I grew up in Chicago as a true newspaper fanatic. I would race downstairs in my t-shirt and shorts to meet the paper delivery man at 6 AM, in the forlorn hope that my beloved Cubbies had defied the jinx and were still in pennant contention. I came home to read the afternoon papers after school. My hero as a teen was James Hoge, editor of the Chicago Sun-Times before the age of 30, who was thrown through the plate glass window at the entrance of the Chicago Hilton during the upheaval at the 1968 Democratic Convention because the police thought he was one of the protestors. So with those memories in mind, I met yesterday with Mike Lev, associate managing editor/business for the Chicago Tribune, and David Greising, general manager of the Chicago News Cooperative (and long time business columnist for the Tribune) to get an update on the business.
The Tribune’s strategy for the business section is to be “more locally focused,” Lev said. “We are here to focus on those industries that are central to Chicago, including aviation, food, medicine, banking and residential real estate. We have reduced our coverage of futures trading, technology and commercial real estate.” He added that reporters must be able to see each story “from the consumer and the business point of view. A menu decision at McDonalds has implications for investors and customers.”
The Tribune has started a news ticker online, Chicagobreakingbusiness.com, which includes stories and blogs from its reporters, but also aggregates content from outside sources, including the Financial Times, Reuters and Bloomberg. The paper also shares content across all of the Tribune family of papers, for example taking stories on entertainment or the Toyota crisis from the LA Times for its own use and sending it onto other smaller sister papers, such as the Baltimore Sun and Hartford Courant. The Tribune family now has a single Washington bureau and a single foreign desk, located at the L.A. Times, with foreign correspondents based in important cities such as Beijing or London.
Reporters are often given more space online than in print. There is more focus on reporters/columnists as personalities, with photos of the journalists often included under the by-line. The paper breaks news on the digital platform; “when you have a hot story, you put it out there. You don’t worry about tipping off the competition.”
The Tribune’s strategy is to attract eyeballs across a multiplicity of platforms, from the print edition to ChicagoTribune.com to Chicagobreakingbusiness.com to ChicagoNow.com (a community managed by the Tribune, featuring 90 local bloggers supported by advertising sharing model) to the hyper-local print ‘Tribune Local.’ “Our goal is to drive as many local eyeballs to our sites as we can, because that’s what we can sell best to advertisers. And just having the Chicago Tribune online isn’t enough, given the fractured marketplace. We need to create lots of different digital products if we really want to capture the marketplace.” This multi-channel approach is in response to the readership decline of the print product, now averaging 600,000 readers daily, down 25% in the past five years
Greising and his partner, former Tribune editor Jim O’Shea started the Chicago News Cooperative (CNC) in November, 2009, with venture funding from the McArthur Foundation and wealthy individuals. “We produce enterprising exclusive public service stories from the Chicago market,” Greising said. “Our primary distribution outlet is two pages in the Midwest edition of the New York Times on Friday and Sunday as well as our own web site.”
CNC stories focus on government, politics and education. “We emphasize shoe leather, Chicago-style journalism. A good example is our uncovering of the hugely advantageous deal struck by Morgan Stanley to securitize the income from Chicago city parking meters. The firm is making a fortune.” That kind of article will” lead to further coverage on public radio and TV, driving people to our web site where we will host conversations,” he added.
“We intend to create news interest networks which take advantage of the social networking aspect of news,” Greising said. “We think that there is deep interest in education as an example; we can facilitate a two way conversation by posting contributions from policy makers and academics, then responses from teachers and students. We intend to charge participants in these networks as much as $2 per week; we will also try to guarantee diversity by getting corporate sponsorships from big local companies to subsidize lower-income people.” Greising does not see advertising as a serious revenue opportunity.
For the PR person contemplating these changes, consider local media as a more important part of your national press relations strategy. A story in the Tribune can appear in ten important local papers from Baltimore to LA. The local reporter might well have a stronger relationship or superior knowledge about the client than, a wire service reporter. The print reporter also often needs a video content for the web. Do take particular note of Lev’s comments on hyper-local and the consumer/investor dual interest when pitching stories.
Richard Edelman - 6 A.M