The Deal from Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers

Overview

In 2000, after the Tribune Company acquired Times Mirror Corporation, it comprised the most powerful collection of newspapers in the world. How then did Tribune nosedive into bankruptcy and public scandal? In The Deal From Hell, veteran Tribune and Los Angeles Times editor James O'Shea takes us behind the scenes of the decisions that led to disaster in boardrooms and newsrooms from coast to coast, based on access to key players, court testimony, and sworn depositions.

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Overview

In 2000, after the Tribune Company acquired Times Mirror Corporation, it comprised the most powerful collection of newspapers in the world. How then did Tribune nosedive into bankruptcy and public scandal? In The Deal From Hell, veteran Tribune and Los Angeles Times editor James O'Shea takes us behind the scenes of the decisions that led to disaster in boardrooms and newsrooms from coast to coast, based on access to key players, court testimony, and sworn depositions.

The Deal From Hell is a riveting narrative that chronicles how news industry executives and editors—convinced they were acting in the best interests of their publications—made a series of flawed decisions that endangered journalistic credibility and drove the newspapers, already confronting a perfect storm of political, technological, economic, and social turmoil, to the brink of extinction.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
O'Shea, a veteran journalist who was once at the helm of the Chicago Tribune and the L.A. Times, recounts the events leading to the dissolution of several major American newspapers in this gripping story of a troubled industry. Told from the "front-row," O'Shea shows how ill-advised mergers, mismanagement, acquisitive Wall Street execs, and the Tribune Company's eventual bankruptcy filing crippled an industry. Beginning with a primer on 20th century journalistic trends that set the stage for disaster, O'Shea chronicles the shocking details of how it all came to pass.After being fired from the L.A. Times in 2008 for his refusal to effectuate budget cuts issued from on high, O'Shea refused to sign the anti-defamation clause that would have prevented him from writing this book.Understandably, he is not pleased with how everything turned out, though his book is less a condemnation of those responsible for the industry's collapse and more a cautionary tale for others still active in the field he loves. While recounting how business interests sought an improper place in public service journalism, O'Shea works in fascinating and funny anecdotes that make for an excellent read. For those who want an inside look at what makes American journalism work (and not work), O'Shea offers a unique and valuable perspective. (June)
Kirkus Reviews

An examination of failing American newspapers from a unique perspective.

Journalist O'Shea (Dangerous Company: The Consulting Powerhouses and the Businesses They Save and Ruin, 2002, etc.) rose from investigative reporter to managing editor of the Chicago Tribune and then editor in chief of the Los Angeles Times. Three years ago, the author departed the Times under attack from a management team that cared more about executive bonuses and corporate profits than quality journalism. Numerous books have covered endangered daily newspapers, but few relate the sad saga from the perspective of a top editor with investigative reporting experience. O'Shea identifies factors in the overall economy and in the cultures of publicly held companies that have contributed to the declines of newspapers. Refreshingly, though, he also names names, identifying the villains in the corporate suites and the newsrooms themselves, with an overarching emphasis on what happened to diminish the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, once proudly independent newspapers. When Chicago-based businessman Sam Zell, without experience as a media mogul, purchased the newspaper company—as well as a package of assets that included the Chicago Cubs and urban real estate—any hope of vital journalism disappeared. Given O'Shea's level of detail and candor, some journalism icons will almost surely lose respect within their field. As for the individuals in the corporate suites of his two former employers, the financiallyirresponsible, sexually immoral and perhaps illegal conduct of those men (no womenappear as villains in the narrative) should embarrass them to no end. Because O'Shea is an accomplished reporter, he does not make the mistake of slinging around accusations without detailed evidence, but at times, he seems to be settling scores, whichmight diminish his stature in the minds of some readers.

A spirited, fascinating insider's account of a troubled realm.

