Bad day for Tribune Co.

December 8, 2008 1:52:47 PM PST
It's one of the biggest newspaper companies in the country. One of the biggest TV companies as well for that matter. But it is the newspaper part of the equation that has tonight driven The Tribune Co. into bankruptcy court. CLICK HERE for more.

The company - which was bought last year by a man named Sam Zell, a gazillionaire real estate investor who admitted he didn't know much about newspapers, and by his actions showed he wasn't inclined to learn - has focused on shedding its assets this year. Its debt has risen just about as fast as its ad revenue has fallen.

The biggest papers in the chain: The Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. (Full disclosure: I was once a Times staff writer.) But there is also a pro baseball team you might have heard of (The Chicago Cubs and the park they play in, Wrigley Field), 10 other papers, and nearly two dozen TV stations, including WPIX here in New York and KTLA in Los Angeles.

The company owned, until earlier this year, Newsday on Long Island, which was sold to Cablevision's Dolan family (which also owns Madison Square Garden, the Knicks and the Rangers).

For those who remained under Zell's rule, staffs have been cut. "Unfortunately," he said today, "factors beyond our control have created a perfect storm - a precipitous decline in revenue and a tough economy coupled with a credit crisis tha makes it extremely difficult to support our debt."

(Note to self: never again use the phrase "perfect storm." ABC News' polling guru Gary Langer notes that "perfect storm" was used 13,492 times in the last year in stories listed on Factiva, compared with 9,161 in the previous year.)

It's a sad day, this bankruptcy filing. But what's sadder is that it's not likely to be the last of its kind.

And I'm not just talking about newspapers.

Barack Obama over the weekend let his viewpoint be known about the economy he's inheriting: The worst ain't over. (The "ain't" part of that is my word, not his.)

What must be going through his head as he tries to craft a team to deal with this mess! He's certainly getting heat from the left, for appointing so many people tied to Clinton, after a long and brutal campaign of criticizing her. And he's getting flack from the right for his position on the bailout and on what many perceive as the second coming of Roosevelt's New Deal, which will mean the government becomes the employer of last resort.

There are certainly areas where public works types of programs would be effective. Energy is one of them. And as if on cue, tomorrow Obama and Joe Biden will meet with former V.P. Al Gore about ways climate change policies can stimulate the economy and create jobs.

Alternative energy is certainly one of them. I'm a big proponent these days of solar energy, having installed a system at my house. And, having gone through the process, it's obvious how, with an applied social policy, installing these systems would create jobs, cut energy dependence, and reduce global warming.

We give incentives to big oil companies, why not give better incentives to homeowners to install solar, wind and geothermal energy in private residences?

I suspect that's in the offing.

Meanwhile, it appears that there's a deal to bail out the three giant automakers - with $15 billion. That should last them till March. Then they'll be back. CLICK HERE for more.

Are we throwing good money after bad? We will soon find out.

We'll have the latest on all the economic crisis news, tonight at 11.

We're also on Long Island at 11, where the Guardian Angels say they'll take to the streets of Patchogue, on patrol against racism. An Ecuadorian immigrant was killed there last month, and over the weekend two Ecuadorian brothers were beaten by a group of men shouting racist and anti-gay slogans.

Are the Angels the saviors? Jeff Pegues has our story.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Sade Baderinwa (in for Liz Cho) and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER


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