If you were in doubt: Tribune Co. is in the News Business

heads up: this is a pretty old post, it may be outdated.

According to [Randy] Michaels [COO, Tribune Co.], there should be an equal number of pages devoted to advertising and pages devoted to reporting and opinion. "What you find out is that you can take 500 editorial pages a week out of [a] newspaper and have a 50-50 ad-content ratio."

A brilliant new scheme for measuring the productivity of journalists. - By Michael Kinsley - Slate Magazine

The Tribune Company, which owns the Chicago Tribune and the LA Times (among other newspapers), has announced two bad ideas at once. The first is a new standard to measure journalist efficiency: column inches. The second: reduce cost by shrinking the size of papers while increasing the number of ads printed.

Journalistic Efficiency

"This is a new thing. Nobody ever said, 'How many column inches did someone produce?'"

Randy Michaels

The idea of being able to measure the productivity of a worker has always been a fascination of mine. The concept is very interesting –- a mathematical way of determining not only who is good at their jobs, but how many workers you need. As great as the idea is for employers, there's a problem: it just doesn't work very well.

Most companies who employ this management style use complex algorithms that measure a variety of variables to determine job performance. They take everything from the time you arrive at work to the number of people you have working under you into account. The Tribune's idea of using column inches as the main (only?) measurement of the efficiency of an employee is ridiculous.

Aside from that, The Tribune Company suffers another problem with their new standard: their measurement encourages the precise opposite of efficiency. An efficient journalist is one that can quickly and accurately report a story. To be a good journalist, you have to be able to write/present the story well. As writing more is neither quicker or more accurate, and as good writing is not verbose, the new standard promotes bad journalism (or at least bad writing, and are the two terms that different?)

The News Business

The Tribune's second command, to shrink the news hole, is might make a paper more profitable, but it certainly won't promote better journalism.

If the average Los Angeles Times journalist produces 51 pages a year, as Michaels has calculated, this means that a 50-50 ratio will allow him to lay off 500 Los Angeles Times journalists, which is more than half of the current staff. Then, if he can persuade the remaining Los Angeles Times journalists to raise their productivity from 50 pages to 300 pages a year, he can dismiss five-sixths of the rest. That would leave something like 50 journalists to put out the Los Angeles Times every day.

A brilliant new scheme for measuring the productivity of journalists.

“The problem is the papers aren’t producing ad revenue, and diminishing the journalism isn’t going to solve that." said Jim O'Shea.

The Tribune Company is facing a problem: they're not as profitable as they'd like to be, their solution is nonetheless wrong. Profitability will not improve by reducing the quality of the product. It leads to severe long-term problems. Not to mention violates the moral obligations of the Fourth Estate.