Jack Shafer
O'Shea's pocket histories of both Times Mirror and Tribune are succinct, and his reporting on the circulation scandals at Newsday and other newspapers in the last decade is superb.
—The Washington Post
From the Publisher

Kirkus, June 1, 2011
“Numerous books have covered endangered daily newspapers, but few relate the sad saga from the perspective of a top editor with investigative reporting experience… Given O'Shea's level of detail and candor, some journalism icons will almost surely lose respect within their field…A spirited, fascinating insider's account of a troubled realm.”

New Statesman, January 7, 2011
“This book is a passionate and heavily researched account of the case against the cyber-utopians.”

The Chicago Reader, Michael Miner, June 17, 2011
“The insider's tale O'Shea tells is that of an epic business disaster, placed in the context of the whole industry driving itself off a cliff…I'm 50 pages in and riveted. I expect to stay that way”
 
The Chicago Sun-Times, Michael Sneed, June 19, 2011
“Loaded with Tribune Tower mayhem and monkeyshines, bankruptcy testimony, sexual innuendo, triggered security alarms, and a hysterical Tribune terrace escapade involving former Tribune honcho Randy Michaels, the book’s publication comes on the heels of a Tribune desperately trying to revamp itself and its image.”
 
Time Out Chicago, June 20, 2011
“Former Chicago Tribune managing editor Jim O’Shea’s long-awaited book about what really went on inside Tribune Co..; does not disappoint. Blessed with an insider’s perspective and a journalist’s eye for detail, The Deal From Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers includes stunning new revelations about Zell’s hand-picked CEO, Randy Michaels.”
 
Library Journal, June 16, 2011
“Journalists and students of the practice will appreciate this detailed insider account of the forces that are remaking newspapers and the specifics of how the Tribune ended up bankrupt. O'Shea's narrative skills will engage readers in this compelling story.”
 
New York Times Sunday Business review, June 26, 2011 
“The Deal From Hell’ is chockablock with examples of what happens when bean counters take over newspapers… a strong, significant book… Mr. O’Shea offers balanced and nuanced writing throughout, not an easy task, since his sympathies clearly lie within the Tribune and Los Angeles Times newsrooms and not with the executives who all but wrecked them.”
 
USA Today, June 27, 2011
“James O'Shea occupied a privileged, and unusual, seat during the [newspaper] implosion. In The Deal From Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers, O'Shea shares what he saw and heard… His book stands out, though, because of its unforgettable details about what happened to diminish great journalism at the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. The more general indictments about the newspaper industry seem like weak gruel in comparison.”
 
Los Angeles Times, June 28, 2011
“Compelling reading…His dramatic telling of the lead-up to the Zell deal that would so soon sour is staggering… In the end, "The Deal From Hell" succeeds on the force of the story and the power of the case that O'Shea builds against the individuals involved.” 
 
NewCity (Chicago alt weekly), feature, June 29, 2011
“The Deal From Hell” is a candid and relatively unrestrained insider’s account of the near-destruction of two of America’s great newspapers. Heroes are portrayed and so, certainly are villains. Except the heroes are all gone now, and more than a few of the villains still flourish.”
 
New York Journal of Books, June 28, 2011 “James O’Shea has written an important book for anyone concerned about the future of journalism, its uncertain relationship to modern democratic societies, and the eternal balance between freedom and responsibility—assuming that we can turn off our iPods, iPads, and Netbooks long enough to read Deal from Hell from start to finish.”

Crain’s Chicago Business, June 15, 2011
“Journalists will enjoy reading about the veteran newsman's early days in the business, and industry watchers get a behind-the-scenes look at Wall Street's role….  He takes the reader all over the world — to the newsrooms of the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune and on a private jet to meetings with correspondents in the Middle East.  And he names names.”

Neiman Reports, June 15, 2011 “The plot of James O'Shea's book reads like a fast-paced novel: greedy owners, corporate intrigue, a boorish manager, and a staff revolt. Yet it's a true story.”

