Tribune Co. exec who sent risque e-mail resigns

Tribune Co. Chief Innovation Officer Lee Abrams, who earlier this week sent a companywide e-mail that contained content deemed inappropriate for the workplace, resigned Friday.

The e-mail, the latest in a series of free-form jottings Abrams sent weekly to company employees in an effort to inspire a rethinking of print and broadcast conventions, included links to satirical video parodies of newscasts. One, which included profanity and nudity, he labeled “Sluts.”

Tribune Chief Executive Randy Michaels, whose leadership of the company had been characterized as fostering a sexist “frat house” atmosphere by the New York Times just one week earlier, had placed Abrams on indefinite unpaid suspension on Wednesday, pending review.


Abrams earlier issued an apology “to everyone who was offended” after some Tribune employees, including Chicago Tribune Editor Gerould Kern, registered objections with the company’s human resources department. Tribune owns the Los Angeles Times, KTLA-TV Channel 5, the Chicago Tribune and other media properties.

Michaels said in announcing the suspension that the satire was “in extremely bad taste” and that sending it to every single Tribune employee was “the kind of serious mistake that can’t be tolerated.” He promised “to address it promptly and forcefully.”

Abrams reported directly to Michaels, a former radio executive with Jacor and Clear Channel who brought Abrams to Tribune in March 2008 after a decade as chief creative officer at what was then XM Satellite Radio. Abrams, for years among the radio industry’s most influential consultants, is considered one of the founding fathers of radio research.

Championing change at Tribune newspapers and broadcast outlets, Abrams repeatedly accused TV news of clinging to a late-20th century look, sound and feel. He wondered aloud whether readers knew that a newspaper dateline meant the reporter was actually writing from the location where the story occurred.

Abrams also advocated new and different styles of storytelling and conveying information. In Houston, where the Tribune TV station has virtually no viewers to lose, he was developing an anchorless newscast.

It’s not known what will happen to Abrams’ Tribune projects and initiatives with his departure.

Sources close to Tribune’s Chapter 11 case said they expected the issues raised by Abrams’ memo and the New York Times story to cast a shadow on the bankruptcy proceedings.

Next Friday, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Carey is scheduled to consider a motion filed by a large junior bondholder creditor asking him to appoint a bankruptcy trustee to take over the case from Tribune.

The Chicago-based media company filed for Chapter 11 protection in December 2008, a year after real estate billionaire Sam Zell took the company private in a debt-heavy deal and installed the management team led by Michaels.