Tribune Tanks, CEO Skates

Harold Meyerson’s latest dispatch (, 12/8/08) on Tribune Co. owner Sam Zell retells how “Zell repeatedly and profanely expressed his disdain for quality journalism,” gutting major dailies like the L.A. Times and Chicago Tribune because he thought they “carried too much national and international news.” After “hundreds of excellent reporters and editors were unceremoniously shown the door” comes news that the Tribune Co. is filing for bankruptcy protection, but Meyerson writes that

Sam Zell never really had much skin in the game. Last year, when he purchased the Tribune Company… he put up $315 million of his own money and paid the balance of the purchase price, $8.2 billion, with the employee stock ownership plan–a move in which Tribune employees had no say whatever. But that actually overstates the amount of Zell’s investment. Of the $315 million he sunk into the company, it turns out that $225 million was simply a promissory note. Due to the vagaries of bankruptcy law, writes business analyst Mark Lacter on, that means that Zell has better protection for his stake than all his employees.

And how are those employees faring? Well, even the New York Times headlined its December 8 report “Workers Pay for Debacle at Tribune.”