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Tribune Co. chief waiting for Murdoch to 'take the first sword' over paywalls

Tribune Co. chief waiting for Murdoch to 'take the first sword' over paywalls

Sam Zell, owner of Tribune Co. which includes titles the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, has welcomed Rupert Murdoch's charge for paid online content, saying he is more than happy for the News Corp CEO to "take the first sword" in the battle.

"I'm more than willing to let Rupert take the first sword," said Zell on Tuesday morning as part of a round-table discussion on CNBC's Squawk Box. "And if it works, then I think everybody's going to follow him, and should have in the first place."

Zell is optimistic of the chances news publications have, telling the discussion that: "Newspapers do create unique content, particularly locally, that people want to know and want to understand," he said. "If in fact the cost of access to that is pennies I don't think that's going to be an impediment to getting it done."

As for the questionable future of newspapers, Zell said: "The model has to be changed. I think issues like 'Can you keep giving it away for free?' don't make any sense. Do you keep delivering it to people's homes at costs that are unjustifiable? I think there are a lot of issues that the newspaper industry has to challenge, take advantage of, and recognize that technology is changing their role and they have to adapt accordingly."

Zell's sentiments echo that of many industry commentators who have criticized newspapers for lagging behind the digital times. In an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review last month, Rob Durst, a Boston-based business and technology consultant said he believed that newspapers could remain viable if the moved quickly and adapted to the new environment.

"Hope is not a strategy. A doomed strategy would be to wish that it were 1950 again and retreat into denial. A winning strategy would be to embrace the change and figure out how to manage and monetize it by leveraging the existing brand," he said.

Durst, who personally favours mobiles codes as a means to generate revenue, warned that time was running out for newspapers: "If they wait too long they run the risk of spectacular failure...As the publishing industry has seen, change is already here."

Zell's decision to 'wait and see' how Murdoch's fight to put up paywalls plays out seems to be the approach of many news publications who are interested in the idea, but hesitant to take the plunge.

Tribune Co. newspapers have been forced to tighten their belts since he bought out the company in 2007. Since filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy status in December 2008, several cutbacks have been made and the company recently made news again for trialing reporting without the Associated Press news wire as part of an assessment as to whether the expensive service can be cut altogether from the newspaper chain's diet.

Source: Chicago Tribune



Jennifer Lush


2009-12-02 16:13

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