Is Sam Zell the Howard Stern of the newspaper industry? And is that so bad?
In retrospect, I can see why real estate billionaire Sam Zell thought buying the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Orlando Sentinel and all their related newspapers and media companies—plus the Chicago Cubs baseball team and its home, Wrigley Field—seemed like a classic ploy.
Buy a big family-owned business on the skids for a discount, squeeze out greater efficiencies from its processes and earn back your purchase price by selling its more valuable assets individually. After that, whatever is left is gravy.
Zell probably thought he was getting in at the bottom. Unfortunately for everyone, the bottom was still years and millions away. That, and the era of leveraging mountains of debt was coming to a crashing halt.
Reading Ben Johnson’s new business biography, Money Talks, Bullsh*t Walks: Inside the Contrarian Mind of Billionaire Sam Zell, we get a much better, more favorable understanding of Zell’s thinking and a clearer sense of why he did the deal he did and why it was probably destined to fail.
Gotta love hindsight.
The key takeaway from the book for me: Zell may be an unrestrained Chicago loudmouth, but the lords of American newspapers should have taken his ideas more seriously and the way he expressed himself a little less so. In many ways, he was—and continues to be—right about what ails their industry and could save it and they’re wrong.
AUDIO EXCERPT: “In 2007, the death of newspapers had been talked about for years… Sam Zell thought he could go in and rally the troops. But the media world is a different world. I think the pushback took him by surprise… He’s a learned man but he has the lexicon of Howard Stern.”
You can LISTEN to this interview with Ben Johnson, author of Money Talks, Bullsh*t Walks, by clicking HERE!
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Order Ben Johnson’s biography, Money Talks, Bullsh*t Walks: Inside the Contrarian Mind of Billionaire Sam Zell
Don’t miss these Mr. Media Radio interviews with journalists:
- Miles O’Brien (CNN American Mornings)
- Lane DeGregory (2009 Pulitzer Prize winner for Feature Writing, St. Petersburg Times)
- Chris Hansen (Dateline NBC, April 2009)
- Chris Hansen (Dateline NBC, March 2009)
- Paul Gillin (blogger, NewspaperDeathWatch.com)
- Rene Syler (co-host, CBS “Early Show”; author, “Good Enough Mother)
- Karen Dunlap (president, Poynter Institute)
- Clay Bennett (Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist)
- Laurel Touby (Mediabistro.com founder, socializer-in-chief)
- Marlise Kast (Tabloid Prodigy, Globe magazine)
- Jeff Kreisler (My Wall Street Journal; Indecision 2008)
- Bill Adair (Politifact.com; St. Petersburg Times)
- Alberto Ibargüen (Knight Foundation)
- Sree Sreenivasan (Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism; WNBC-TV)
- Eric Deggans (St. Petersburg Times The Feed blog)
- Eric Deggans and Aaron Barnhart (St. Petersburg Times/The Feed, Kansas City Star/TVBarn.com)
- Howard Finberg (NewsU)
- Dave Jones (The New York Times)
- Pete Hamill (New York Daily News, The Drinking Life)
- Chuck Shepherd (News of the Weird)
This entry was posted on January 6, 2010 by andelman. It was filed under advertising, authors, Biography, Business, celebrity interviews, Journalism, lawyers, newspapers, Publishing and was tagged with Chicago Cubs, Chicago Tribune, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Daily News, Los Angeles Times, Newspaper Death Watch, NewspaperDeathWatch, Orlando Sentinel, Sam Zell, St. Petersburg Times.