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Tribune's 'Bankrupt Culture,' Libya's .ly Control and Facebook Groups That Will Have You as a Member

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Sam Zell
Sam Zell
More than a little talk in media circles this week was focused on how David Carr has the time to do all that he does: write a book about his drug years, push out a sharp weekly column that features actual reporting, manage his hyperactive Twitter account, take the train in from Jersey, root for the Twins and Vikings and, perhaps most impressively, still pull off front-page investigative business journalism, like his gutting of the Tribune Co. this week. We all know that Sam Zell's bankrupt company, which owns the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Cubs and other stuff, is, um, struggling three ways from Sunday. What you probably didn't know is that the company's a real sausage factory -- and I'm not talking about the Abe Froman kind.

Based on interviews with more than 20 employees and former employees of Tribune, Mr. Michaels's and his executives' use of sexual innuendo, poisonous workplace banter and profane invective shocked and offended people throughout the company. Tribune Tower, the architectural symbol of the staid company, came to resemble a frat house, complete with poker parties, jukeboxes and pervasive sex talk.

Here are some highlights from his look into how the tube steak is made:

  • A rewritten employee handbook tolerant of off-color behavior. "That is because a loose, fun, nonlinear atmosphere is important to the creative process. ... This should be understood, should not be a surprise and not considered harassment."
  • The announcement of the hire of a new sales executive featured a little prank: "The news release said she was 'a former waitress at Knockers -- the Place for Hot Racks and Cold Brews,' a jocular reference to a fictitious restaurant chain."
  • Sage editorial advice from Mr. Zell to former Trib editor Ann Marie Lipinski, who disputed his claims that the paper wasn't being tough enough on Rod Blagojevich, then still Illinois governor. '"Don't be a pussy," [Mr. Zell] told her. "You can always be harder on him."'

For many of us -- ok, me -- the Libyans were last seen trying to steal back Doc Brown's plutonium in the parking lot of the Twin Pines Mall. Well, now, they're trying to take away something possibly even more precious: saucy link trimmers that end with .ly, the country's top-level domain. Violet Blue, described on her site as a "leading sexologist," has been running as "the internet's first and only sex-positive URL shortener" for 13 months. Apparently, the words "sex-positive" and an image of Ms. Blue in a sleeveless shirt drinking a beer ran afoul of the Muslim nation's laws, so the plug was pulled. Ms. Blue was calm about it in a post on her NSFW-ish site:

It's their country and they can do what they want. As we see, they don't even have to be fair about it. Their ball, they take it and go home. Say what you will about me: I wasn't trying to "put one over" on anyone (and if I did, it sure lasted a long time and made a lot of people happy), but what happened here can happen to anyone running a business off of an .ly domain. Will be combed for offensive language, unlawful images and condoning or encouraging "illegal practices" by not enforcing Libyan laws on user generated content? Will be taken out for illegal activities for allowing -- or just giving the side-eye -- to porn URLs to be shortened? My question is, what is the takeaway here?

My takeaway is the understanding that, if it wanted to, Libya, which was on the business end of U.S. bombs in 1980s, could throw a wrench in "link economy" for, like, a few hours.

The unveiling of Facebook Groups was not a happy time for web entrepreneurs Jason Calacanis and Michael Arrington, who were promptly enrolled in a group for the North American Man-Boy Love Association. Mr. Calacanis reacted quickly, hitting Mark Zuckerberg et al with this email (in which he gets the association's acronym wrong a few times):

Team Facebook,

Seems as if anyone can add anyone to a Facebook group.

There is no "opt in."

In this case someone added Mike Arrington and I to the NAMBLA group on Facebook. I know I'm not a member of NAMBLA, and I'm going to guess that Mike isn't either.

I've now been assigned to a group that advocates ... well ... ummm ... you can look it up -- it's very bad.

Also troubling:

1. I was never asked to join the NABLA group
2. I was never informed that I was "force-joined" to the NABLA group.

If you guys want to run these new features by me before you launch them, I can probably save you from a couple of privacy lawsuits each year.

Best regards,


It actually appears that you can only pull your friends into a Facebook Group against their will, not "anyone," but you can still understand the objection.

Finally, we end with Randall Stross' exploration of Steve Jobs' "wilderness experience" in The New York Times. I'm not really sure when the definition of wilderness grew to include building a computer company with an oddly capitalized name, but Mr. Jobs' time at Next -- referred to as NeXT by the company itself -- in the 1990s after he was booted from his operational role at Apple offered him the chance to rethink what computing could be -- and become the innovator and the solipsist we know and love today. Mr. Stross writes:

In this period, Mr. Jobs did not do much delegating. Almost every aspect of the machine -- including the finish on interior screws -- was his domain. The interior furnishings of Next's offices, a stunning design showplace, were Mr. Jobs' concern, too. While the company's strategy begged to be reexamined, Mr. Jobs attended to other matters. I spoke with many current and former Next employees for my 1993 book, "Steve Jobs and the NeXT Big Thing." According to one of them, while a delegation of visiting Businessland executives waited on the sidewalk, Mr. Jobs spent 20 minutes directing the landscaping crew on the exact placement of the sprinkler heads.

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