Thursday, December 27, 2012

Change isn’t always for the better, or worse. It just sometimes happens

The faces of the two major metro newspapers that are the skeleton of much of the information we get in the Chicago area are on the verge of changing significantly in coming months, and I’m trying to figure out if it’s evolution – or degradation.

The kind of people who are all too eager to see newspapers wither away because they think the Internet will offer sufficient replacement for information are enjoying this – they want to believe it is evidence that the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times will soon die off.

THEY’LL ALSO CLAIM that this is all natural in the way that people change with the passage of time – accept it!

But I can’t help but think many people don’t really get what is happening with the changes; the fact that the Chicago Tribune will drop use of the Associated Press and that the Chicago Sun-Times plans to have all the editors of its suburban newspaper publications centrally located on the banks of the Chicago River.

Personally, I’m not bothered by the fact that the Tribune is dropping a wire service – although I’ll be the first to admit that my personal bias (I’m a former United Press International newsperson and bureau manager who thinks that AP is overrated) may be coming into play.

Many newspapers are overly-reliant on AP wire copy to fill their pages. Yet the Tribune is the newspaper that has the largest (by far) staff to write stories, and also subscribes to so many other wire services that they’re still going to have a plethora of copy to pick from when putting a paper together.

I’M SURE THE massive AP ego that thinks it is all important is hurt. But I honestly don’t see the loss. In fact, the part of this move that I don’t comprehend is that the Los Angeles Times (also a Tribune Co. newspaper) feels the need to keep the wire service – even though they use it less than the Chicago Tribune does.

So I don’t believe all the reaction that has arisen on the Internet to this move – the idea that the Tribune will be sold off to a new owner who will immediately renew a subscription.

I fully expect that whoever owns the newspaper in the future will see that the pages get filled without all those wire service bugs (ie., AP) in the paper, and will see the expense as one that could be done away with.

If anything, it is the other move that I find more troublesome – the restructuring of the Sun-Times and all of its sister newspapers. Although I concede that it really does nothing more than take the actions of recent years to the next step.

FOR THE SUN-TIMES and the suburban newspapers have been sharing stories to the point where the bulk of the Sun-Times these days is filled with suburban briefs. Those suburban publications have the feel of suburban-zoned editions of the Sun-Times.

It’s like we don’t have to read anything like the Post-Tribune of Merrillville, Ind., or the Herald News of Joliet because if they come up with a worthwhile story, it will run in the Chicago Sun-Times as well.

Now, the editors of those suburban papers will be working out of the Sun-Times offices downtown. The reporters will still be in the suburbs, but there won’t be newsrooms. A lot of suburban reporters are going to feel incredibly isolated from their publications – which never does any good.

It all has the feel of the Chicago Sun-Times using its suburban publications (some of which have a century-plus of history in their communities) to prop itself up – such as trying to perpetuate the nonsense that the Sun-Times has a larger circulation figure than the Tribune.

PERSONALLY, IT FEELS like a mismatch and that the assets being shifted to downtown will wind up not fitting in.

Of course, considering how Sun-Times leadership always likes to talk about the need to shift to an emphasis on digital sources for information, perhaps they’re not really concerned about the mish-mash they’re going to create.

Because I suspect that when it comes to news media organizations, there are too many people who look to Newsweek – which published its last edition, but plans to continue to exist as a website – and are trying to think happy thoughts.

I wonder how long such a website can continue. Just as I’m curious to see how long the DNA Info and Reboot Illinois websites can survive economically – even if they do manage to create worthwhile news reporting.

THE SAD PART is that too many people don’t realize how inferior, or third-hand, the information is that they’re getting free-of-charge from other websites that don’t have their own newsgathering resources.

Let’s not forget the Chicago News Cooperative, which did very high-quality reporting and commentary during its two-plus years of existence – only to have it wither away because people weren’t willing to pay what it was worth.


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