Print and the pauper


Almost all newspapers have existed primarily to make money, and there’s nothing wrong with that because journalists can function very well when their companies are profitable, even if the profits aren’t shared equitably, which they never are.

Now, though, newspapers don’t make nearly the profits that they once made. You really can get through your day without reading one. So the panicky dead-tree companies no longer consider you readers. You’re “customers.”

The award for the worst newspaper deal in recent memory goes to real-estate mogul Sam Zell‘s doomed and debt-laden purchase of the Tribune Co. less than two years ago.

And now the company’s flagship paper wins the award for the worst headline of the year. This morning’s note from Chicago Tribune publisher Tony Hunter about the company’s descent into bankruptcy court carries this hed:

Chicago Tribune focused on serving customers

Note the passive voice. Note the dullness, the stupor. This should inspire confidence in its “customers.”

Hunter’s publicists still inserted some journalism into the embarrassing item: the hackneyed phrase “perfect storm,” which is the 21st century version of “mistakes were made”:

We have experienced the perfect storm — a precipitous decline in revenue and a tough economy has coupled with a credit crisis, making it extremely difficult to support our debt.

This is something that happened to the Tribune Co.? Even that aside, the story has the stink of death. And you could consider it suicide. As the Wall Street Journal‘s consistently sharp Heidi N. Moore pointed out yesterday afternoon:

No one thought the buyout of Tribune Co. would work — and it didn’t.

The fact that Tribune Co. has hired Lazard as its adviser for a potential Chapter 11 filing ranks among the least surprising potential bankruptcies ever.

This was a storm that Zell created for himself by taking on mountainous debt to purchase the long-ailing and mismanaged multimedia company.

At first blush, it looks as if Newsday lucked out. Only a short time ago, the Tribune unloaded Newsday to Charlie Dolan‘s Cablevision monopoly, which outbid Rupert Murdoch.

You know the economy and the newspaper industry are in the toilet when it’s a good thing that Charlie Dolan is your owner.

Heralding other news items …


McClatchy: ‘School health experts warn of growing hunger’

The recession is accelerating a disturbing trend in which more kids have early diabetes, hypertension and other health problems previously confined to adults. The number of children under 6 who sometimes are forced to go hungry has doubled in recent years to 8 percent of all youngsters.

Telegraph (U.K.): ‘September 11 suspects will confess in court’

In a note sent to the presiding judge, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four co-defendants declared that they wished to confess to planning the 2001 assault on New York and Washington. …

“We don’t want to waste time,” he told the judge.

According to the note, the five men do not trust their lawyers — appointed by the US military — and want to withdraw any pending motions filed on their behalf.

But with US President-elect Barack Obama opposed to the military trials — known as commissions — the case is unlikely to survive the new year.


Telegraph (U.K.): ‘Men under threat from “gender bending” chemicals’

Scientists are warning that manmade pollutants which have escaped into the environment mimic the female sex hormone estrogen.

The males of species including fish, amphibians, birds, and reptiles have been feminised by exposure to sex hormone disrupting chemicals and have been found to be abnormally making egg yolk protein, normally made by females, according to the report by Chem Trust, environmental group.


McClatchy: ‘Florida mystery: Who’s buried at school known for abuse?’

Convinced 32 unmarked graves at the Florida School for Boys are the bodies of boys abused and killed decades ago, four former residents of the school are demanding the governor and state and federal attorneys investigate. The men learned of the graves six weeks ago when they were invited to dedicate a plaque at the school.

Globe and Mail (Toronto): ‘No U.S.-style housing collapse in Canada: Royal Bank’

Canada’s housing sector is entering what RBC Economics calls a “cyclical downtown,” but says the risk of a U.S.-style meltdown is remote.

RBC senior economist Robert Hogue says many factors that triggered the U.S. housing collapse are either absent or of much lower significance in Canada.

He says the housing market is expected to hold up even as a sluggish economy threatens income growth and erodes consumer confidence.

Mr. Hogue says the sub-prime business remains marginal, banks are stable and households are generally not overstretched financially.

Wall Street Journal: ‘U.S. Could Take Stakes in Big Three’

Congress and the White House inched toward a financial rescue of the Big Three auto makers, negotiating legislation that would give the U.S. government a substantial ownership stake in the industry.


Globe and Mail (Toronto): ‘Should terminally-ill businesses get their bailouts?’

The full-court press by Detroit Three auto lobbyists for taxpayer money has fostered strong feelings across our country. B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell staked out his province’s position that massive job losses in the forestry sector merit government help just as much as Ontario’s auto sector. Fearing for their own jobs, Canadians employed in the services, retail, construction and other sectors ask why workers who earn much more than they do should be subsidized – and why mismanaging bosses should be bailed out. …

Canada has the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio of any G8 country and is the only member going into the global meltdown without a structural deficit. Despite the gloom and doom espoused by panicky politicians, our economy is performing relatively well, so we haven’t been forced into the desperate ad-hoc measures seen in the United States. While our country does have the financial capacity for well-placed temporary fiscal stimulus, spending taxpayer money in the wrong places will weaken rather than strengthen the economic future of Canadians.

Globe and Mail (Toronto): ‘Cheap, reliable, popular’

As unlikely as it sounds, the Big Three Detroit auto makers might look to Romania for inspiration on how to reinvent themselves.

Romania is a struggling Eastern European country that gets little attention in the rest of Europe, or anywhere else. The country’s industrial base is in rough shape, though slowly improving as it creeps into the European Union fold. But it has one industry that stands out as an international success story – car making.

Romania’s Automobile Dacia is one of the few high-growth car businesses in the otherwise ailing global auto industry. The brand’s French owner, Renault, couldn’t be happier. The Dacia is a genuine low-cost car that rolls out of the factory near Bucharest with a fat profit margin.

The machine sells well throughout Europe, and elsewhere, because it is not a jalopy pieced together with 40-year-old parts from Warsaw Pact trucks. The Dacia’s engineering and drivability, if not visual appeal, come close to the standards of the latest Renault cars.

Chicago Tribune: ‘Chicago Tribune focused on serving customers’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Dark Days for Mall Dynasty Built on Debt’

N.Y. Times: ‘Lawyer Is Accused in Massive Hedge Fund Fraud’