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Staff at the Los Angeles Times, shaken by months of turmoil, voiced anxiety on Monday over Chicago billionaire Sam Zell’s planned buyout even as the paper ran a story about the real estate mogul’s reputation as a hard-nosed “grave dancer.”
“There is definitely trepidation and uncertainty,” reporter Andrew Blankstein told Reuters. “The employees are going to be taking on a lot of the risk of the deal. But they could also get rewards. The question in a struggling industry is which way do we go?”
Some staffers expressed qualms that Zell lacks previous newspaper experience and that the 65-year-old Chicagoan has described his Tribune bid strictly as a financial investment.
“What we’re looking for is an owner who wants to build the company and make it a better newspaper and recognizes that we have a public service role,” veteran legal affairs reporter Henry Weinstein. He added: “I’m not passing any judgments until we hear something from (Zell) about what he’s going to do with the newspaper.”
Times media critic Tim Rutten said, “I think there’s a great deal of uncertainty … because it’s a very ambiguous kind of agreement, whose implications for the journalism of the Tribune papers are pretty uncertain.”
“There’s been no love lost between L.A. and Chicago, and the fact that (Zell) is a real estate guy from Chicago just kind of reinforces this idea that once again we’re going to be the ones who are on the outs,” one Times reporter, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.