Chicago - May. 27, 2017
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The [Wednesday] Papers

"There is, as my colleague David Brooks wrote Tuesday, a basic childishness to the man who now occupies the presidency. That is the simplest way of understanding what has come tumbling into light in the last few days: The presidency now has kinglike qualities, and we have a child upon the throne," Ross Douthat writes for the New York Times.

This hasn't just come tumbling into the light, it's been right in front of us the whole time. Donald Trump built much of his campaign around attacking his opponents with childish nicknames such as "Crooked Hillary" and gleefully repeating gibes such as naming Clinton and Barack Obama the "co-MVPs" of ISIS.

To write now of the man's essential childishness as a revelation is to have slept through the whole campaign.

At least the media is no longer waiting for Trump to "pivot."

Tronchitis
"Chicago Tribune parent Tronc is seeking to purchase archrival Chicago Sun-Times, perhaps to finally combine the city's two newspaper companies if they can win Justice Department approval," Crain's reports.

"Tronc CEO Justin Dearborn said in an interview that he thinks the Justice Department 'will clear us to close the transaction,' assuming no other buyers come forward within the next 15 days. Dearborn declined to say how much the company offered for its competitor.

"I know there will be a lot of emotion around it being the Sun-Times" that we're buying, Dearborn said, explaining that keeping the two newsrooms separate will be essential in winning over readers as Tronc uses this purchase to expand its footprint in an ongoing acquisition effort.

Let me put it another way: Promising to keep two separate newsrooms will be essential to winning quick Justice Department approval while maintaining a relatively calming PR stance. In time, Tronc owner Michael Ferro isn't likely to countenance the "duplication" that could instead be synergized. That's what transactions like this are all about, given that joint operating agreements have gone out of style - unless Ferro intends to run the Sun-Times as an expensive skunkworks or turn it into a celebrity-laden New York Post-style tabloid.

Either way, the end result is not likely to be good.

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Former Sun-Times political reporter Natasha Korecki, who now writes Politico Illinois' Playbook:

"[W]hat about editorial and editorial board independence? Ferro didn't have a great track record in that area while at the Sun-Times (I was a reporter at the paper for at least part of the time Ferro was there)."

Do tell!

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This is a good time to remind everyone that we still don't know the whole story behind the Dave McKinney affair. As far as I can determine, McKinney posted a statement online and hasn't answered questions about it since - even as he appears on the local airways. Is there a "gentleman's agreement" among the media that he not be asked?

Also, from the link above, which is a Greg Hinz column from 2014:

"My colleague Rich Miller has his own thoughts, which will publish later today. Check out his piece about how he was dismissed by the Sun-Times after penning a column critical of Mr. Rauner."

Again, unless I missed it (and please tell me if I did), Miller never posted any such column. Maybe now would be a good time to do so.

In fact, now would be a good time for anyone with a story to tell to do so.

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Also, from just one of several former Sun-Times employees with similar sentiments:

If anyone who worked with Ferro at the Sun-Times or now with the Tribune has anything good to say about him, I have yet to hear it. But then, I haven't been following Susanna Homan's public comments.

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The Tribune editorial board is besides itself with glee, pride and unflagging optimism, though.

Before we explore what would happen next, savor the importance of preserving what metropolitan Chicago now enjoys: thriving competition between two large news organizations that know they serve readers best by trying to outdo each other. Whether a story is breaking or waiting to be discovered, neither Sun-Times nor Tribune journalists want to finish second - in accuracy, in timeliness, in impact on readers' lives. When news is happening, each of those rival tribes wants you to turn to its coverage first. Same for opinion pieces on how Chicagoans should react to the news. The same for sports stories, the same for business or jobs developments, the same for arts coverage - the same, even, for comics.

But Tronc Chairman Michael Ferro and the company's executive leaders have stepped up, providing more certainty that the Sun-Times will continue to compete and publish. That's excellent news. Closure of the Sun-Times would profoundly weaken news and opinion journalism in Chicago. It would undercut the competitive atmosphere that we embrace - and that every Chicagoan should want to nourish.

But wait, wouldn't joint ownership of both dailies kill that competitive environment?

In a word, no. Not if the rival newsrooms and editorial boards remain independent, as we trust they would.

Does the board not read the papers they see competing so vigorously against each other? Did they miss the McKinney affair or the sordid return of the Sun-Times to the endorsement business just in time to help Ferro's pal Bruce Rauner?

I've always wondered if, when given the job of Tribune editor, Bruce Dold asked Ferro about the McKinney affair, and other rumblings of interference with the Sun-Times political team, and sought assurances of the sort of independence the paper's board now feels so confident in.

