The WGN Memo You Can't Ignore

Robert Feder, the outstanding reporter and columnist based in Chicago, slipped Tribune CEO Randy Michaels a well-deserved stiff arm the other day when he wrote a piece on 119 words Michaels will not allow on Tribune’s WGN, Chicago.

WGN News Director Charlie Meyerson was a good boy and passed along the CEOs instructions to the news department probably holding his nose as he hit send.

Michaels was not subtle as he said “don’t say them on WGN”.

Meyerson, according to Feder, spun it as “The real goal here is to avoid using words that make you sound like you’re reading, instead of talking — that shatter the image you’re speaking knowledgeably to one person. By not using ‘newsspeak,’ you enhance your reputation as a communicator.”


What the hell does a CEO – the self-proclaimed “noise you can’t ignore” know about newsspeak?

Better yet, why is Michaels micromanaging WGN’s news professionals?

In fact, what is he and Sam Zell doing in the newspaper industry along with almost 20 hired hands from radio posing as mild-mannered reporters for large metropolitan dailies such as the LA Times?

Look, in fairness to Michaels, a lot of the phrases he doesn’t like probably shouldn’t be used on the radio or in news print.

But that’s not the point.

The real point being what is a real estate mogul (Zell) doing running a newspaper company and one radio station with a former radio shock jock and pants dropping CEO like Michaels telling them what to do?

A number of years ago when Zell/Michaels took over Tribune, I saw a video sent to me by a reader (it has since been taken down from the Internet) where Zell and Michaels both got up and scared the shit out of newspaper employees at their Allentown, PA publication.

The Allentown Morning Call publisher was sitting on the dais next to Zell and with Michaels. He looked like he needed to make an emergency run to Walgreens for Depends. I felt awful for him and for the otherwise unresponsive audience of journalism professionals who had to play like these two guys actually knew what they were talking about it.

Michaels has since dissed Feder in a comment to RBR Publisher Jim Carnegie whom he apparently trusts enough to comment in the radio press. But Feder is above reproach, the well-respected journalist that Michaels is not.

Michaels said, “I feel sorry for Bob. If he thinks it’s wrong for the CEO of a content company to focus on content, that could help explain why he is no longer paid to be in media.”

Bob is not Robert and Feder is known by the name Robert, so maybe rule number 120 should be, “get the guy's name right”.

Just sayin’.

And Feder is not exactly working for free.

Rule 121 -- get your facts straight.

Look, Randy plays radio like hockey. I’m okay with that. But a low blow, a high elbow or anything else beyond the rules is a penalty -- a time out is warranted. Michaels should voluntarily go to the penalty box and think about whether his memo is appropriate.

Michaels must have a secret fantasy to be W. Randolph Hearst.

He tried to buy Inside Radio from me in the early 90’s with a $7 million offer conveyed through a broker. I turned it down. And he has denied it ever since. That’s fair.

Then, Michaels as CEO of Jacor, decided to become a heavy investor in M Street Daily -- my competitor, if you can see where this is going, written by former Inside Radio editor Tom Taylor.

At the same time Michaels refused to comment on stories I wrote about him or the company when he was CEO at Clear Channel arguing that I would write what I want and make it all up anyway. Maybe you can see why Michaels has no credibility in the publishing business.

That’s why this whole dust up with my old friend, Randy is so fascinating.

Would you trust your newspaper to a guy who doesn’t trust journalism?

Doesn’t seek to preserve the integrity of journalism?

Well, enough!

Tribune is in bankruptcy anyway.

No new-age attempts by Randy & the Rainbows has been able to reinvent newspaper journalism. Tribune’s online footprint is still unremarkable. The way out is in bankruptcy court, not by operators who frankly don’t know a damn thing about journalism.

Someone who hasn't earned the right to preach the end of newsspeak should keep his mouth shut.

News professionals don’t need 119 words to avoid.

For them, there are only two.

Randy Michaels.

For those of you who would prefer to get Jerry's daily posts by email for FREE, please click here. Then look for a verifying email from FeedBurner to start service.
Thanks for forwarding my pieces to your friends and linking to your websites and boards.