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Monday, April 15

Gapers Block

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Andrew / April 1, 2009 12:38 AM

Is there any hope for print journalism, or are papers doomed? What thoughts do you have on where the media is headed in general?

charlie / April 1, 2009 6:16 AM

Gloomy in the current form. I think we might see something like regional papers that come out once or twice a week. More in depth coverage and reportage journalism.

The daily printed paper that relied on advertising is dead.

The new "paper" might be a magazine.

printdude / April 1, 2009 7:47 AM

I only think the future is bleak due to the handling of their current financial woes. The dismantling of reporting staffs and reliance on a single news feed just diminished the product when they needed a stronger product to charge premium rates.
I foresee a subscription-based online content form, with a thrice weekly physical paper becoming the standard. If the blogisphere can get it's act together, perhaps there can be a roots-level reporting source, a new UPI, if you will. only this time it'll be called United Peoples Information Network.

vise77 / April 1, 2009 8:56 AM

A new business model, or models, need to be found to reflect 1) the different demands that advertisers have (revenues based on click-throughs, for instance, instead of static ads; plus the loss of classifieds); 2) Different reading habits; and 3) an apparent move back to reading partisan sources of information, which reflects the general situation in the U.S. prior to WWII, and certainly prior to 1900.

What's funny is that for all the financial problems in the media, profit margins have remained relatively healthy at some places--just not that healthy for the investors and corps that now own the presses. One hopes that start-ups have more realistic margin expectations.

I think the key here is demand: There will be a certain class of reader that demands daily, or near daily, in-depth news that goes beyond headline crawls or simple breaking news updates. Whether this is delivered online or through print is interesting, but hardly vital, as long as the right business model is found.

What WILL NOT happen on a regular, sustained basis is so-called citizen journalism--sure, you can train volunteers to get the gist of, say, a zoning board meeting, but it requires professionals--that is, people paid so they can do this for a living, and so they can learn over the course of years--to produce high-caliber reporting.

Val / April 1, 2009 9:13 AM

I used to work at a publishing company that produced many trade publications. This year they cut the staff in half if not more and switched all pubs to bi-monthly. What news is news after two months? Nothing.

I feel like if newspapers don't update to web and provide to both users their companies will eventually be obsolete.

The wheel is being reinvented in regards to how we read, get and absorb the news.

DaveDave / April 1, 2009 10:17 AM

I think it's the fault of Obama who... oh, wait, sorry, wrong thread.

But seriously, I pray there is a future world of newspapers. Not everyone in this world is wired up, on the grid, whatever you want to call it and if it comes to that, we will created a division between the informed and the uninformed and, to me, that is a dangerous thing. I know there are ample opportunities for people to access the web for free (libraries), but not everyone does or can take advantage of that. Besides, when the whole electronic thing crashes, print will be king.

But some interesting viewpoints here and yes, yours too, vise! I agree on the "trained reporter" viewpoint. And unless there actual online only newspapers with an actual staff, blogs and newsgathering websites just ain't gonna cut it for me. Without the papers, where would Huffington Post be?

Clarke / April 1, 2009 10:30 AM

A very good, recent article on this topic appeared in 'Time' magazine:,8599,1877191,00.html

Walter Isaacson proposes an interesting (though not entirely new) business model in the article, but the main point is that for quality news -- print or electronic -- reporters have to be paid for their services. This may seem obvious, but as newspapers continue to reduce their print circulation and products, combined with offering all of their content free over their website, the ir ability to pay quality reporters is compromised. Reliance on a) subscriptions (though why subscribe when you can, for now, get news free on the newspaper's website?), and b) advertising revenue is not how a newspaper can pay for quality journalism as we increasingly move from print to electronic media. I highly recommend the article.

As for quality journalism and newspapers in this town, I'm not optimistic. The Tribune is consistent in its shallow reporting, bad writing, and poor choice of lead stories. I use the Trib's website for weather and local sports, the rest I seek out from the NY Times and WSJ.

flange / April 1, 2009 10:31 AM

i'm old enough to remember when a daily paper required some effort to pick up, let alone read. newspapers died many years ago and it had little to do with the internet; the final death throes happen to coincide with the online era.

what i'll miss most is long-form reporting. it's bad enough that bloggers consider themselves journalists at all; most of them have no clue about the long-form, inverted pyramid article, with background and context. only a few of them have any idea of what reporting actually is.

ironically, usa today has become one of the few newspaper that gets that right on a relatively regular basis.

when i moved here not that long ago i was appalled that the trib was considered one of the country's top five newspapers. their local coverage is mostly nonbylined ap wire pickups, ferchrissake.

Dan / April 1, 2009 10:39 AM

It seems to me that the daily print newspaper may be mostly doomed with the falling advertising revenue they are dealing with.

From what I've heard from newspaper folks the web editions aren't making enough money from ads to support themselves, and many monthly subscription models have turned out as failures.

