Tribune Today: CEO Michaels Not Out Yet; Another Memo From Lee Abrams (updated)

Less than a week after tendering resignation, ousted exec sends e-mail to defend himself

Update, Noon PT

Apparently widespread predictions that beleagured Tribune Co. CEO Randy Michaels was going to get the ax at Tuesday's board meeting were premature.

The board Tuesday issued this rather curt statement: “Tribune’s board of directors is focused on filing the company’s plan of reorganization this Friday and has no comment on any other issue.”

It was accompanied with a note from Gary Weitman, SVP of corporate relations: "Many of you asked for a statement today or last night.  We’ll have no other comment on today’s board meeting."

And Romensko quotes Michaels, on his way to lunch with Chief Operating Officer Gerry Spector: "I work here today and I'm still working."


Lee Abrams — the former Tribune Co. chief innovation offer who resigned last week in the wake of a scandal involving an e-mail he sent to his staff containing a link to an NC-17 Onion video — fired off yet another memo on Tuesday, this time to defend himself.

Last week, Abrams sent a company-wide apology for his company-wide e-mail, and Tribune chief Randy Michaels — who himself is at the center of scandal following a scathing New York Times article — suspended him without pay. Abrams resigned on Friday.

Here, via Forbes, is Abrams’ latest screed:

I believe it is important to state the facts as they apply to my recent and abrupt departure from Tribune Company.  My apology for sending the Onion News Network parody clip stands.  Though, as Tribune is a multi-media company competing at the most dramatic cross-roads in media history, I would have hoped that the use of a brilliant parody to demonstrate the ills of popular TV would have been an effective communication vehicle and that people would have taken it as it was intended; a parody that illustrates what not to do.  I suspect that a major component of this debacle is being motivated by a power play to seize creative, cultural and business control of the company as it emerges from Chapter 11.  Or maybe the idea of a “rock and roll” type from broadcasting invading tradition is so offensive to the fourth estate that my mere presence posed a threat to their grip on the past.  I do not know that any of these hypotheses are fact and probably never will.

I do find it ironic that the Onion is a business partner of the Chicago Tribune and that very clip was shown at a recent Chicago Tribune sales meeting to a rousing and positive reaction.  This leads me to suspect that the clip itself was not the motivation behind the aggressive coverage this event received.  Personally, I think the Chicago Tribune has worked hard to reinvent itself as a modern newspaper serving Chicagoland and I hope I played a small role in helping them achieve what they have done in a short period of time.  I hold up copies of this newspaper with pride, and in fairness I want them to know that.

It saddens me that in light of the remarkable challenges that old media faces, there would be such an uproar over this clip.  I am sorry for the timing and the results of my action, but continue to believe that people working in traditional media needs to open their eyes to the realities of our culture in 2010 without denial, self-righteousness or arrogance.  It was my intention to use any reasonable vehicle to help that happen.  I would hope more people would look at the actual memo in context and note that it included several Onion parodies, TED Conference speeches, social media videos and creative presentations.  TV understands this, online reinvents itself by the minute and I was hopeful that print would have the same attitude.  While some do, many are more resistant than I ever suspected.  My biggest mistake may have been a failure to temper my style to the culture of print newsrooms, as clearly, there has been a contentious attitude between us from the day I walked in.  After decades of work in radio, music and popular culture, I should have known better.  But I hope those who find my approach unusual will know that my intentions have never been anything more than to push new thinking in all of our media.  We are in the Apple era and need to open our eyes to change even when it’s not pretty.  The Tribune TV stations are engaging with that idea and will be stronger for their efforts.    There are a few ongoing issues I read about that I need to address:

· That I did not know a print reporter was reporting from, say, Iraq. My point was that on a CNN or FOX you will see the reporter in the war environment whereas, in print, if the story is often only recognized by a simple byline, and average readers may not assume that there is actually someone on the ground.  As a result it resonates as a generic story, rather than one reported from a war zone.

· I involved myself in editorial decisions. I have no expertise in print journalism and focused solely on the creative and marketing side with hopes that newspapers could re-energize themselves to meet the conditions of 2010.  As an FYI, I distributed the ratings of Fox News to illustrate an opinion trend, and received several dozen angry phone calls, though the ratings were geared as a piece of information and not a directive.

· That I was involved in downsizing.  I understand the economic realities of today, but those decisions are made by publishers, managers and the many people at Tribune with financial backgrounds.

· That I created a hostile and sexist environment. This is depressing if not insulting.  I could only hope people who felt this way would ask anyone who I directly worked with at Tribune, Sirius-XM or anywhere else.  I live my life to be respectful, honest, positive, optimistic and fair.  There are those who don’t believe that, and again, the only recourse I have is for anyone who doubts that to speak to anyone I have directly worked with or for at any point in my career.

· That I was part of some ex-Clear Channel boys club. I have never worked for Clear Channel.  I have known and competed against Randy Michaels for decades, but most of the other Clear Channel people at Tribune I had never met prior to arriving here. In my opinion, once you walk through the doors of Tribune Tower, you are a Tribune employee and your past is not an issue as long as you do good work. I have seen only good work from these folks. I do look at myself as an outspoken, driven and perhaps rebellious type and if that’s a problem in the world of helping re-invent media, then so be it.

I want to go on record that I hope for nothing but success for everyone at Tribune and that includes some of the newspaper people that I can’t help thinking were focused on undermining my work and accelerating my decline at the company instead of moving us to the future. I just hope that no one will get mired in the drama and instead focus on the spirit of positive change that has never been more important in the battle for eyes, ears and minds in this 21st Century.  I will not stop pushing forward at wherever my next venture may be. Thank you.