The Executive the Media Misjudge

Randy Michaels, CEO, Tribune Co.

By Eric Seidel, CEO

The Media Trainers, LLC

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 (Chicago Tribune, LA Times, Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel, Sun Sentinel, Hartford Courant, etc.).

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, Chicago. Former Chicago Sun-Times media pundit Robert Feder, a frequent Michaels critic, has jumped on this with the appetite of a piranha. (Feder, it should be noted, is one of many who have been “retired” by their newspapers.)

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.

3 thoughts on “The Executive the Media Misjudge

  1. Hope you can share the list of terms whose use is discouraged to those of who are not media people. It would be enlightening, to say the least.

    It’s interesting that those who are Michaels’ critics would likely cringe at being characterized as media Luddites. But that is how they are behaving. Their situation on the newspaper side appears from the outside to be clear: change or die. Resistance is futile. Indeed

  2. The list of words and phrases can be obtained by clicking on the Robert Feder link in the story above. However, to save you the trouble, here is Randy Michaels’ complete list of unacceptable expressions:

    * “Flee” meaning “run away”
    * “Good” or “bad” news
    * “Laud” meaning “praise”
    * “Seek” meaning “look for”
    * “Some” meaning “about”
    * “Two to one margin” . . . “Two to one” is a ratio, not a margin. A margin is measured in points. It’s not a ratio.
    * “Yesterday” in a lead sentence
    * “Youth” meaning “child”
    * 5 a.m. in the morning
    * After the break
    * After these commercial messages
    * Aftermath
    * All of you
    * Allegations
    * Alleged
    * Area residents
    * As expected
    * At risk
    * At this point in time
    * Authorities
    * Auto accident
    * Bare naked
    * Behind bars
    * Behind closed doors
    * Behind the podium (you mean lecturn) [sic]
    * Best kept secret
    * Campaign trail
    * Clash with police
    * Close proximity
    * Complete surprise
    * Completely destroyed, completely abolished, completely finished or any other completely redundant use
    * Death toll
    * Definitely possible
    * Diva
    * Down in (location)
    * Down there
    * Dubbaya when you mean double you
    * Everybody (when referring to the audience)
    * Eye Rack or Eye Ran
    * False pretenses
    * Famed
    * Fatal death
    * Fled on foot
    * Folks
    * Giving 110%
    * Going forward
    * Gunman, especially lone gunman
    * Guys
    * Hunnert when you mean hundred
    * Icon
    * In a surprise move
    * In harm’s way
    * In other news
    * In the wake of (unless it’s a boating story)
    * Incarcerated
    * Informed sources say . . .
    * Killing spree
    * Legendary
    * Lend a helping hand
    * Literally
    * Lucky to be alive
    * Manhunt
    * Marred
    * Medical hospital
    * Mother of all (anything)
    * Motorist
    * Mute point. (It’s moot point, but don’t say that either)
    * Near miss
    * No brainer
    * Officials
    * Our top story tonight
    * Out in (location)
    * Out there
    * Over in
    * Pedestrian
    * Perfect storm
    * Perished
    * Perpetrator
    * Plagued
    * Really
    * Reeling
    * Reportedly
    * Seek
    * Senseless murder
    * Shots rang out
    * Shower activity
    * Sketchy details
    * Some (meaning about)
    * Some of you
    * Sources say . . .
    * Speaking out
    * Stay tuned
    * The fact of the matter
    * Those of you
    * Thus
    * Time for a break
    * To be fair
    * Torrential rain
    * Touch base
    * Under fire
    * Under siege
    * Underwent surgery
    * Undisclosed
    * Undocumented alien
    * Unrest
    * Untimely death
    * Up in (location)
    * Up there
    * Utilize (you mean use)
    * Vehicle
    * We’ll be right back
    * Welcome back
    * Welcome back everybody
    * We’ll be back
    * Went terribly wrong
    * We’re back
    * White stuff
    * World class
    * You folks

  3. There are some terms on this list that are clearly jargon and could be avoided (and there are some that aren’t, such as “alleged”).

    I’d like to see the same aggressiveness, not to mention innovation and new thinking, from Randy with more important matters.
    It still remains to be seen if Randy will breathe new life into the Tribune’s — and the “old” media — business model.

    I’m eager — not “anxious,” and that distinction could have been made on the list — to see what he comes up with.

    (Disclaimer: I’m a former Tribune employee, but I never worked with Randy Michaels.)

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