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Tribune Co. Pays $138M for Fiscal Guidance

During a long career as an underpaid, grouchy, skeptical newspaper journalist, I always took heart that there were lawyers around to make me and my comrades look good.

Mind you, that took some real doing because newspaper people were never the most popular people on the block.

Print folks had hard-earned reputations for being feisty and pushy, driving eyesores for cars, and wearing godawful ties stained with mustard, a yellow badge from the free food inhaled at garden-variety press gatherings.

The guys were even worse ...

But between bites, we relentlessly questioned everyone we bumped into at these confabs because we were armed with a pen, a notebook and the public's right to know.

The toughest questions were always reserved for the politicians, who were supposed to be representing, and carrying on, the public business of the very people that read our newspapers.

Not surprisingly, often these politicians were schooled in law, which meant most of us never got a straight answer to our questions. We did know BS when we heard it, though, so we always fired off tough follow-up questions, because you can never be served enough BS, or free food.

Print people also had no idea how to manage money because we never had much of it. But that was OK, because as long as they spelled our names correctly on our paltry checks, we were satisfied the business side of our operation had things in good order, and we'd be able to go on eating free food and writing plenty of stories with BS quotes.

That was until we discovered they didn't, and why one-by-one, newspapers started tumbling into the Sea of Red Ink.

It was also about this time that bankruptcy lawyers, who can smell red ink like sharks smell blood, came rolling in to help these newspapers through their desperate times of need.

Finally, that is also why I have been typing this as if these were days gone by, because as far as newspapers are concerned, they pretty much are.

Today, while plowing through Jim Romenesko's media postings on PoynterOnline, I was teased into reading a story with this headline: "Lawyers have billed Tribune Co. $138M since it filed for bankruptcy 15 months ago."

Essentially, the way I read this story by The Chicago Tribune's Michael Oneal, because of more complicated government regulation on bankruptcy filings written into law and vetted by, er, lawyers ... it has gotten extremely expensive to be a poor, failing media empire these days.

The Tribune Co., which owns a mess of newspapers, including The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times, filed for bankruptcy in December 2008. The Tribune Co. presumably filed for bankruptcy because it was losing money by the bucketful and was on the brink of going completely under.

So the Tribune Co. brought in a bunch of lawyers to help them emerge responsibly from this time of need -- and out went another $138 million "or about one-quarter of the company's cash flow last year," according to the story.

While the Tribune Co. continues to emerge and the money continues to go out, newspaper employees by the hundreds have been shown the door, and these papers have continued to shrink into nothing resembling their former robust selves.

James Conlan, a lawyer for one of the firms helping the Tribune Co. come through its hour of darkness, explained in the story that because bankruptcy has evolved into such tricky stuff, "it would be difficult to argue that Chapter 11 isn't the best way to preserve value."

I'd say. Conlan and his firm are billing the Tribune Co. at the red-hot rate of $950 an hour to help them "preserve their value."

Now I have already made it at least vaguely clear that I am a stranger to the ways of major corporations and accumulating personal wealth, but I am pretty sure something just doesn't add up here.

And I'm not letting the newspapers off the hook here either. I have grudgingly come to understand that they have pretty much made the beds they are now dying in.

That greedy lawyers are now feasting on their carcasses, and getting paid tens of millions of dollars to do so, is damn hard for me to abide, though.

I can only hope their ties are stained with blood.

(Got a tip, a gripe, or some kudos? Send 'em along.)