Chicago's media junkies got a heavy dose on Wednesday.
That morning, The New York Times published a 4,000-word article about the culture at Tribune Co. since real estate mogul Sam Zell took over. The article described a frat house atmosphere that has driven many top editors away from the Chicago Tribune and helped contribute to a protracted bankruptcy for the company.
Media watchers in Chicago, especially readers of longtime Windy City media columnist Robert Feder, mostly shrugged off the story, although it still set blogs and Twitter feeds ablaze.
What did Chicago's PR community think of the article?
Through e-mail and Twitter, I contacted six Chicago-based PR professionals directly. I also sent a tweet to some 2,500 Twitter followers asking for comment, which was retweeted three times. Three people responded to my query. The rest ignored me--even people I know well.
Of the three who wrote back, one declined to comment in the interest of clients. Another said she has not been that close to the issue. A third PR professional, Barbara Rozgonyi, CEO of CoryWest Media and founder of the Social Media Club of Chicago, responded with a lengthy answer to my questions.
"This is not the Tribune I know personally," she said about the Times' depiction of the Tribune.
Rozgonyi's relationship with the Tribune goes back 15 years, when the Chicago Tribune bought an article she wrote for its gardening section. Since then, Rozgonyi has worked with clients, who, as she put it, "value coverage in the Tribune."
She thinks Tribune Media Group needs to respond.
"Who is the conscience of the paper?" She said in an e-mail. "The editorial page? Do they defend the management, apologize to the offended, give away bonuses to charity, arm their ad sales force with a defensive response, start a campaign? With many options, every action must convey integrity, ethics, and professionalism."
On Tuesday evening, Tribune CEO Randy Michaels sent a memo to employees informing them of the article and dismissing many of the Times' claims as two-year-old distortions and rumors.
"As you know, it is our intention to create a fun, non-linear creative environment," Michaels said in the memo (as reported by Crain's Chicago Business). "I am tremendously proud of the results of that creative culture."
Since Rozgonyi was the only one willing to respond, I wondered why it was all quiet on the PR front. In my experience, PR people like to respond to requests for comments. They ask me to quote them in this blog or on PR Daily.
I asked Mike Long, a professor of public relations at American University, to weigh in.
"PR people might be wisely avoiding an opportunity to offend someone who controls outlets they need," he said in an e-mail. "It's not just Chicago Tribune access at stake here. The company owns WGN, the Hartford Courant, The L.A. Times, and more.
"It's kind of ironic," he continued. "The new face of the Tribune Company is edgy, and it sure would be edgy to talk in public about this Sam Zell story. But few in our business think edgy is the same thing as wise."
What it also points to is the continued power of so-called traditional media. Many PR professionals, marketers, and new-media journalists believe blogs, tweets, Facebook updates, and Web videos are eclipsing newspapers, radio, and TV.
A recent study by StevensGouldPincus, a consulting firm specializing in mergers and acquisitions, predicted that within two years social media will replace traditional media as the PR industry's primary tool for reaching audiences.
And yet, the Tribune Co., a bastion of traditional media, wields so much influence it's making PR professionals clam up.
Looks like traditional media still has some bite.