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See also: The Chicago End-Times.

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Back to Crain's:

"Wrapports said in a statement that it agreed to enter the discussions, after exhausting local alternatives and those outside the city, as the best means to keep operating and remain a separate newspaper voice in Chicago. In a separate statement, Tronc said it argued to the Justice Department that the acquisition is the 'best way to preserve multiple editorial voices for the greater Chicago area.'"

In other words, Wrapports couldn't find anyone else interested in buying the Sun-Times; Tronc was a last resort.

"Gannett, Shaw Media and the Daily Herald were among the newspaper companies that considered buying the Chicago Sun-Times, but all of them took a pass," Crain's reported separately.

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"Last year, the Justice Department blocked an attempt by Tribune Publishing, as Tronc was then called, to purchase the parent of the Orange County Register and the Riverside Press-Enterprise in Southern California, saying the $56 million acquisition of the bankrupt Freedom Communications would eliminate competition and injure readers and advertisers. But that antitrust lawsuit was filed under President Barack​ Obama's administration. President Donald Trump's administration has demonstrated, for instance with recent regulatory changes at the Federal Communications Commission, that it's more likely to be sympathetic to arguments that 21st-century digital alternatives will maintain competition."

That belies an understanding of what really represents competition in journalism. With the pending debut of ProPublica Illinois, the investigative work of the Better Government Association, and newer entities such as the South Side Weekly, there are additional sources of some kinds of news in the city that folks can turn to. But those supplement the work of the daily newspaper, which is still the bulwark on the front lines.

Now, if some of those folks got together to create one larger digital news organization, then we'd have something going. That kind of operation could even include the best of the talent at the Sun-Times while the rest of the paper could be left to finally die it's long-predicted death at the hands of looters and charlatans with embarrassing to non-existent business strategies that left it unsustainable. (That includes Michael Ferro!)

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The real dream for the Sun-Times has been that a civic savior would step forward who could properly invest in it. Unfortunately, J.B. Pritzker is running for governor instead.

*

"Ultimately, the acquisition made economic sense only to Tronc because of a printing and distribution agreement it has with the Sun-Times and because no other company wants to be a No. 2 player in Chicago battling the dominant Tribune, said Bruce Sagan, chairman of a management committee leader the Sun-Times.

"There is real economic advantage if the Sun-Times stays alive for the Tribune company because we are an integral part of their existing business," Sagan said.

So they can pay themselves to print and distribute the paper?

By my reckoning, the Sun-Times is ultimately more valuable dead to Tronc than alive. Who wouldn't want a monopoly?

Then again . . .

*

Crain's:

"While there wasn't any threat of the Sun-Times collapsing anytime soon, there was some urgency for doing a deal because the Sun-Times has a building lease that ends this year, the sources said."

Hmmm. I can't say for sure, but from what I understand the paper has been close to financial collapse at least once in the last few years.

*

"The Wrapports board assessed whether the Sun-Times was strong enough to survive on its own in the digital era, and it determined that the paper had to be part of another company, Sagan said."

In other words, the board admitted that it had no idea how to run the business. Maybe a better idea would have been to get a different board. Or, maybe this was the plan all along when Ferro bought what used to be called the Tribune Company.

*

"Much of the Tronc cost-cutting at the Sun-Times is likely to come in sales and back-office functions like accounting and marketing, though Sagan doesn't expect the reductions to be significant. He and Publisher Jim Kirk declined to say how many employees the Sun-Times has today, but it's likely fewer than 150 workers after several rounds of reductions over the past decade."

Kirk is also the editor. The editor of a newspaper refused to say how many employees it has - even as reporters have fought, for example, with the Chicago Police Department to determine how many officers it has. Proposal: News organizations should be subject to FOIA.

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From another former Sun-Timeser:

Boy, I really won't ever work in this town again . . .

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From a Reader writer:

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Finally:

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Small Donor Bill Passes State Senate
"A similar system has existed in New York City for decades and has been adopted by other jurisdictions in recent years."

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Chicagoan Wins 8-Ball Classic
Advances to national finals, as does an Atlanta, Illinoisan.

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BeachBook

On United Airlines And The Downside Of Secret Settlements.

See also: United Is Too Tight.

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'I'm Just Here To Win Football Games,' Says 22-Year-Old Draft Pick Who Will Get Everyone Fired.

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TweetWood
A sampling.

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The Beachwood Tronc Line: Crash course.



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Posted on May 17, 2017


MUSIC - The Week In Chicago Rock.
TV - Slow TV Chicago.
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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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