Robert Feder blasts back at Randy Michaels


After we got comment from Tribune CEO Randy Michaels regarding an issue Robert Feder from Chicago Public Radio’s brought up, Feder has fired back. It started on 3/10 when Feder reported Michaels had issued a list of 119 words and phrases that must never be uttered by anchors or reporters on WGN-AM (720), the news/talk radio station located five floors below his office in Tribune Tower. Now Feder has fired back on Randy’s comments in our article:

“Trib CEO shoots the messenger — but misses the point

After what I wrote about Randy Michaels earlier this week, it’s no wonder the Tribune Co. CEO doesn’t care much for me. But who knew of his low regard for the whole business of bloggers?

The piece here about his edict banning 119 words and phrases from newscasts on news/talk WGN-AM (720) drew more than 100,000 hits and more than 325 comments to this site in just two days. It also got picked up by countless other bloggers (including the Chicago Tribune’s own Eric Zorn and Phil Rosenthal) and by most broadcast industry trade publications. One of them, Radio Business Report, reached out to Michaels for comment. Here’s what Michaels said:

“I feel sorry for Bob. If he thinks it’s wrong for the CEO of a content company to focus on content, that could help explain why he is no longer paid to be in media.”

Setting aside the false familiarity (no one who knows me calls me “Bob”), Michaels’ response is irksome for two reasons: First, it falsely assumes that I think a CEO shouldn’t “focus on content.” No, I just believe the arrogant and heavy-handed way he went about it was wrong. And second, to say that I am “no longer paid to be in media” is completely and utterly false.

I’m not about to get into details of my contract with Chicago Public Radio (the parent of, but I can assure you that I’m not writing this blog as a lark. In fact, before I accepted this position last fall (after I’d taken a buyout from the Chicago Sun-Times), I turned down a very generous offer from Tribune Co. to write for its Chicago Now blog site. Perhaps Michaels wasn’t aware of that.

More troubling, though, is the inference that Michaels believes all bloggers are unpaid hobbyists who aren’t really “in media,” as he defines it. In case he doesn’t know it, online professional journalism happens to be the future of media.

It’s obvious that Michaels, old radio showman that he is, prefers tinkering with his radio toys and micromanaging his employees rather than taking on the difficult task of leading his company out of bankruptcy and into 21st century relevance. But can he really be so out of touch with the business he’s supposed to be saving?”

Meanwhile, Michaels responded to Chicago Tribune’s Eric Zorn, who requested comment on the now-nationwide “kerfuffle.”: “‘The List’ was part of a collection of notes distributed by me to the attendees of the recent Broadcast News Directors meetings. There is neither a corporate “banned” list nor are there “forbidden” words. The list was a collection of “News English” words and phrases we’d be better off without. I was simply reminding News Directors that jargon, clichés, and misused words are not found in good writing. I was hoping that News Directors would add to the list of crutches. Thanks to all of the publicity, many great contributions have been received, but from outside the company.

The “kerfuffle” is a bit bewildering. Most news organizations have a style book, and the suggestions on that list are pretty basic.

It is surprising that some believe that the CEO of a content company should not be concerned about content.

As for where the list came from, it clearly came from WGN radio since it had Charlie’s perhaps unfortunate introduction. It was compiled by a few people after the News Directors meeting. The same list went to all of the TV news directors without public reaction. Someone who works at WGN must think sending internal memos to an out of work blogger who doesn’t like us is OK. That part is the most disappointing.”

RBR-TVBR observation: We asked Randy for another response to Feder’s pen and we got a good one, but understandably he’d rather not comment anymore on the record in this matter (as the above comments do a pretty good job with Zorn). If Randy changes his mind, however, we will update this story.