Monday, April 9, 2012

Chicago Sun-Times seeks to prove that the future is for the hyper-rich and the brain dead

Back in my Hearst Newspaper days, some New York executive who obviously was paid far too much, decided that what Los Angeles needed was a splashy tabloid for residents to read when they rode to work on the subway. The fact that Los Angeles did not, at that time, have a subway, or any real mass transit at all, was besides the point. A trashy tabloid would be perfect.

Hearst eventually thought better of the idea and the tabloid idea was trashed, though not before some circulation truck drivers dumped the prototype tabloids out onto 11th Street in front of the newspaper offices (so employees could see what brilliant ideas management was coming up with).

The same sort of strategy is being employed now by the new owner of the Chicago Sun-Times. the effort is being led by some another New Yorker, Michael Ferro, but this time, at least, in a city with a thriving mass transit system.

The Sun-Times, changes its political positions about as often as a grandfather clock, depending on the ownership of the paper. Now it is in the hands of another group of wealthy investors who think they know just want the lower classes of the city will want: a Chicago version of Rupert Murdoch's New York Post. (Never mind that the Post is a money loser.)

Time Out Chicago's Roebrt Feder has his own take on the new, bottom of the barrel Sun-Times. But one can complain all you want, unless you have the money to own a newspaper, you'll have to watch as others take a stab at newspaper nirvana.

The new Chicago Sun-Times

The reality is, of course, that the Sun-Times, like the Daily News before it, is hanging on by a thread and really has little chance of survival. The Tribune, which dominates the market, is itself a shadow of its former self, having been beat down by bad management before its sale, after its sale, and apparently forever. A daily newspaper that dominates both Chicago and Los Angeles (the Tribune Company also owns the L.A. Times) should be producing obscene profits, but both papers are instead bleeding reporters.

The rush to move the Sun-Times to the right and 'down market' will surely work as well as its past moves in that direction.

The Tribune, which hadn't endorsed a Democrat for president since it started publishing in 1847 until it endorsed hometown candidate Barack Obama, is known as one of the most consistently conservative papers in a town that only elects Democrats. In the past, the Tribune won its subscribers through superior reporting and the fact that the other dailies split the rest of the market.

Today, no one can count on anyone to subscribe to a paper – not wealth, not education. In fact, it is these demographics that are the quickest to migrate to tablets. But while the Tribune Company's tablet editions are not the worst in the App Store, they, like the paper, are conservative and unimaginative. The Sun-Times's tablet edition, on the other hand, is nonexistent (though they promise something soon).

So who is going to buy the new, trashy-splashy Sun-Times? Who knows, but unlike the days when the truck drivers would throw the crazy tabloid prototypes out the back of their trucks to stop them from being delivered, today they are delivered without much protest – after all, it's still a job.