no, really , I do ) because , let's not forget, a lot of jobs are at stake here too.
September 2, 2010 at 3:48 AM · Mr. Potter Writes: So why are there so many newspapers failing or declaring bankruptcy then T.H....because newspaper sales are a fraction of what they used to be. It doesn't appear that those websites you speak of are doing much to save the sinking ships.

I Respond: I don't believe the websites would "save the sinking ships." Rather I believe the websites will continue to operate regardless of the inevitable fate of the papers.

September 2, 2010 at 6:22 AM · So are you saying then TH that the newspaper companies are finished? Just like it costs money to print and press newspaper, it also costs to run a website. The difference is that it's free to read online and not free to buy a paper. The revenue from paper sales is gone...never to return. To that effect, newspapers must become like radio or broadcast television, and rely solely on advertising to sustain them.

While there is now a transitional period (mostly do to the divide between the "online generation" and the "paper generation) the only way they survive long term is by making their websites better and more in depth aka better than the newspaper. I think that these companies can survive, even though it would probably be on a smaller scale.

September 2, 2010 at 10:52 AM · FWIW, and for those who don't know about my other gig, I write about the news industry weekly over at OJR.org You can figure out my thoughts about the future of the news industry by reading me stuff over there.

Otherwise, given my past history with Tribune and with Eisner - I'm staying out of this one! :-)

September 2, 2010 at 11:28 AM · Good discussion here by TPI readers. I'm not sure it hits the mark for why newspapers are seeing reader and revenue declines, though. From a print journalist with more than a decade in the business, let me take a stab at this discussion.

First, if Michael Eisner can make the Tribune Co. profitable again, more power to him. I think he had a mixed record at Disney, doing some good things and some not so good things. As far as traditional newspapers go, like any media outlet, content is king. Therefore, were editors to focus on delivering high quality content to readers on the platforms they expect, both readers and revenue would return.

Why isn't it happening now?

Newspaper companies rely heavily on consultants to shape the direction of the content that's placed inside their pages. These "experts," however, don't have a clue what readers really want to see. So newspapers -- just like their TV competition -- have spent more time and money chasing fluffy feel-good stories and celebrity junk than concentrating on keeping our citizens informed. It's certainly cheaper to cover celebrity or crime news, but it provides little to no value for readers. That's why newspapers (with one or two exceptions) and TV stations (both local and national) have lost credibility with readers (and viewers) and have watched a steady decline in their business fortunes. The internet may have played a small role in this decline, but not much. Content is king in this business – not how it’s delivered.

Is there still a demand for quality journalism in 2010? Absolutely! How can I tell? Smart businessmen are still making fortunes delivering provocative, must-read, must watch/listen to content. Just two examples:

(1) Twenty or so years ago, radio was dying and no one knew how to revive the oldest electronic mass communications medium. However, one clever guy had an idea: What if I build a show around commentating on today's news? I think there's a market for this. He was right, and Rush Limbaugh -- love him or hate him – found millions of listeners and made hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, blame Rush for the tide of news/talk radio stations that have covered our land.

(2) About the same time Limbaugh got his start, another enterprising individual saw the need to deliver high-quality business news in real time. Long considered too stuffy and boring for a general audience, Michael Bloomberg saw a golden opportunity to deliver high-quality business news content to news outlets that were, at best, not delivering the compelling content that added value to readers’ understanding of the companies they worked for or invested in. Bloomberg News made the current mayor of New York City a billionaire, and added value to every newspaper, radio and TV station that subscribed to its content feeds by delivering context behind the daily business headlines.

Are newspapers dead? I sure don't think so. I think they're just waiting for business leaders with an entrepreneurial spirit to rethink how to deliver the most compelling content to their readers.

- Brian

September 2, 2010 at 4:17 PM · Mr. Potter writes: So are you saying then TH that the newspaper companies are finished? Just like it costs money to print and press newspaper, it also costs to run a website. The difference is that it's free to read online and not free to buy a paper.

I Respond: Actually the diffference is unlike websites producing a daily newspaper is an expensive and labor intensive process -- there are printing presses, the union workers to run them, the large buildings and utilities to operate them, expenses for paper and ink and trucking costs.

But I certainly could be wrong. Perhaps you have a qualified, independent source published somewhere that indicates the cost for running a newspaper is the same as the cost of running a newspaper associated website.

September 2, 2010 at 7:03 PM · Incidently, some might want to wrap their heads around the idea that Eisner is not just helming a newspaper company, but managing a network. This is a much bigger, multi-media story.

From Wikipedia: "Tribune Interactive, another subsidiary, manages the interactive operations of major daily newspapers such as Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times and their associated websites. Its national network sites owned with partners include CareerBuilder.com, Cars.com, Apartments.com and Topix.net. With more than 50 websites overall, Tribune Interactive ranks among the nation’s leading news and information networks. The sites attract more than 20 million unique visitors per month."

Eisner is back.

September 2, 2010 at 7:52 PM · From the Hollywood site : The Wrap:

"An announcement on the former Disney CEO becoming the chairman of the Tribune Co., is imminent, a person familiar with the talks has told TheWrap.

“Right now, it’s going to be Eisner,” the person said. "The lenders are going to try to take the company. It's the only way they are going to get some of their money. But they're not ready yet."

Eisner's guardian angel in negotiations is his close friend John Angelo, one of the creditors who are poised to take control of the company from the current board of directors and management.

The announcement could come as early as next week, after the Labor Day holiday, the person said.

“Eisner is in the Old Media-to-New Media transformation business, that's why the creditors are talking to him,” the individual said. “They need a good old American guy, a face, a guy who can deal with bankers and convince them that he can get the company out of trouble. A lot of people involved think Eisner is that guy.”

September 4, 2010 at 3:33 PM · Robert. Worked for Disney during his CEO gig...ANd Ill sit by on this also...Nice day isnt it? Think it will rain?

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