Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The NYT looks at the Tribune Company; but is this example of media ownership the exception or the rule?

The New York Times' David Carr has a lengthy story this morning on the new ownership of the Tribune Company. It would be fair to say that the story does not produce a pretty picture of the management style of the new gang in Chicago.

But, sadly, I can not say I am at all surprised based on my own experiences. Anybody who has been in this industry (newspapers and magazines) for the past twenty years or so have their own tales to tell about management run amok or management incompetence. The media business is no different from any other business, after all, and each owner or executive manager has their own reasons why they are in this field.

Since McGraw-Hill, a company I have great respect for, I have worked at a number of companies that were run by people with an agenda that, while different than that described in Carr's article, was nonetheless disastrous for the media properties. Irregardless of gender or age of owner, a media company can be compromised by the hidden, personal motivations of its ownership team.

But I've found one rule that seems to work pretty well: if the owner/manager has never penned a story for print or online publication, they are not qualified; or, if the owner/manager has never sold an ad directly to a client and worked under the pressures of a sales quota, they are not qualified. For me, there are no exceptions to this rule.

For years the media world, and much of the business world, has been under the impression that the "business" types could do a better job of running media properties. In the late nineties it was fashionable to believe that only if the manager had an MBA were they qualified for upper management. And what did the MBAs give us? First reengineering (layoffs), then right-sizing (layoffs), and finally doing more with less (layoffs).

But many still believe that someone who has 'business' experience can run a media firm better than the media professionals -- it's just business, after all.