Lee Abrams is a curious person

I take no credit at all for finding out about this in a timely fashion — if anything the meme’s a couple of weeks old now — but now that I have learned, I must share. Here’s the deal.

Lee Abrams is…a character. I don’t mean this in an entirely positive sense, shall we say. I’d been vaguely aware of the name due to his role at XM for many years but I learned earlier tonight that more than any other person he basically transmogrified rock radio as an admittedly imperfect ideal (freeform, deep album cuts, not much in the way of genre definitions) to the kind of tightly formatted and deadening sludge that basically made a lot of my generation hate anything tagged with the term ‘classic rock’ (well, hate is a strong word — but basically, a lingering distrust of a deadened and dull mindset endlessly repeated). Dave Marsh had some things to say about him back in 1980, and whatever the many differences Marsh and I have in musical taste, he sure seems spot on here.

So anyway, he’s been recruited by the Chicago-based Tribune Company, one of the bigger media conglomerates out there (newspapers, TV stations, etc.), as part of the eternal effort to turn sagging fortunes around — ain’t that the way. Well and good, I suppose. However, the initial humor had to come from the fact that he was named their ‘chief innovation officer’ — one of those phrases where you know that the equivalent of ‘minister without portfolio’ was thought about first. Definitely read that press release, it’s classic boilerplate — ‘remarkable opportunity for Tribune,’ ‘pump new life into our content,’ etc. Switch around some names and specifics and this has been released by everybody over the years about every new high level recruit, so no matter.

But then Abrams sent around his note of introduction to everyone, describing himself as the ‘innovation chief.’

If you can make it through a read of all that without breaking down in hopeless laughter even once, I salute you — you’re either more cynical than I’ll ever be or you have remarkable self control. If you’ll allow me to quote one part in particular:

Average sucks. Best to be brilliantly good, or SO bad, it’s engaging. It’s
that evil zone of average that American Media is stuck in. WE MUST not accept average. Fight it! It’s gotten to be accepted that average is fine. No it’s not…it sucks!

Theater of the Mind. We have to play there. We gotta deliver the magic that gets in people’s heads. As a kid I’d have dreams about comic characters that I’d read in the Tribune. We need to have such an impact on the imagination that people dream about us. Sounds spacy and obscure? It is.

This was the point where I thought to myself, “You know, Alec Baldwin in 30 Rock mode would be perfect at reading these lines.”

I try to make allowances for folks as I can — I don’t always succeed, I should add. But in this case, what’s to allow? In reading through it all — besides the fact that it’s painfully long and half consists of quotes in an endless cascade — I feel a combination of goony-eyed sugar rush, endless hot air, buzzwords grabbed from thin air and slapped around where needed and the kind of buddy-buddy chatting that my friend Dan B. parodied years upon years back when he would widen his eyes and say, with the fakest smile ever, “Hey! *claps hands together* Did you catch my MEMO?”

So, this being the modern world, the memo got around and got out to everyone, thus my link above (and the ones to follow). Unsurprisingly, Gawker was all over it in their usual fashion, and that would have been the tip of the iceberg. Getting word of this and other reactions, Mr. Abrams apparently felt he needed to clear things up a bit.

Well, the reaction to my introduction letter was interesting. Ranging from “Appalling” to ‘exciting’ to …’huh’? That’s understandable. Without diving in, talking and exchanging, it all probably seems pretty obscure…but it’s really all about one thing: Opportunity.

Of course, the letter ended up on the Internet, feeding wild misinterpretations.

Of course. We, the collective people of the world, apologize for misinterpreting lines like “Web as an Information Disneyland” as anything but a mindless bunch of drivel.

Elsewhere in this second memo, this gem:

Then there’s certainly some “What does this guy know about our business”?! Well, I’m IN your business now. You should have heard the record industry laughing at the idea of some computer guy trying his hand in music. While the Apple guys may have had one of the most important ideas of the century, the point is that they had out of the circle thinking driving it. I don’t fault the record industry guys, it’s just that they were SO busy running their business that they initially missed the iPod. Maybe I can help one of us have an iPod idea or three.

At least he said ‘maybe’ rather than ‘definitely.’ Truth in advertising, at least — if generously stretched.

Well, feeling his oats, yesterday Abrams sent out his third e-mail to all and sundry — and I’ve no doubt at this point all Tribune employees on the receiving end of these were looking forward to these mails with a kind of mixture of catharsis and frivolity. This time around, it was time to talk think pieces:

I start April 1st but I’ve been pretty engaged from afar. Thought I’d share some observations on TV, web and print. Small stuff, “think pieces” more than anything…not end alls, but when we re-think and maximize hundreds of little pieces within the framework of bigger pieces and it could be part of the blueprint for something very powerful:

–NERVE TOUCHING. This is where you get people to stand up on their
chair because you touch a nerve. One underused way is simply to play to passions. For example:


(As it was, he goes on to explain what he means in more detail — not very well — but I am convinced that had he ended there, then scribbled out a resignation notice on a wad of toilet paper and lobbed it into the Tribune office building, he would go down as one of the truly great art terrorists of our time. Alas for what might have been.)

All of this prompted me to see if, like yours truly, he had a Wikipedia page. He does — and if there’s ever any doubt that Wikipedia pages can be prone to bias, that doubt should be put to bed by this, because if this isn’t some cut and paste job from a PR release about himself — and doubtless written BY himself — I’d be rather surprised.

Where this goes, who knows. But let it continue. Because more batshit insanity is just what the world needs right now…right?


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