The Deal from Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers

By Aucoin, James | Journalism History, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

The Deal from Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers


Aucoin, James, Journalism History


O'Shea, James. The Deal from Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers. New York: Public Aflairs, 2011. 395 pp. $28.99.

The "deal from hell" was Chicago real estate developer Sam Zell's purchase of the publicly traded Tribune Company, which took the company private and eventually drove it into bankruptcy. At first, Zell was thought to be somewhat of a savior for the company after corporate lawyers and bankers who managed the company imperiled it by purchasing the Los Angeles Times. Zell's management, though, soon proved to do more harm than good.

After the corporate destruction and bloodletting, the Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel, Long Island Newsday, and the once-great Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times stood as mere shadows of their former selves, plundered first for investor dividends and then to pay off the billions of dollars in debt incurred when Zell took the company private using borrowed dollars.

James O'Shea has inside information gained from more than two decades working for the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. He was managing editor of the Tribune when he was appointed editor of the Times and was the third person in two years to take the helm in Los Angeles after Tribune Company purchased the newspaper. Dysfunctional and rapacious management kept newsrooms in turmoil by repeatedly demanding budget cuts to satisfy the greed of investors - primarily the Chandler family (more than 100 ancestors of the founders of the Los Angeles Times, General Harrison Gray Otis and Harry Chandler) and, later, Sam Zell.

Amazingly, the managers of two of Americas greatest newspapers put the fates of their newsrooms in the hands of men and women with no experience in newspapers or journalism - lawyers, MBAs, bankers, accountants, broadcast executives, and investors such as Zell. The disastrous results should have been expected.

O'Shea's memoir provides insights into a number of media leaders at the helm of the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times from the 1970s into the twenty-first century: John Madigan, Tribune Company CEO who engineered the merger of the Tribune and the Los Angeles Times; Charles Brumback, Madigans predecessor in the CEO role; Mark Hinckley Willes, the CEO of the Times Mirror Company when the merger occurred (and infamous for the Staples Center/Los Angeles Times partnership on a promotional tabloid that shook the newspaper industry for its brazen fracture of the line between journalism and advertising); Dennis FitzSimons, champion of market-driven news, who became CEO of Tribune Company by rising through die ranks of the company's broadcast sales division; Jack Fuller, publisher of the Tribune-, John Carroll, who as editor of the LosAngehs Times led it to a remarkable five Pulitzer Prizes during his short tenure at the paper; and many others, including Zell. …

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