Joe Flint (director of industry programs at the Paley Center’s Media Council and a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly, and Daily Variety) watched an old episode of “Lou Grant” and wondered what the show would be like now, 25 years later in the era of Sam Zell.
- For starters, there is a lot of waste at the fictional Los Angeles Tribune. There are three senior editor types on the show — Lou Grant, Charlie Hume and Art Donovan. They all seem to duplicate each other and, I’ll be honest, I can’t figure out what Art does other than wear three-piece suits and make the occasional wisecrack. He’s gone. Hume is getting up there so we can phase him out, too, with a nice buyout. That’ll put a lot of work on Grant’s back, but we all need to do more with less.
I’ve also been looking at Rossi’s expenses. Sure he’s a hot-shot investigative reporter, but does he have to keep meeting sources in parking lots? For starters, that’s so “All The President’s Men,” and secondly, if he’s not going to bother validating while he’s there, then we’re not covering his costs anymore. And I’m still not quite sure how to translate breaking a story on some city council member taking kickbacks into ad dollars, and that is, after all, the business we are in. I’m reassigning Rossi to the entertainment beat. Gossip and celebrities are what moves papers off the shelves. We can let the AP handle local and national news.
The culture of newspapers has also changed and this new series will reflect that as well. In an episode of the old Lou Grant, Rossi becomes the paper’s unofficial ombudsman, monitoring other reporters for potential conflicts. He uncovers a bunch. An editor is married to someone who works for someone running for office. The food reporter is reprimanded for taking junkets, and the metro editor is too close to the owner of a local sports franchise.
Maybe some of this would have raised eyebrows in 1980, but this is 2009! We want our staff involved with the movers and shakers. These are the kinds of walls we need to be tearing down. If you’re not inside, you’re outside.