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Lee Abrams: Tribune’s idea guy talks redesigns, the L.A. Times, Led Zeppelin and the Obama effect

AbrarmspanelRight off the bat, Tribune’s innovator-in-chief Lee Abrams wanted to get one thing straight: That 3,000-word memo he wrote about newspapers needing to be more rock ‘n’ roll? He meant that the business of gathering and disseminating news and information in the Internet age has as much raw potential as Elvis had in his pelvis in 1952. (“America needs a heartbeat, and we can deliver that on 21st Century terms,” Abrams opined in March.)

The news biz “has never been more vibrant,” Abrams said Thursday night during a Q&A at the Los Angeles Press Club. “It’s alive. It’s exciting. It’s the place to be. Let’s get on board this thing. The opportunities are stronger than ever.”

To reiterate, “It’s an exciting time to be reporting on all the shit that’s going on in the world,” Abrams observed. Abrams, senior veep and chief innovation officer for Tribune Co., was 50% of a panel on the future of news that also included former Los Angeles Daily News editor Ron Kaye, who has found his blogging calling at RonKayeLa.com since getting fired from the Daily Snooze in April. (Pictured from left, Abrams, Kaye and moderator Ezra Palmer)

Appointed to Sam Zell’s extreme Tribune makeover team in April, Abrams is seen as the guy behind all of the redesigns and “rethinking” going on at the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and other Tribune-owned newspapers. He has a long resume in radio and marketing, but none in newspapering, which made journos in and outside of Tribune highly skeptical of his ideas for “reinventing” newspapers.

Abrams stressed on Thursday that he’s an idea and inspiration guy, but final decisions on redesigns on content are left to the local management of each paper. (“Until they’re not” — You just could see the thought balloon hovering over the heads of the crowd, which numbered about 50.)

All in all, Abrams came off as affable, smart and well-meaning, though I couldn’t get the image of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers out of my head as I tried to think of the character actor that he resembles.

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