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The [Monday] Papers

Major cuts are coming once again to the Sun-Times which, like the Reader and the Tribune and the rest of the dinosuar-minded newsprint industry, is going about their business in reverse.

The Sun-Times, for example, has already decided to eliminate its Controversy section, according to the Tribune's Phil Rosenthal.

If the Sun-Times was smart, it would recast the entire newspaper in the mold of the Controversy section. It's the best thing the paper has going, and it also depends heavily on content culled from the Internet. So, you know, it would be a great product for the paper's website, too. Imagine that! In fact, it could be a prime starting point and industry example of how to create an online newspaper and recast the print version as an entirely different animal.

But the cuts in the industry - no matter the corporate rhetoric you are being fed - is not about new economic models and the future of journalism and serving readers or even advertisers. It's about taking as much money as possible out of these operations to continue feeding overpaid executives and greedy shareholders.

The Sun-Times once had another model for its future. Unlike the inane RedEye, Red Streak was almost everything the Sun-Times ought to have been: A snappy and irreverent take on the news unbowed by throwbacks like Michael Sneed and Richard Roeper.

Like Controversy, Red Streak died an ugly death and here we are.

I hear rumors the Sun-Times is about to make a big online push. Somehow I just can't muster the confidence to think they'll do it right. Besides, kind of late, isn't it?

Newspapers are dead. They didn't have to be, but their window of opportunity closed long ago. And don't let them tell you at the funeral that they died because of shifting reader habits and the Internet. They will have died at their own hands, spurred by cowering, closed-minded, frightened and immature minds.

Fire At Will
That said, I'll make some suggestions for cuts.

* No one would miss Jennifer Hunter.

* No one would miss the business section. If you're not going to even pretend to be serious about it, just get rid of it. That would probably save a bundle right there.

* Send Michael Sneed and her humongous salary to pasture. Sure, she probably still has a large readership, but she's a blight upon the journalistic landscape. Just think what kind of readership someone who actually got their own (accurate) scoops instead of stealing them from the New York and London tabs could draw.

* Eliminate the editorial board. Newspapers shouldn't have them anyway. Who cares what a self-selected group chosen to somehow represent the voice of the corporation that owns the paper thinks? Besides, newspapers shouldn't take positions outside of their news judgements.

* Fire editor-in-chief Michael Cooke and replace him with a cheaper but more talented visionary, journalistic talent. Your front pages will make sense at last.

Tower of Debt
Cuts are coming to the Tribune, too. Sam Zell isn't going to sit still.

Here are some suggestions:

* Eliminate the Books section and Sunday magazine. Not because I don't believe in them, theoretically, but because the Trib does such a piss-poor job with them it's not worth it.

* Eliminate every third editor. The newsroom bureaucracy is worse than your average federal government agency.

* Put your relatively large staff to more productive use or risk losing it. And by more productive use, I don't mean wasting their time on the next set of 12-inch stories to cram into the world's most boring Metro section. I mean actually organizing them according to an editorial agenda and riding herd.

* Cut your price to 25 cents. Of course, the paper announced today that it's newsstand price is going up to 75 cents. Is this the only industry that charges more for offering less?

I suspect the paper actually wants to depress newsstand sales; it prefers the home subscribers that give it a better demographic profile to sell to advertisers. But then, stop complaining about decreasing circulation.

On the other hand, if you lower the price to even less than the Sun-Times, loosen up the white bread attitude, and go for broke with city coverage, you become the heroes everyone wants to read.

Reader Reflux
The Reader is perhaps the most disappointing of all. If any publication should have been on the cutting edge with an imaginative Web strategy and crack journalism week after week, it was the Reader.

Instead, it wallowed all these years in 10,000-word cover stories about baby photographers and falcons while Craigslist stole its classifieds, Metromix stole its entertainment listings, and RedEye stole its advertisers.

When the Reader finally woke up, it was so disoriented it fired its news section.

Now we have the likes of Ben Eason to contend with.

"These decisions were not made lightly and [we] have made them with the future in mind for all of us and are as committed to serious journalism as [we] ever were," Eason wrote in a memo last week.

That's just an observable lie. You can't fire four of your most serious journalists and claim your level of commitment is the same as it ever was.

The Reader has its own problems and, like the dailies, it may never recover. But a visionary editor with a better grasp on the news is where it should start.

The 12 Days of Beachwood Christmas
Our series continues!

We're on our fourth day with "O Holy Grill."

Also, if you're not reading Natasha Julius's Weekend Desk Report, you oughta be.

And finally, today in The [Steroid] Papers, if you read to the bottom you'll find the best player excuses culled from the Mitchell Report by The Beachwood Performance Enhancement Affairs Desk. It's pretty funny.

The Beachwood Tip Line: A series of tubes.



Permalink

Posted on December 17, 2007


MUSIC - The Week In Chicago Rock.
TV - Slow TV Chicago.
POLITICS - Dangerous, Low-Wage Industries Depend On Immigrants, Refugees.
SPORTS - Beachwood Sports Radio: Dear Cubs, Make It Stop.

BOOKS - Meet Chicago's American Writers Museum.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Beachwood Photo Booth: Mail Call.


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