Before we get to that story, I want to remind you that the LA Times ran the controversial "value-added stories" about teachers back in August, using seven years of test scores to compare teachers and declare some "effective," and some "ineffective."
The LA Times claimed the moral high ground with the stories - saying the data was available and should be used to rate teachers as either good or bad.
Since the LAUSD wasn't going to use it to do that, they would.
Never mind that the test scores that they used to rate teachers had not been designed for that task.
Never mind that the value-added analysis they used had a 20% margin of error.
Never mind all of that - the LA Times, moral arbiter for all, decided they could judge teachers "effective" or "ineffective" with their value-added analysis and then publish the names.
Pretty arrogant of them, right?
But you know, when people think they have the moral high ground, they can often be insufferable.
Now, keeping in mind all the moralizing the LA Times people did over the test scores stories, take a look at just how morally and financially bankrupt the owner of the LA Times, the Tribune Company, is:
In January 2008, soon after the venerable Tribune Company was sold for $8.2 billion, Randy Michaels, a new top executive, ran into several other senior colleagues at the InterContinental Hotel next to the Tribune Tower in Chicago.
Mr. Michaels, a former radio executive and disc jockey, had been handpicked by Sam Zell, a billionaire who was the new controlling shareholder, to run much of the media company’s vast collection of properties, including The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, WGN America and The Chicago Cubs.
After Mr. Michaels arrived, according to two people at the bar that night, he sat down and said, “watch this,” and offered the waitress $100 to show him her breasts. The group sat dumbfounded.
“Here was this guy, who was responsible for all these people, getting drunk in front of senior people and saying this to a waitress who many of us knew,” said one of the Tribune executives present, who declined to be identified because he had left the company and did not want to be quoted criticizing a former employer. “I have never seen anything like it.”
It was a preview of what would become a rugged ride under the new ownership. Mr. Zell and Mr. Michaels, who was promoted to chief executive of the Tribune Company in December 2009, arrived with much fanfare, suggesting they were going to breathe innovation and reinvention into the conservative company.
By all accounts, the reinvention did not go well. At a time when the media industry has struggled, the debt-ridden Tribune Company has done even worse. Less than a year after Mr. Zell bought the company, it tipped into bankruptcy, listing $7.6 billion in assets against a debt of $13 billion, making it the largest bankruptcy in the history of the American media industry. More than 4,200 people have lost jobs since the purchase, while resources for the Tribune newspapers and television stations have been slashed.
The new management did transform the work culture, however. 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, juke boxes and pervasive sex talk.
The company said Mr. Michaels had the support of the board.
“Randy is a tremendous motivator, very charismatic, but he is very nontraditional,” said Frank Wood, a member of the Tribune board. “He has the kind of approach that motivates many people and offends others, but we think he’s done a great job.”
The company is now frozen in what seems to be an endless effort to emerge from bankruptcy. (The case entered mediation in September after negotiations failed, and a new agreement between two primary lenders was recently announced.) But even as the company foundered, the tight circle of executives, many with longtime ties to Mr. Michaels, received tens of millions of dollars in bonuses.
Behind the collapse of the Tribune deal and the bankruptcy is a classic example of financial hubris. Mr. Zell, a hard-charging real estate mogul with virtually no experience in the newspaper business, decided that a deal financed with heavy borrowing and followed with aggressive cost-cutting could succeed where the longtime Tribune executives he derided as bureaucrats had failed.
And while many media companies tried cost-cutting and new tactics in the last few years, Tribune was particularly aggressive in planning publicity stunts and in mixing advertising with editorial material. Those efforts alienated longtime employees and audiences in the communities its newspapers served.
“They threw out what Tribune had stood for, quality journalism and a real brand integrity, and in just a year, pushed it down into mud and bankruptcy,” said Ken Doctor, a newspaper analyst with Outsell Inc., a consulting firm. “And it’s been wallowing there for the last 20 months with no end in sight.”
Now ask yourself, did the LA Times publish the stories with the value-added analysis scores (with their 20% MOE) as an exercise in "quality journalism" and "integrity" or as a "publicity stunt" that wound up alienating audiences in the communities the newspaper served?
At the end of the day, what we really have here with the LA Times, a newspaper owned by a sleazy real estate mogul and managed by sex-obsessed former radio disc jockey who created a culture of "sexual innuendo, poisonous workplace banter and profane invective" and who ran the larger company into bankruptcy in one year, is a media company claiming the moral high ground on their value-added analysis of teachers when what they really wanted to do was make a big splash and sell papers.
It is unfortunate that so many humans were hurt in the process, including one teacher declared "ineffective" by the LA Times who committed suicide last month.
But I guess when you're trying to sell papers and turn around a bankrupt business deal, what's a few lives here and there.
Hell, there will always be more teachers where that one came from.