Once upon a time, Lee Abrams could program some mean radio.
Unfortunately, radio is finished. And so, it would seem, is Lee Abrams.
Lee's undoing was in trying to operate at a great big media company just like he would at Z-Rock. In 1976. Which is ironic, because Abrams' whole spiel at Tribune Co., and at XM satellite radio before that, was how everything had changed, it's a revolution out there, and you could either change or suffer the consequences.
Then Abrams, Trib's "chief innovation officer," goes and sends a Z-Rock memo -- circa Cheech and Chong and including links to some Not Safe for Work videos from The Onion -- to the whole company. Including the Chicago Tribune. With predictable results, as reported by the Tribune itself:
Lee Abrams, Tribune Co.’s chief innovation officer, has been placed on indefinite suspension without pay pending review of a company-wide memo he sent to staff Monday that spurred a rash of employee complaints.YOU WANT to know why some videos are called "Not Safe for Work"? It's because they're NOT SAFE FOR WORK. Included under NSFW are videos, no matter how pointedly satirical, that include a woman pouring booze over her bare breasts and an "anchor" saying “stay safe out there, and don’t f*** any of those sluts.”
Abrams apologized Tuesday “to everyone who was offended” by the e-mail that included a link to a video labeled “Sluts” that included female nudity. The incident followed by less than a week a New York Times front-page story that characterized Tribune Co. management as fostering a sexist “frat house” atmosphere.
“Lee recognizes that the video was in extremely bad taste and that it offended employees,” Tribune Chief Executive Randy Michaels said in the memo announcing the suspension. “But, this is the kind of serious mistake that can’t be tolerated; we intend to address it promptly and forcefully.”
Abrams may still face additional disciplinary action, Michaels said.
“As I said last week, a creative culture must be built on a foundation of respect,” Michaels said, referring to an Oct. 5 note sent to employees ahead of the New York Times piece. “Our culture is not about being offensive or hurtful. We encourage employees to speak up when they see or hear something that they find offensive, as a number of employees did with regard to this particular e-mail. I can assure you, you will be heard.
Longtime Chicago media writer Robert Feder has to be soooooooo enjoying this:
Tuesday’s antics were sparked by a typically idiotic company-wide memo written the day before by Lee Abrams, chief innovation officer of Tribune Co. (and longtime crony of CEO Randy “Show Me Your Breasts” Michaels). Although it contained links to some videos that any normal person would consider outrageously inappropriate for the workplace — including one in which women identified as “sluts” were seen simulating lewd acts — Abrams’ memo was not much different than dozens of others he’d written since 2008.JUST A BIT AGO, I said Lee Abrams' undoing was trying to roll like he was at Z-Rock three-and-a-half decades ago. Actually, that was just one part of his undoing, and perhaps not the most significant.
But before the day was over, Abrams was forced to apologize publicly for what he called “poor judgment,” and ordered his offensive email deleted from company servers. What made this particular “think piece” from Abrams such a cause célèbre? Three things:
* Chicago Tribune editor Gerry Kern chose to make an issue of it, lodging complaints to the company’s human resources department and to Abrams directly, and then publicly declaring: “I thought it was offensive and I thought it was completely inappropriate to be sent out in a workplace setting to everyone in this company.”
* Tribune media columnist Phil Rosenthal broke the story of the controversial memo and of Kern’s reaction to it, further distancing the newspaper’s editorial department from the corporate suites of Tribune Tower. Embarrassing as it was, it also inoculated the paper from even greater embarrassment if the memo had been leaked elsewhere.
* Most significantly, it came just six days after a scathing, front-page story in The New York Times exposed the “bankrupt culture” of Tribune Co. under the ownership of Sam Zell and the leadership of Michaels and his cadre of radio rowdies, including Abrams. Reporter David Carr revealed in vivid detail what company employees (and, to a great extent, readers of this blog) had known for quite awhile — that the Tower had become a playground for management’s adolescent fantasies and a cesspool of “sexual innuendo, poisonous workplace banter and profane invective.”
A key part of his undoing was not believing in editing. Of any sort.
He spent his Tribune tenure spitballing ideas. Normally, this is good. But when every wet wad of random thought you're trying to stick to the wall begins its life cycle as a stream-of-consciousness, typo-riddled E-mail you send to the whole bloody company, you're going to get a reputation for being flaky.
People are going to stop taking you seriously. Not that Trib people ever took Abrams seriously in the first place, being that he came to a company built largely upon journalism from a gig as "chief creative officer" for a satellite-radio company. And before that, from creating radio formats like . . . Z-Rock, or whatever.
Traditional media is in a pickle these days. Incumbent upon any "chief innovation officer" trying to earn enough trust to actually begin innovating is, above all, not sounding like you took the pickle jar and turned it into a bong.
Or, as the Tribune-owned Baltimore Sun's tech reporter and blogger tweeted just after the news of Abrams' suspension broke:
Goodness.. spontaneous applause just broke out in the Sun newsroom on the news that Tribune's chief innovation officer was suspended.OR . . . as one Tribune refugee, the Pulitzer Prize-winning ex-Los Angeles Times columnist Dan Neil told Forbes today:
“No one could ever figure out what those Monday morning missives meant,” Neil told me today, referring to the “Think Pieces” Abrams regularly issued, the final one of which proved his undoing. “And all I can say is that at least one of them finally had a positive effect.”
“Abrams was supposed to be some sort of morale officer raising the spirits of the troops and rallying them to the cause, but the effects of his Monday morning missives was precisely the opposite,” he continued. “There was nothing more demoralizing than getting one of these badly written, garbled stoner notes and knowing that this guy was at the top of the organization you worked for.”
EXACTLY. Abrams was a dead man "innovating" long before he sent that highly ill-timed paean to inappropriateness and Randy Michaels threw him under the bus . . . which is kind of like Adolf Hitler indefinitely suspending Joseph Goebbels for being a Nazi.
This, of course, brings us to the A-No. 1 Bigtime Reason for the Undoing of Lee Abrams (and, by the way, this is NSFW):
LEE F***ED UP. He trusted Randy Michaels.
As a result, he became the noise everyone ignored.