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The [Friday] Papers

Chicago Tribune sports columnist Rick Morrissey today expresses a sentiment I have heard from a couple others in the paper's sports department over the years: His bosses should sell the Cubs.

"A newspaper has no business owning a baseball team, in the same way a newspaper would have no business owning a cell-phone company, an insurance company or any other company it might have to cover as a news story," Morrissey writes.

For a newspaper to own a sports franchise is, for a sports section, akin to a newspaper owning City Hall. No matter how pure everyone may act, the coverage will always be called into question. And that's untenable for a newspaper's credibility.

Besides, it puts the paper in a no-win situation. When it gets scooped on Cubs news, it is ridiculed for not knowing what's going on in its own company. But the paper would be wrong to ask for special consideration in getting tipped off to Cubs news as well.

It's a burden the sports section and the rest of the paper should not have to live under--and it's not clear that the financial benefits have been worth it, if the analysts are correct (or that those benefits have flowed appreciably to newsroom resources).

The situation also makes a mockery of the vaunted ethics policies of both the Tribune Company and the Tribune newspaper itself. Consider: A reporter can't accept a gift worth more than a keychain but the company can own a baseball team it not only reports on in print, but broadcasts on its TV and radio stations, which in turn cover the team as well, etc. etc.

Morrisey's column is in response to numerous recent rumblings, including a Wall Street Journal article on Thursday, about possible moves the Tribune Company may have to take to shake off the lethargy of its stock and satisfy Wall Street.

It also comes on the same day that we learn that the Tribune Company sought out and accepted a $1 million naming rights deal for its famed bleachers from Anheuser-Busch.

Make that, now, the Bud Light Bleachers. Aren't you psyched?

Anyway, the day the Tribune Company bought the Cubs was the same day that James Squires was hired as editor of the Chicago Tribune.

"'What do you think of that?' [Tribune publisher Stan Cook] asked me, obviously elated that the Tribune Company now owned the city's favorite baseball team," Squires recalled in his 1993 classic Read All About It! The Corporate Takeover of America's Newspapers.

"'You know, it creates some problems for the newspaper,' I responded, trying to be gentle.

"'Not at all,' he said. 'It'll be great.'"

Squires went on to say: "[F]or the newspaper, being a corporate sibling of the famous baseball franchise became a nightmare--a constant source of tension within the sports staff, a political liability in the newspaper's relationship with the public and a regular cause of corporate bickering. Time after time in the next nine years [that Squires was editor], being owned and managed by the same people who managed the Cubs created management and credibility problems for the Tribune."

I have written before--as Morrisey writes today--that I haven't seen any evidence that the Tribune sports pages are biased in favor of the Cubs. But we will never know if, for example, an enterprising staff reporter might have decided to dig into the team's finances or proposed a harsh appraisal of the company's ownership efforts if there wasn't a risk of alienating the bosses. As former Tribune Company director Don Rumsfeld might say, the unknowables are unknown.

It's a conflict of interest that the newspaper wouldn't begin to bear in another civic institution or in the political realm.

So let the "Sell the Cubs Campaign" begin on the Tribune's editorial pages, which are so good at telling everyone else how to do the right thing. Tell it to your bosses.

Sweet Apartment Chicago
As much of a Neko Case fan as I am, the most interesting nugget in the interview she gives to Chicago Sun-Times rock critic Jim DeRogatis today is the one that rings true with many of us but seems to be of no concern to City Hall or the major media, who seem so thrilled that the middle-classes and below are being purged from the city.

DeRogatis: Isn't [the weather] what prompted the Handsome Family to move to the Southwest?

Case: I thought they were excited about the price of homes in Albuquerque. Basically, all of us in Chicago who have ever looked for a house have been immediately squashed. I may eventually leave, simply for that reason, but not because I don't love it.

Mariotti Melee
Cubs President Andy MacPhail and White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf attack Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti today in a Letter to the Editor to his paper.

The issue is Bud Selig's handling of steroids. But Mariotti's work habits come under attack as well.

"As is not uncommon with Mariotti," the owners write, "he has made no effort to be the least bit informed on this important subject."

In closing, MacPhail and Reinsdorf add: "If Mariotti would ever trouble himself to make a phone call, maybe he would get the story right."

Mariotti takes on Selig again today.

Sen. Barack Obama is gearing up to write another book.

Quick, name his top three accomplishments.

No, I don't think speeches should count, but if you must, that's one.

Uh-huh. I see. Well, can you tell me what made him such a great Illinois legislator? (You do know he served in the state legislature before becoming a U.S. senator, right?)

Can you tell me what the top three issues are on his agenda right now?

No, I don't think running for president counts.

No, I don't think I'm being unfair.

Well good day to you too.

Notes From Beachwood HQ

Having just completed our first month of existence, we can safely report that we are an international sensation. Among the countries tapping into The Beachwood Reporter and their hit totals in just the last two weeks:

Canada (435 ); United Kingdom (189); Argentina (181); Australia (131); Mexico (128 - even before I mentioned Lou Dobbs yesterday); Spain (96); Switzerland (81); Russian Federation (78); Czech Republic (71); Italy (53); Netherlands (48); Yugoslavia (36); France (31); Singapore (30); Croatia [Hrvatska] (29); India (27); Poland (27); Greece (13); Japan (7); Austria (5); Germany (4); Israel (4); Seychelles (3).

We have also recorded 111 hits from the U.S. military.

We are averaging more than 10,000 hits a day, a number that would be higher if our weekend numbers weren't so dismal, and have peaked at 39,000 hits one day and 37,000 hits another.

Of course, hits are not the same as unique users, though there is a good technical reason, I'm told, to believe our statistics tools are undercounting unique users. But we can safely say we have had at least 2,200 unique users in the last two weeks alone.

We are ever so close to having our advertisting and financial tools in place, so we are officially kicking off The Beachwood Readership Drive to go hand-in-hand with the revenue strategy that will unfold over the next few weeks. So keep reading, and tell everyone you know to keep reading so we can keep this thing afloat.

Where else, for example, can you get I, Store Detective? Taxi Cab Journal? Crank Calls to Misleadingly Named Suburbs? Politics Beachwood-style? (And don't forget, you catch up on The Papers here.)

We've got a lot more to come, as soon as we learn how to make those damn news feeds show up the way we want them to, for example, and when I find the time to get that photo page going, and when we can get Beachwood-style click polls on the march. So stick with us.

And if you want to join the Beachwood team, we need help in all areas, from news reporting to business management, and particularly in geeky techdom and ad sales. Send me a note and we'll put you to work.

The Bud Light Beachwood Tip Line? Now accepting bids.


Posted on March 31, 2006

MUSIC - Born In Chicago.
TV - Goodbye, Apu.
POLITICS - The Political Odds.
SPORTS - Drama-Free Bears vs. Chaotic Cubs.

BOOKS - Gov. Ed Coles.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Chillicothe Bottoms.

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