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Tribune hires innovator Lee Abrams

Exec assumes post on April 1

Radio biz veteran Lee Abrams has been named chief innovation officer at Tribune Co.

Abrams, who has been senior veep and chief creative officer for XM Satellite Radio since 1998, will be tasked with developing ideas and approaches to editorial and business aspects of Tribune’s core newspaper and TV ops.

Abrams assumes his gig April 1, reporting to Randy Michaels, Tribune’s CEO of broadcasting and interactive.

“Lee’s going to pump new life into our content, re-energize our brands and get people thinking and working together like they never have before,” Michaels said.

Prior to XM, Abrams was a co-founder of Burkhart/Abrams, an influential radio consulting shingle based in Atlanta that helped spur the growth of FM radio in the early 1970s. Abrams has also served as a consultant to MTV, Coca-Cola, TNT and Rolling Stone magazine, among others.

Abrams comes to Tribune at a time when the company is undergoing a major management transformation under new chairman Sam Zell, and when revenue, particularly at Tribune’s major newspapers, is in a sharp slump. Zell has been candid in discussing the cash-flow crunch with Tribune employees, saying the weaker-than-expected financials have stalled some of his plans for the formerly publicly held company he took over in late December as part of a complex, private employee-ownership buyout.

Abrams said he was confident Tribune’s newspapers and TV stations can be reinvigorated by the new team.

“I think these businesses need imagination and a new way of approaching the business,” Abrams said. “Newspapers and TV stations can thrive and grow. I’m going to be helping them to change the culture, to think positively and innovatively.

Although Abrams’ primary experience is in broadcasting, his initial focus is likely to be on Tribune’s newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Newsday.

“I would imagine that the newspaper (situation) is a little more pressing,” Abrams said. “Also, there’s a lot more opportunity there to redesign the future.”

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