Monday, February 20, 2012

What will become of News Coop?

I must confess to being one of those people who was making a point of buying a copy of the New York Times on Fridays and Sundays – even if most of the rest of the week the paper was not a “must have” purchase for me.

For those are the two days that the Chicago News Cooperative was publishing two pages worth of content in the editions of the Times that were printed in Chicago.

WHILE I REALIZE that the News Coop has its reporters and free-lance writers out and about every day to come up with copy that fills their web site, there was something about being able to see the printed word that made those two days a little different.

So learning Friday night that the fate of the News Coop is uncertain, it made me wonder what hope there is to assuage those individuals whose judgment of the news business is based purely on a financial “bottom line.”

According to the various reports (although it seems the Chicago Reader gets credit for having this story first), the News Coop will cease to exist in its current form at the end of this week.

Which probably means that the New York Times editions printed this coming Friday and Sunday will be the last to have two full pages of local news content.

THERE IS SOME speculation (reported on by Crain’s Chicago Business) that the Chicago Sun-Times will take on the News Coop, although nothing is definite on that front.

Which makes it likely that this effort to create an Internet-based site that generates quality reporting (some of their stuff, including James Warren’s commentaries, was quite interesting) will continue to exist in a scaled-back form – if at all.

From what I have read, it seems that the New York Times was not willing to consider paying more money for the project, since it did not significantly bolster the circulation levels they achieve in the Chicago area.

Soon to move from the New York Times to the Sun-Times? Or nowhere at all!

Although I can’t help but think that such an attitude misses the point. Maybe they weren’t selling more newspapers because of those four pages per week (actually, three, since a half-page on each day was devoted to local advertising).

BUT I’M GOING to wonder how much lower their Chicago circulation would have been had they not been involved with this News Coop project.

Which is to say that I think many business entities that are trying to make money off of the reporting of news had better come around to realize that there are certain levels of content that are going to have to be maintained if they are to remain viable.

Acting as though there can be continual cuts in quality without hurting the financial bottom line is short-sighted. If anything, people are going to reward those entities that bolster their coverage with their readership (whether it be of the actual printed newspaper or of the Internet sites that use their content).

Of course, it also amuses me to think that the Sun-Times may seriously be considering an effort to use News Coop content in their newspaper. Because I believe their motivation would be to have the News Coop reporters and freelance writers do the actual work of news coverage.

WOULD THAT MEAN further cutbacks of the actual Sun-Times staff – which has become so blended with the remaining staffs of the daily newspapers the company owns throughout the suburbs that I have a hard time telling these days who writes for what newspaper!

Could we get the day that the Chicago Sun-Times would be a few dozen pages filled with stories from a scaled-back Chicago News Cooperative, along with the reports put together by the Better Government Association and the assorted wire services?

That makes it seem like we have a big-city paper trying to behave like one of the daily papers published in many rural communities – where on any given day there might be one locally-produced story published alongside the wire copy that fills the space surrounding the display ads.

Which is why I think it a joke whenever these small-town publishers claim they are somehow more responsive to the needs of their communities. In reality, they are simply putting together cheap products – and feeding off the fact that they have no competition that would reveal just how cheap they are to read.

SO I’M GOING to be watching over the course of the next few weeks to see how this particular situation shakes down, and it is something many of you should pay attention to as well – although I suspect most of you won’t give this a second thought until it is too late.

For the fact is that while many people think the Internet with various websites has already replaced the companies that were publishing the news on paper to be read without having to use a computer screen or any other kind of electronic device, they haven’t.

Too much of the content I read there is merely repeated from the places with actual reporters. The very business models of these entities is based on the idea of not having to pay for content creation (a.k.a., reporting the news).

What happens when the day comes that there’s nobody left with reporters for these sites to pick stories up from?


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