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The Los Angeles Times Slams Tribune Company CEO

Tuesday, June 20, 2006  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

Incredible. The editors at the Los Angeles Times think so little of Tribune CEO that it runs a profile of Dennis FitzSimmons that slags him in the second graph and doesn’t let up. The picture that emerges is of a Babbitt-like radio sales exec with weird love of the basketball game “Horse,” who doesn’t know a lick about newspapers and can’t be expected to learn.

Translation: Don’t blame us for falling circulation and ad revenue. The boss doesn’t know newspapers.

First two graphs:

People who admire Dennis J. FitzSimons say he works like an ox, is dead honest, inspires deep loyalty in the people around him and, when pushed, will fight.

His critics say that, in addition, the chairman and chief executive of Tribune Co. can be self-confident to the point of arrogance and touchy about being challenged. Some doubt his strategic vision and, as the first Tribune chief to rise through the broadcast division, his “feel” for newspapers.

Get the picture? What’s an ox known for, anyway?

“FitzSimons declined to be interviewed for this article.” Apparently the Times’ editors didn’t take the hint.

Some key graphs:

FitzSimons grew up in the Jackson Heights section of Queens, N.Y., the youngest of four sons of a beer-truck driver for Anheuser-Busch Cos. and a stay-at-home mom. After high school at Fordham Prep, he majored in political science at Fordham University, a Jesuit school in the Bronx.

He joined Tribune in 1982 as a sales manager for WGN after several years as an advertising sales agent. After a stint at a Tribune station in New Orleans, he returned to Chicago and soon became general manager of WGN, which he once described as “the best job I ever had.”

FitzSimons is one of the executives most closely associated with Tribune’s broadcasting growth spurt in the mid-1990s, when it went on a buying spree that took it from six stations to 26. Highly focused and detail-oriented, FitzSimons had a keen sense for buying stations, consolidating and cutting costs.

This is a message to the swells of west LA: Help us! This dummy is blue collar through and through. All he can do is cut costs.


With his signature mustache, close-cropped hair and powerful build ‘” a trim 6 feet 2′” he resembles a boxer from the bare-knuckle era.


His passion for basketball does not seem to extend to newspaper journalism, according to some big-city newsroom people who work for FitzSimons or have done so. They say that although he is always gentlemanly, he can be difficult to engage in conversation about their work.

“He seems uncomfortable with discussions about the public-service mission of newspapers,” said one high-level journalist who requested anonymity.

Then, jammed into a “profile” is this statement of employee discontent at the Times:

At Tribune’s biggest newspaper, The Times, a survey of employees last August revealed misgivings about the parent company. With an unusually high 81.7% of employees responding, only 34% answered “yes” to the question: “Is this company highly regarded by Tribune Co.?” Only 27% of the newsroom staff said they felt “appreciated” by Tribune.

“There was very much a feeling of being stepchildren,” Susan Denley, Times editor for hiring and staff development, said of the response.

The whining apparently has evolved into sedition.

And the result of all this incompetence combined with arrogance:

FitzSimons is capable of clinging to a losing position out of a deep faith that any problem will eventually yield to sheer effort.

Faced with the intractable erosion of newspaper and broadcast advertising revenue, “Dennis says, ‘We’re going to operate our way out of this.’ It’s like swimming for it after the Titanic goes down,” the person said.

This is a classic hit piece, standard fare for the Times, but usually reserved for a politician that the paper has decided must go.

Never before has the paper aimed at its own corporate CEO.

FitzSimmons must surely see the choice: Seel, get out, or face continued resistance to change and further erosion in revenues and readers in the west.

Or he could act like any other CEO in any other business and clean house in the failing division –from top to bottom– and field a new team intent on improving their product rather than fragging their leader as an excuse for putting out a terrible product.

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