Making Foreign News FUN

Problem: People don't read foreign news. But they LOVE watching "The Amazing Race." Why? Because the show makes foreign countries seem exotic and COOL.

Like, in episode 3 last season, I was BLOWN away when Lorena & Jason milked a CAMEL in Burkina Faso. I had no idea camels contained milk ... I thought their humps stored WATER. Also, I'd never HEARD of Burkina Faso. Why aren't we writing about this stuff??

We need to rebrand foreign news. Make it FUN. Have our reporters RIDE high-wire bicycles across a windy ravine in Burma, or trim the hooves of WILD horses in Ecuador.

Let's shut down our OBSCURE bureaus (Bogota, Jakarta, Nairobi ... Does anyone really CARE?) and embed a reporter in "The Amazing Race." That way we can write about "real" foreign news as part of a blog about THE SHOW. Give readers what they "need" by giving them what they WANT, like how you sneak medicine to a dog by hiding his pills inside a chunk of hamburger.

Product placement ads in newspapers? ABSOLUT-ly

Newspaper advertising has fallen and it can't get UP. Do we try to stop the bleeding with OLD business models ... or do we pull out ALL the creative stops?

Answer: Every Tribune paper needs TO reinvent itself in sync with the vibe of its hometown. In L.A., that means adding a little Hollywood magic.
Or a LOT. Like 3-D glasses that transform boring front pages into eye-POPPING pyrotechnics. And marketing tie-ins with Burger King and McDONALDS ... What if every Happy Meal comes with a Bill Plaschke REPORTER ACTION FIGURE? Kids will LOVE it!

E.T. We also BLOW UP the RULEBOOK on ads. Switch to Hollywood-style product placement ... like E.T.'s Reese's Pieces ... and win back advertisers by EMBEDDING brand-name products in NEWS articles. OK, maybe we can't say President Bush flew to the G-8 summit on Southwest Airlines instead of Air Force One. But what difference does it make if the wristwatch that SPARKLED in the sunlight in our profile of George CLOONEY was a Bulova or Timex?

Also, as we phase in more maps and charts, we use pie CHARTS made with real PIES ... Marie Callender, Sara Lee. Goldmine! On the web, product placement gets even better. Unleash the creativity and IMAGINE how just a simple WORD change here and there can help us close our revenue GAP and BOUNCE back to healthy ad revenue. Let's DO IT.

Extreme Makeover: Media Edition

National Lampoon dog coverDramatically rethinking subscriber acquisition...

In 1973, the NATIONAL Lampoon came up with a COOL way to drive newsstand sales. They PUT a mixed-race dog on the cover, stuck a gun to its head and WROTE: "If you don't buy this magazine, we'll kill this dog!"

Funny stuff. AND it created lots OF ... BUZZ.

I think we can take a similar APPROACH. Obviously we can't use a dog, because that's already BEEN done. But what about ... plastering the CITY WITH billboards and bus ads that say, "If you don't subscribe to the L.A. Times ... we'll kill Reggie the Alligator"... or ... "we'll arrange for Mayor Villaraigosa to impregnate your 16-year-old daughter." Or ... "We'll throw T.J. Simers in front of this Metrolink locomotive." Wait, that last idea might backfire, but YOU get the IDEA.

Pulitzers, Schmulitzers

Is it bad that The Times didn't win a Pulitzer this year? NO. Our JOB is to impress readers, not some out-of-touch panel of journalists. And we're SUCCEEDING. TONS of examples. Like our recent story speculating on media speculation about Lindsay Lohan's speculatively lesbian relationship with Samantha Ronson. We also launched (and our website links to stories on) Metromix, which produces smart, thoughtful articles on TOPICS like mating rituals and cell-phone photography. I could go on. My point is ... Even without Pulitizers, the L.A. Times continues to support the kind of JOURNALISM that would make OTIS Chandler proud.

Our Blogger
fake Lee Abrams
Lee Abrams is chief innovation officer for the Tribune Co. Before joining Zell's Angels, he worked for XM satellite radio, where his brain was launched into an orbit from which it has never quite returned. His hobbies include rock music, piloting small aircraft and randomly sprinkling his corporate memos WITH capitalized words.

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