I'm personally not a fan of website subscription models, and I think that the key to the success of web based newspapers will be a usable and widely adopted micro-payments system. I would much rather pay $0.20 or $0.50 without a painful payment/checkout process for a well written interesting article here and there rather than sign up for monthly subscriptions to specific papers. This sort of system would also make it easier to kick some payments to bloggers who write worthwhile articles. Papers could either operate on a required micro-payment model, or a donation based honor system.

I have yet to see a good micro-payments system, but surely some smart people somewhere are working on this.

mike-ts / April 1, 2009 10:48 AM

If radio and television didn't kill newspapers, why is the internet doing so? News web sites are doing nothing differently than radio/tv did and do. "Breaking news" available instantly has been here for 50-80 years. Papers have been "scooped" longer than we've all been alive. In depth news stories, what people say differentiate print from electronic sources, have been on broadcast since the beginning, too.

I agree, it seems papers have become repeater stations for national news feeds, which is the opposite of what they need to do. Let people get their national and regional news from WGN 720, WTTW 32, and Beat the local drum. Focus on nothing past a 50 mile perimeter, unless it's part of the local story. Have the Trib be the North Side, and the Sun-Times be the South Side, papers. And concentrate more on columnists, while still having reporters.

And instead of big printing presses, have the newspaper box print the paper as it's sold. The presses and materials are the big money sucks for newspapers.

Alex Griffiths / April 1, 2009 11:01 AM

Newspaper need to adapt quickly or they will not have a choice. We need an new hybrid model that uses the content and communication opportunities of the web to deliver a valued product - one worth paying for. It's time for them to go web first and innovate.

My 2c -

Some other interesting links on subject: - worth considering his arguments - terrible figures.’-social-power-8519/?utm_campaign=rssfeed&utm_source=mc&utm_medium=textlink

vise77 / April 1, 2009 11:18 AM

Mike-ts: That's a great question, and I think there are two main answers:

1) Advertising--the bulk of revenue for most media publications (trades tend to get more revenue from subscriptions than mainstream newspapers do)--advertising expectations and revenue streams have changed dramatically with the Internet. This is the biggie of all biggies, especially when you consider the shifting of classifieds to online, non-newspaper places, taking away a cash cow for newspapers.

2) Reading habits. TV and radio didn't really change reading habits (at least for the people who still read, which remained significant). Again, more readers shifting to the Internet has a direct affect on advertising revenue, as the ways ads are seen and responded to changes in dramatic fashion.

mike / April 1, 2009 12:14 PM

Sadly, I don't think the Chicago Reader will be around for much longer. I'm glad I grew up without the internet ... it makes me appreciate all of the things that are so readily available now that used to be more difficult or impossible to find (information, music, people with similar interests, recipes, guitar chords, etc., etc.). But I think we may get to a point where we realize the internet's just sucked the life out of so many things.

DaveDave / April 1, 2009 12:55 PM

But I think we may get to a point where we realize the internet's just sucked the life out of so many things.

Yeah, I risk being shunted off into Old Foagy Land, but I can't imagine relaxing with the Sunday website or smacking my dog on the nose with a rolled up laptop (kidding about the last one... I don't have a dog! But if I did...). Seriously, I love the tangible feel of a newspaper, the process of and ability to read it anytime, anywhere.

Christopher J. / April 1, 2009 2:08 PM

Can design save the newspaper?

Brad Maier / April 1, 2009 2:22 PM

Until newspapers learn that their job is provide intense, well-designed context to the news and not to break stories or do human interest pieces they will continue to flounder.

People will always pay for good information and Im truly surprised that no one has said, hmm people arent paying any more, we should make our product more thorough and give people more. Our information must not be good enough.

People dont watch the daily show because it breaks news, they watch because at the heart of things, though veiled in humor, they give some of the hardest hitting analysis of their field in the business

A. Lewellen / April 1, 2009 2:37 PM

Bah, I could care less. Between NPR, the various news blogs I peruse daily and the tidy list of podcasts I subscribe to for me a printed daily is obsolete. I do enjoy looking through the weekend editions on occasion but that is pretty rare.

vise77 / April 1, 2009 2:40 PM

Brad: Actually, human interest stories often generate the most reader feedback and interest at many newspapers. Don't believe me--talk to some newspaper reporters.

There is no point for newspapers to "break" news also all over cable. But there is a point to break news--say, zoning bribes--that other publications haven't touched yet (like Mother Trib sometimes does).

You can have context or analysis with the nugget of news to begin with, though I do see your point.

jen / April 1, 2009 2:46 PM

what flange said -- not enough local news happening in the trib. whenever anyone gets shot / a building burns / store gets robbed in my neighborhood, i can never find it online. isn't this what *local* newspapers should be reporting on?

also seconding the lack of long-format stories. there are hundreds of stories in this city, why is no one telling them anymore?