Financial Times, July 7, 2011
“This woeful story has never had such a good unpacking as James O’Shea, a former editor at the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, has given it in The Deal From Hell… In an exhaustively reported book, O’Shea makes a compelling case that greed, mismanagement and a lack of foresight had as much to do with the destruction of American newspapers as did the rise of the web…The Deal From Hell is a well-reported book, and O’Shea is armed with compelling statistics and vivid, damning anecdotes to make his point…Ultimately this is a book for people who, like O’Shea, love newspapers.”

Wall Street Journal, July 2, 2011
“The star-crossed merger is the right newspaper-decline story to tell, and Mr. O'Shea is arguably the eyewitness most qualified for the task.”
 
Cleveland Plain Deal, July 6, 2011
“The Deal From Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers" is a detailed, inside look at how greed, incompetence and hubris gutted two of the nation's leading newspapers…It was, indeed, a deal from hell, and O'Shea gives us a clear look at the devils involved in it.
 
TheWrap.com, July 4, 2011
“The ‘Deal from Hell’ gives us a serious and informed view of the destruction of an American journalistic institution (or two of them, in this case). O’Shea shares some fascinating inside stories based on his front-row seat as editor in chief and his long-time relationships with people who gave him interviews for the book.”

Publishing Perspectives, July 5, 2011
“Mr. James O’Shea’s beguiling admixture, the eyewitness-cum-memoirist, combined with his Pulitzer-laden editorial pedigree makes for jaw-dropping vignettes, hilarious asides and harrowing portraits of pinstriped idiocy. But is The Deal from Hell important? Hell, yes. Every citizen in the republic — and every C-suite publishing executive — should hear what this book has to say, if only to discover how desperately besieged is our fount of Public Discourse.”

PittsburghPost-Gazette, July 17, 2011
“The Deal From Hell" is a scrupulously reported account of how hubris, bad judgment, arrogance, bad timing and, yes, greed eviscerated one of the most prestigious media companies in American history… In a class with the best books that document the Wall Street crisis of 2008, "Deal From Hell" is the best account of what has happened to newspapers in the past decade.”
 
Publishers Weekly, July 18, 2011
“While recounting how business interests sought an improper place in public service journalism, O'Shea works in fascinating and funny anecdotes that make for an excellent read. For those who want an inside look at what makes American journalism work (and not work), O'Shea offers a unique and valuable perspective.”
 
Irish Voice, July 21, 2011
“O’Shea’s book is a fascinating fly-on-the-wall account of how powerful executives injured the newspaper industry.”

Tucson Citizen, August 2, 2011
“If you watched in dismay at the recent gutting of the Arizona Daily Star, this new book should be at the top of your summer reading list…How Wall Street bankers plundered great American newspapers to line their pockets is a story that will make most readers burn with rage. Based on exclusive interviews and testimony from bankruptcy proceedings, this narrative is filled with examples of backstabbing, double dealing, and outright insidious behavior or how big business is often conducted in modern America.” 

Windy City Times October 5, 2011
 “There are plenty of villains to go around in this book, a must-read for journalists and j-students who are going into debt to get a degree for an industry imploding from the weight of some really stupid mistakes.”
 

Brooklyn Ink
“What The Deal From Hell provides is the first real account of the crisis and a long overdue one at that. It gives a fantastically detailed history on two pillars of the American newspaper industry. On yet another level, it serves as a fascinating business lesson in how a media news giant that produced high-quality journalism could still fail so shockingly. It is a book well worth the reader’s time so long as it’s digested with a dash of salt.”
 

CHOICE
“The well-written narrative weaves a tale of executive and corporate greed, misjudgment, negligence, and employee and civic disregard. The book is an excellent companion to more academic analyses of recent corporate upheavals in news media… Highly recommended.”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586487911
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 6/28/2011
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 974,771
  • Product dimensions: 9.34 (w) x 6.34 (h) x 1.38 (d)

Meet the Author

James O'Shea, once managing editor of The Chicago Tribune was most recently editor of The Los Angeles Times. He is now CEO and editor-in-chief of the Chicago News Cooperative. The author of two acclaimed books, O'Shea was a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Harvard in 2009.

