Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tribulations at Tribune

When real estate mogul Sam Zell closed his purchase of Tribune Co. in 2007, he brushed aside dire prognoses about the newspaper business and promised to arrest its decline with a "fresh, entrepreneurial culture that is fast and nimble, and which rewards innovation.''

To that end, he hired a pioneering radio programmer, Lee Abrams, as his "chief innovation officer" and unleashed him to create "a sustainable, relevant product for our customers and communities."

In a series of stream-of-consciousness memos and meetings, Abrams triggered jazzy redesigns of Tribune's eight newspapers, placing a counterintuitive bet on luring younger audiences and occasional readers to print.

Five months ago, Tribune unveiled the first project, a top-to-bottom redesign of the Orlando Sentinel in Florida. Heavy on charticles and bullet points, the new-look Sentinel reminded one veteran industry analyst of a print version of AM radio.

So far, Abrams' ballyhooed efforts to rethink the American newspaper—employing more radical versions of the big headlines, small articles, and colorful charts rolled out at other newspapers over the last three decades—have had no impact on declining circulation.

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