Here's the exchange.
"What readers want are puppy dogs," Fajardo said, alluding to soft feature stories. "We also need to inform the community."
"I'm sorry," Zell responded. "But you're giving me the classic, what I would call, journalistic arrogance by deciding that puppies don't count. I don't know anything about puppies. What I'm interested in is how can we generate additional interest in our products and additional revenue so we can make our product better and better and hopefully we get to the point where our revenue is so significant that we can do puppies and Iraq. Fuck you."
UW alumnus and Chicago Tribune columnist, Phil Rosenthal, pointed out how Zell's response raises questions about his ability to respect the Tribune Co.'s new value on questioning authority. If journalists are going to ask him his views on creating awareness as well as revenue. Will they always be told to fuck off?
The audience applauded Zell's response, as he was bringing up a good point. Journalists may have to cater to public whim, reporting on fluff events that the public wants, in order to bring in enough revenue to do investigative pieces, cover social/political problems.
But the point was lost when he acted like a belligerent drunk.
Perhaps a better thought that could have come out of this is that journalists must consider how they report rather than on what. Newspapers cover fluff, but is that what the public really wants?
Perhaps newspapers should consider writing with a more lively tone. Objectivity is a good thing, but perhaps it stifles analysis and can lead to the mind-numbing "he said, she said" story. I don't mean leaving some points of view out, but stories sometimes don't distinguish between which perspective holds more water given evidence.
Perhaps the solution for newspapers is interactive online media. Hyperlinks, videos, and blogs/forums allow the reader to see an event or issue first hand, and comment on it instead of just reading and believing. I know many alternative weeklies, e-magazines, small progressive newspapers, and professional blogs who've done this well...
Recently fired L.A. Times editor Jim O'Shea commented on the state of mass journalism much more eloquently as he made his way out of the door:
"The current system relies too heavily on voodoo economics and not enough on the creativity and resourcefulness of journalists," he said, Too often "we've been dismissed as budgetary adolescents who can't be trusted to conserve our resources."
However, O'Shea also wrote how Zell is a smart businessman who would likely come around to see his point of view...