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Read an Excerpt

The Deal from Hell

How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers
By James O'Shea

PublicAffairs

Copyright © 2011 James O'Shea
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781586487911

No one has ever told the story of the biggest merger in the history of American journalism and its long-lasting implications. Embedded in the failure of the marriage of the Tribune Company with the Times Mirror Company is a far broader story of monumental egos, fallible souls, larger-than-life characters, and cultural clashes about the collapse of newspapers—the institutions that write the first, crucial draft of history and the only industry America’s forefathers considered important enough to single out in the U.S. Constitution.

The conventional wisdom is that newspapers—and by that I mean the credible, edited information they deliver, and not just the paper and ink—fell into a death spiral because of forces unleashed by declining circulations and the migration of readers to the Internet. But the Internet and declining circulations didn’t kill newspapers, any more than long stories or skimpy attention spans did. What is killing a system that brings reliably edited news and information to readers’ doorsteps every morning for less than the cost of a cup of coffee is the way that the people who run the industry have reacted to those forces. The lack of investment, the greed, incompetence, corruption, hypocrisy, and downright arrogance of people who put their interests ahead of the public’s are responsible for the state of the newspaper industry today. I saw it, both as a longtime reporter and as an editor at the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times.



Continues...

Excerpted from The Deal from Hell by James O'Shea Copyright © 2011 by James O'Shea. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Introduction: The Merger 1

1 Beginnings: Des Moines 15

2 Across the Street 27

3 Otis Chandler's Legacy 43

4 Twilight 55

5 The New Order 69

6 The Cereal Killer 85

7 His Seat on the Dais 105

8 Inside the Merger 123

9 Making News 135

10 A Changing Landscape 149

11 Market-Driven Journalism 163

12 Buy the Numbers 181

13 Count Kern 201

14 Civil War 219

15 Up Against a Saint and a Dead Man 231

16 Before the Fall 253

17 The Penguin Parable 269

18 Closing the Deal 293

19 Zell Hell 309

Epilogue 333

Acknowledgments 351

Notes 353

Index 381

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 16, 2011

    Hard to put down.

    Newspapering is hard enough these days -- dwindling classified-ad revenue; pressure from owners, shareholders and creditors; and a readership base that's literally dying off, not to be replaced. That's what makes the story of what happened to the Chicago Tribune (and hundreds of its former reporters and editors) so tragic.

    Anyone who truly cares about the state of journalism today is likely to know about the Tribune Company's disastrous purchase of the Los Angeles Times Mirror Company several years ago, about real estate developer Sam Zell's acquisition of the whole ball of wax, about the disgraceful shenanigans of the Tribune Company's big-wigs, about the company's eventual declaration of bankruptcy. It adds up to the systematic dismantling of a once-great newspaper.

    James O'Shea is an insider, a high-level editor at both the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times - so there's no one better to give the gory details than he. And the details ARE gory. And I'm not sure I'm better for knowing the entire story. Still, The Deal from Hell was hard to put down.

    At first, I was a bit confused, however, about The Deal from Hell. Is it a story about the Tribune Company? Or is it a memoir of James O'Shea. Of course, the author's not a neutral observer (although Mr. O'Shea puts on his reporter panties and tries) and part of the reason the story is so interesting is that he isn't. So, I guess he can be forgiven for interjecting his own history and feelings.

    (Now, I'd really like a book by an LA Times insider to find out, among other things, what the newsroom there thought about Mr. O'Shea's tenure.)

    What this book makes crystal clear is the impact of the incredible loss of journalistic talent that ensues when a newspaper is forced to downsize. Hundreds of reporters are no longer able to ply their trade, at a time when we desperately need them to be the watchdogs of government and Wall Street. (Injecting one's feelings is hard to resist.)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2011

    Hate it

    This book sucks

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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