The trials and tribulations of Randy Michaels & Co.

September 27, 2010

You can't blame Randy Michaels for wanting to bask in some of Orion Samuelson's reflected glory. There was the embattled Tribune Co. chief executive officer posing with WGN-AM (720) radio pals at a dinner last week honoring Radio Hall of Famer Samuelson on his 50th‚ anniversary as the voice of agriculture and business at the news/talk station.


Orion Samuelson and friends

This photo, first posted on WGN's website, features (from left): WGN general manager Tom Langmyer; Samuelson; agribusiness reporter Max Armstrong; WGN program director Kevin Metheny; midday personality John Williams, and Michaels. I wasn't invited, but I heard from those who were there that it was quite the shindig.

Few of the initiatives Michaels and his cadre of Jacor/Clear Channel cronies have brought to Tribune Co. are likely to prove as enduring or worthy of tribute as Samuelson's illustrious career. If his tenure ended today, Michaels would be remembered more for the ways he micromanaged and disrespected the company -- and sought to enrich himself -- than for any real contributions to the Chicago-based media enterprise he oversaw.

The salutes to Samuelson, including a one-hour special that aired on WGN Sunday (the exact day of his 50th‚ anniversary with the station) capped a week of bizarre twists and turns on many fronts for Tribune Co. Among the highlights:

  • A Chicago Tribune story over the weekend reported new trouble in the company's struggles to emerge from bankruptcy and overcome "the deal from hell" Sam Zell made when he blundered his way into the $8.5 billion purchase of Tribune Co. in December 2007. Even Michael Eisner, the former Walt Disney Co. CEO who looked ready to step in and score a quick payday by replacing Zell as Tribune Co. chairman, made it clear he's no longer interested.
  • From the moment Tribune Co. launched its ChicagoNow blog network in 2009, the company has had a strange hands-on/hands-off approach to its writers and their content. That all came to a head last Thursday when the company removed a couple of posts by a blogger who goes by the name of Joe the Cop. The posts in question, which commented on a 19-year-old youth who'd been shot and killed by Chicago police on the Red Line, had raised the ire of Frank Sennett, president and editor-in-chief of Time Out Chicago. On his blog and in a long series of tweets, Sennett excoriated ChicagoNow for publishing what he characterized as "racist" and "horribly insensitive" posts. Numerous other bloggers from inside and outside the ChicagoNow community were quick to condemn Sennett for speaking out so forcefully, and lectured the highly respected veteran editor (and Medill graduate) on journalistic ethics. Sorry, but I think Sennett should be commended for raising the issue of Tribune's responsibility for what appears on one of its websites -- and for singlehandedly forcing them to respond. Pretty impressive, I'd say.
  • Plans were announced for a series of six vaudevillian-style stage shows combining appearances by Tribune newspaper personalities with comedy sketches by members of The Second City. (The best thing "Chicago Live!" may have going for it is the presence of Tribune/WGN treasure Rick Kogan as emcee.) You can pay $25 to sit in the audience in the basement of the Chicago Theatre on Thursday nights -- or you can listen at home when WGN airs the shows at 11 p.m. Fridays. Not everyone loves the idea. Wrote local media blogger Terence "T Dog" Henderson:
"Nothing against Second City, but why would anyone pay $25 to see this farce put on by the Tribune? If you want to see something genuinely unfunny, you can stay home and watch 'Raising Hope,' 'Running Wilde' and William Shatner's new sitcom for free."
  • Without warning, Tribune-owned cable news channel CLTV dropped "Garrard McClendon Live," the nightly topical talk show it had been airing since May 2008. CLTV will go back to news in its former 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. time slots.‚ McClendon, who'd been working without a contract since early this year, teased last April 1 that his show had been dropped. The April Fools' Day joke actually came true Friday when McClendon told fans on Facebook and Twitter that it "has been canceled (for real) and is off the air," adding: "I thank you all for your support over the last two years."
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