Thursday, February 4, 2016

"You'll be here forever"


     I've been to a lot of newspaper staff meetings over the past 29 years, but today's was extraordinary.
     In the wake of Sun-Times' owner Michael Ferro purchasing the largest single share of the Chicago Tribune's parent company for $44.4 million, the Sun-Times' staff gathered in the lunchroom and met the new chairman of our board, Bruce Sagan, who explained what the purchase means for us.
    "The people involved in the last Sun-Times purchase believe in two newspapers," he said. "There it is, a second voice."
     He said heading the Tribune removes Ferro from managing our paper's affairs.
     "We don't talk to him except to complain about the quality of printing," he said—the Tribune prints and delivers the Sun-Times.
     Ferro will now have a major role in running the Tribune.
    "You made a mistake," Sagan said. "You educated him. He came here a rich guy who didn't know anything about journalism. The rich dabbler got the message from you."
     The Tribune is $400 million in debt, Sagan said. The Sun-Times has no debt. 
    "They took the deal because they needed the money," said Sagan, the longtime publisher of the Hyde Park Herald, who used the money he made there to invest in the Financial Times, the New York Times, where he started the Chicago News Cooperative, and the Sun-Times. "If you are going to bet on something, better bet on us. They're in disarray. He left us a growing institution."
    He said that this development gives us a renewed sense of mission.
    "We now have a focus," he said. "The other guy's still the enemy. Our job is to create the other voice in town. We want to remain a brand that people trust."
     Someone asked about our web site. Sagan said it was terrible. Publisher Jim Kirk said it would be fixed soon. Someone asked about the Sun-Times' future.
     "If I have my way you'll be here forever," Sagan said.
     Maybe you had to live under the sword of Damocles for a decade, watching the thread fray, to really understand the impact of those words. While optimism is typically misplaced in the newspaper business, I found Sagan's appearance somewhere between encouraging and stunning, like the Officer in White showing up at the end of Lord of the Flies, representing civilization and order returned. I was sitting nearby, and when the meeting ended, I couldn't resist shaking his hand.
     "Where the hell have they been hiding you?" I said.


     
   

24 comments:

  1. Deus ex machina! Hiding in the heavens no doubt.

    john

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  2. So what changes for the better do you expect? Job security (such as it is)? If you're pleased, we're pleased!

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    1. He acknowledged how much our web site sucks and said that fixing it is a top priority. That itself was welcome news.

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  3. Congratulations! There's nothing like having management that understands the job and wants to do it well. If they can stop losing your column archives, that would be a good start, no?


    Sadly, I have to fear for the folks out here, for their sanity if not for their jobs, as Tribune Publishing owns the lone remaining San Diego daily paper...

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  4. Do you think this may change the Tribune in a noticeable way, if so, how? As mentioned above, very happy for you, if you're happy.
    larry

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    Replies
    1. I hope Zorn doesn't get McKinneyed.

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  5. The website is horrible, thank god that will change. The Tribune's is pretty crappy as well.

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  6. So Kass and you are now co-workers?!

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    Replies
    1. No. We're just both owned by the same guy.

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  7. Good lord. How can people stand the stress? And yet it's typical.

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  8. Thanks for sharing this with us Neil. I presume this account will not appear in the paper.

    Tom Evans

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  9. Photo reminded me of one taken by Astronaut Michael Collins while on a space walk from the Space Station. The photo included the Earth and the Space Station. Thus Collins was the only human in the Solar System not in the picture.

    john

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    Replies
    1. Incorrect, as everyone on the far side of the Earth wasn't in the photo.

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  10. You want to march into a battle in the news business in Chicago, there's no one better to have with you than Bruce Sagan. Smart, decent, passionate, always direct.
    Dan Haley

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  11. Amazon founder bought the Washington Post for 250 million and the newspaper is flourishing. Their online content is free. Will the Suntimes go with a free online program? And how do you compete with free?

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    Replies
    1. The Post may be "flourishing," but Amazon sure isn't. One of the enduring mysteries of the American business world is how that company manages to chug along, continually expanding into things like original-content TV programming and grocery delivery services, while never turning a profit.

      Bitter Scribe

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  12. Looks like the newsroom of the then twice weekly Southtown Economist the day Bruce Sagan stood on a desk and announced we were going daily in February 1978 and become the Daily Southtown; and then said we would one day replace the Sun-Times. Glad to see Sagan is doing well. Can't imagine what it would be like having the Sun-Times and Tribune owned by the same person ... strange world for sure

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  13. Neil -- Good to hear your take on this. Makes me hopeful for the future of the Sun-Times! Best wishes from Austin.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Steve. Hope you're having fun down there.

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  14. I still don't understand how Sam Zell managed to screw up the Tribune so bad. It was practically minting money until he got his hands on it.

    Now, through his backing of Rauner, he's trying to do to the entire state what he did to the Trib.

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  15. Wow! Did i see mention of the SunTimes and the word 'optomism' within coffee-sloshing proximity to one another?? Spouse and i lived thru the very beginnings of decline (Hello, Rupert Murdoch!), an inexorable slide that just kept going...and going...

    Seems like too much to hope for - improved product, morale (Hell, continued existence!) Sagan sounds like a mensch - thought those had been banned from front offices eons ago. Fingers crossed!

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  16. Is driving the Tribune trucks a possibility? Neil you can stand in the back orating and tossing cope of Every Damn Day down the the proles. As I said, I'll drive. I have big rig experience

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  17. Love Telander's sports columns.

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