Here’s what I don’t understand about the crazy-desperate moves that Sam Zell is making at the LA Times, like judging journalists by the number of column-inches they generate, or removing all the editorial employees at the the magazine and moving it to the business side – something Jeff Bercovici says could "spark a mutiny".
Clearly, Zell has ended up owning a property quite different from the business he thought he was buying. And equally clearly these measures are a panicked response to a worse-than-expected P&L, rather than the kind of thing he was planning to do all along. But what he’s doing is systematically chopping away at any value the LA Times has, in a desperate attempt to stop it from bleeding money. As Mike Kinsley says:
It won’t be long before he figures out that you can have an equal number of advertising and editorial pages if you have none of either and simply stop publishing the paper. That way you won’t have to employ any journalists at all.
Right now, however, the LA Times does, very much, have value: David Geffen and Eli Broad and probably a few other local billionaires as well are seriously interested in buying it and investing in it. Why kill yourself and the paper to squeeze out the profits needed to pay down the company’s huge pile of leveraged debt, when you can just sell the bloody thing, just like you did Newsday, and be done?
Zell has his flagship newspaper: he’s a Chicago man, and he owns the Chicago Tribune. He neither wants nor needs the LA Times for vanity purposes. So why does he still own it?