The Tribune Company plans to whittle down its writing staff and the number of pages produced, in an effort to save money for the company. A new look and feel for its papers is also in the works.
During a quarterly conference call on Thursday, CEO Sam Zell, COO Randy Michaels and CFO Chandler Bigelow outlined a program that would push newspapers to a 50/50 content/advertising split, partly by trimming editorial content and cutting out “under-producing” employees. In a unique move for the newspaper industry, Michaels proposed that the company would measure journalists’ productivity by the inches of news column produced.
“We are actively pursuing a program to right-size our newspaper,” he said during the call. “If you said there was a minimum number of editorial pages that each of our papers needs to get the consumers what they want and use that as sort of a floor, and then targeted producing 50% editorial content, sitting on a base of the advertising we have now, what you would find out is that we could take about 500 pages a week, 500 editorial pages a week, out of our newspapers and hit a 50/50 ad to content ratio.”
About the proposed job cuts at the Tribune’s papers, Michaels added, “You will find out that you can eliminate a fair number of people while eliminating not very much content. And so for the first time — and I understand that there are different, there are extenuating circumstances and factors that have to be taken into account. But we believe we can save a lot of money and not lose a lot of productivity.”
Tribune Co. reported an 8% decrease in consolidated revenue for the quarter, with publishing total revenue down 11%.
While the papers are being trimmed, they will also be redesigned. Charts, graphs, maps and lists will be added, in accordance with consumer requests. The Orlando Sentinel will debut the redesign on June 22, and Tribune plans to have all papers re-designed by the end of September.
The company discussed some more positive changes during the call, hinting at growth in the interactive space and a new online platform.
“You should know we are spending a lot of time [in interactive],” said Michaels. “We believe that much of our future depends on our ability to develop online businesses.”