Randy Michaels, CEO, Tribune Co.
This post is slightly different. It is about an executive and the media, but in this case it’s an executive many in the media have failed to understand and, as a result, dramatically misjudged. Frankly, it’s clear that more than a few are hoping this executive will fail and are doing all they can to make that happen. My money is on the executive.
For some time now I’ve been following news reports and blogs about a former boss of mine. Randy Michaels is the CEO of the Tribune Co. and is charged with revitalizing its media holdings, especially its group of newspapers (
It seems that many of those who report on Randy and the Tribune Co., especially in the print world, find it an affront that this guy from the broadcast world is running newspapers. So, they write breathless stories, as if the newspaper world has been infiltrated by a saboteur. This must be their way of resisting change, something that’s very scary to them. But in their industry, change is mandatory for survival.
The most recent case is a list of words and phrases Randy circulated to the news directors at all Tribune television stations and its lone radio station, WGN,
The list was designed to steer news writers and on air talent to deliver the news conversationally instead of falling into “news speak” which often is far from the way we talk to each other. His list also pointed out how some words and phrases are misused based on their actual meaning. And, by the way, his radio and TV news managers and their staffs agree these are words and phrases they should avoid.
Now, I have first hand experience with Randy on things like this. When he was CEO of the radio group that owned the radio station I was running, he was a frequent advisor on content. I often solicited his opinion. He suggested words and phrases our news staff could, and should, expunge from news scripts. It was his way to get our news people to communicate more effectively and naturally with our audience. And Randy always invited discussion and debate.
In the case of the Tribune stations, Randy’s list has been characterized by some on the outside as “forbidden.” Never once was I forbidden by Randy. He’s an idea person who wants to hear different, or even opposing, ideas.
Under his leadership, our radio group became highly respected by our peers. Our stations often over-achieved in our individual markets; we were perceived as formidable competitors, willing to try new things. Many who worked for other stations and radio groups wanted to find a position with one of our radio stations so they could work with Randy.
Facts like that are (purposely?) overlooked by Randy’s critics. They are so preoccupied and obsessed with his radio background they’re missing the big picture.
Randy Michaels is brilliant, intuitive and always challenging how things are done. He’s typically a step or more ahead. His need for knowledge is insatiable. I’m convinced he has a photographic memory. He always kept us ahead of the rest with technology and marketing concepts. Those who either worked with him, or knew his track record in radio, had no doubt that he could be successful at Tribune Co.
His ability to break down obstacles to creative and (as much as I hate the phrase—this might even be on his list) out-of-the-box thinking is challenging, refreshing and highly stimulating. Because of this talent and his ability to motivate and empower his people, all Tribune media properties today are making a profit. Indeed, the changes and ideas he’s instituted have created positive buzz and interest in the world of newspapers.
I suppose there always will be an old guard, resistant to change and willing to do everything in their power to prevent it. But it’s the Randy Michaels of this world, the intelligent risk takers, who sustain innovation and progress.