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The Business Press Maven bristles every time he hears glib New Age self-help jargon and has to stop himself from delivering a mortal blow to the speaker. And when a company is reduced to such inanities? Well, that really shoots me in the soul.
More important: You, the investor, should see such words as a sure sign that the company has become a financial bottom-feeder. Further, when the New Age jargon comes from a company well-versed in the use of words, you have to ask whether the company even realizes that the situation is too dire to be fixed with meditation crystals and aromatherapy.
Investing in the company? Une grave error.
Which brings us to
( TRB), a newspaper company that put itself up for open bidding some time back and essentially saw the high bid come in as a few trinkets and a song, and even that probably could've been downloaded for free.
When that didn't work out, Tribune started trumpeting what it actually called a "self-help plan." Readers, we see a lot of daffy language thrown around in attempts to placate investors, to delay days of reckoning, but seeing a company that makes its (ever more meager) living on its vocabulary choices trumpeting a self-help plan might have been a new low.
As if. As if helping itself -- and, by extension, its long-suffering shareholders -- should not already have been management's most basic aim.
And as if "self-help" wasn't empty rhetoric signifying -- well, nothing. The plan's centerpiece was a dividend increase, one the company couldn't afford.
The problem with empty rhetoric is that too many people, from investors to company officials, believe it. And that warps valuations and strategies.
(The Business Press Maven is much more comforted with the emerging line of directly framed honesty, such as
"bust" than in touchy-feely lingo that is as deceiving as it is self-deceptive.)
Sure enough, when the white knight that was supposed to save Tribune turned out to be a dead El Cid propped up on his horse, Tribune floated that dividend increase. For a normally troubled company, raising a dividend is a strange way to ingratiate itself with investors. It's a little like a kid paying the crowd at the playground to be his friends. It might have short-term impact, but it won't be lasting and it sure won't solve any problems.
As The Business Press Maven has noted before, I believe newspapers are important to society. I also get paid by them -- in addition to getting checks from Web sites like this one and book publishers -- but the current era, as bad as it looks, will soon be the good old days.
Newspapers' advertising numbers are plummeting. Can you imagine what they'll look like in a
economy? And online, where newspaper companies don't have an effective monopoly on distribution, results in many cases are already showing a sequential slowing. It's way too early in the growth cycle for this if there's to be any hope of newspapers shifting distribution to the Web from paper.
In the face of all this, the business media were too positive when Tribune floated its self-help plan. Even
The Wall Street Journal
headed a Feb. 17 article that professed some skepticism "
Tribune Moves Closer To a Corporate Rewrite
Speaking of rewrite, check out this
Wall Street Journal
headline on the situation that appeared this morning: "
Tribune Rethinks Part of 'Self-Help' Plan
Not surprisingly, Tribune may be backpedaling on that dividend increase.
notes in a bit of understatement in its lead that Tribune, "responding to further signs of weakening in its internal business outlook ... is re-evaluating the economics of the 'self-help' plan it is expected to embrace."
Funny; if Tribune would just come out with a "sucks" or "bust," I still wouldn't invest, but at least I'd have a higher degree of trust. It would mean that everyone, from management to investors to the business media, knew the actual score.
While we're on the sore subject of contrasting headlines, check out this pair from late Thursday:
The first, from the
Greenspan: Subprime spillover unlikely
The second, from
Greenspan warns subprime woes could spread
Greenspan, like some aging star of stage and screen, can't seem to give up the spotlight. Worse, put a klieg light on the business media and you'll see how hard it is for them to get anything right.
At this point, though, I need a cure for both Greenspan and business media. I might opt for some meditation crystals and aromatherapy. New Age stuff may be bunk, but what else can I do?
At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.
A journalist with a background on Wall Street, Marek Fuchs has written the County Lines column for The New York Times for the past five years. He also contributes regular breaking news and feature stories to many of the paper's other sections, including Metro, National and Sports. Fuchs was the editor-in-chief of Fertilemind.net, a financial Web site twice named "Best of the Web" by Forbes Magazine. He was also a stockbroker with Shearson Lehman Brothers in Manhattan and a money manager. He is currently writing a chapter for a book coming out in early 2007 on a really embarrassing subject. He lives in a loud house with three children. Fuchs appreciates your feedback;
to send him an email.