How the Tribune Co. went from a once-respected media empire to a bankrupt company that’s shed more than 4,200 jobs since being bought by billionaire Sam Zell is the subject of a piece by David Carr in the New York Times.
Carr starts the story by relating an alleged incident in which Randy Michaels, who later became the company’s CEO but at the time had been placed in charge of media properties including WGN American and the Los Angeles Times, told other senior Tribune executives, "Watch this" while they were at a hotel bar. Michaels, a former disc jockey, "offered the waitress $100 to show him her breasts. The group sat dumbfounded," Carr writes of the alleged incident, which Michaels denied through a spokesman.
"Based on interviews with more than 20 employees and former employees of Tribune, Mr. Michaels’s and his executives’ use of sexual innuendo, poisonous workplace banter and profane invective shocked and offended people throughout the company, according to the article.
"Tribune Tower, the architectural symbol of the staid company, came to resemble a frat house, complete with poker parties, juke boxes and pervasive sex talk," Carr writes.
On top of the changes to Tribune’s culture, the story details the company’s financial problems under Zell and Michaels, as well as how the once-respected journalistic standards of the company frayed.
"At four of the company’s television stations, an event called “CA$H GRAB,” in which a viewer was led into a bank vault and allowed to scoop up dollar bills, was inserted in the middle of the station’s newscasts," Carr reports. "At WPIX-TV in New York, the viewers were cheered on by clapping Hooters waitresses, giving the station the appearance of televised shock radio."