Andy Swindler / April 1, 2009 3:12 PM

The attitude of newspapers echos that of major record labels. They got very comfortable--too comfortable--in an unsustainable business model. As ad revenues declined, they did not get creative, then sat back and complained, reducing quality and giving things away for free in a very reactive manner. And here we are.

Looking at the trends toward increased mobile usage across all categories, we need a model that supports mobile readership. It's not about subscriptions, it's about micro-payments. Yes, an aggregate system that is potentially even tied right to the cell phone bill that will allow people to exert no effort to get the news they want to read any time they want to read it. People are willing to pay for quality content, but people are busier and lazier than ever so don't make them work for it. I am currently working on a solution that incorporates all these things. If you are interested in the project, please contact me.

For those not on the road, you'll be cuddling up with your eReaders in the future. Say goodbye to paper.

Brad Maier / April 1, 2009 3:47 PM

@vise77 "Actually, human interest stories often generate the most reader feedback and interest at many newspapers. Don't believe me--talk to some newspaper reporters."

I completely agree that human interest stories are interesting but I would love to see data that that is what people are willing to pay for, i'd be less inclined to believe that.

As much as I love to hear about my local bakery succeeding or a local non-profit (half-joking here), I'd pay for something that gives me something I can act on or helps me make or save money based on the knowledge that reporters are paid to spend their time gathering and translating to me.

The Wall Street Journal is the current best case in point that I have and its not even that good.

Brad Maier / April 1, 2009 3:50 PM

Newspapers are trying to make everyone somewhat happy and no one is paying when they should be trying to make some people really happy so that they'll pay more... not many people say "I love how the tribune does this for me" these days.

Daniel / April 1, 2009 4:10 PM

Brad - I'd beg to differ. Folks love not only the Tribune, but the Sun-Times, have become more accessible on the social Web.

Whether it'll translate to dollars right away is another question.

I have an idea in the works, though. You'll see.

fluffy / April 1, 2009 6:01 PM

At work, two of us read the paper daily. The rest watch Fox News all day long (we have a TV on all the time in the lounge) and that is where they get their news. They don't want to have to read- they just want soundbites they can repeat.
I want my obituary in the paper with a blurry picture of me in my 20's. I want to have the longest obit in newspaper history choc-ful of crazy stories so people would be amazed at everything I accomplished in my life.

Steven / April 1, 2009 10:06 PM

The Trib and Sun-Times would do better if they reported more local news. Really, I'm not going to pick up the local paper to read about California's budget crisis, or the Red River flooding, or Mexicans shooting each other silly over the border, or the latest refugee boat to sink. I'm going to pick up the local paper to read about Chicago, its neighborhoods and its people. But try and find out what's going on with anything local in the Trib or Sun-Times. That's why all these local blogs are popping up. People want to know about Wilson Yard, TIF zones, CTA, etc. Seriously, it's taken this long for the papers to notice that Metra doesn't take credit cards? We don't need pictures of fluffy dogs. We need muckrakers.

spence / April 2, 2009 1:34 PM

Internet has killed daily/breaking news in print format. Print will survive, I think, but in a very scaled down version of what we are receiving today. Probably in a weekly with recaps of the major news events of the week and a stronger editorial rather than daily. Kind of like the Newsweek/Economist/Time, except local. Chicago Tribune will continue to trend toward the Red Eye. Eventually, it will be so full of sugar that you'll get cavaties just by picking it up.

Brad Maier / April 2, 2009 2:12 PM

Let's take a look at the Tribune online front page at 2pm today:

Stuff I'd Pay For:
-Sources: Blagojevich indictment today
-Cops protest during Olympics visit
-Editorial: A letter to the IOC
-Sexist, racist language by Lyons officials
-Bears can get Jay Cutler
-Texting while driving ban passes Illinois House
-Chicago law firm Mayer Brown lays off more attorneys
-ABC7, WGN-TV reject ad that sounds like 911 call
-Ex-suburban library official indicted for theft
-Statewide construction plan gaining momentum
-Illinois hospital discounts available to hundreds of thousands
-Phil Rogers: Cubs have questions, but not with Soto
-Bulls rookie Rose grades himself — B or B-minus
-John Kass: Readers' creativity runs rings around Games

Fluff that makes me think I'm not getting my money's worth (maybe put it all in the redeye?):
-Tourists get a jump on IOC
-Just in time: New Michigan Ave. Bridge railings
-Domino's accidently dishes out 11,000 free pizzas
-Good Eating Meal Planner
-Fighting dust bunnies: peeps on parade
-One of the nation's most beautiful homes
-Worst 'Lost' episode of the season?
-First look at Chevy Chase on 'Chuck'
-Bobbleheads in video games

Stuff you should just link out too since people who focus only on it do it better or its not worth reporter time:
-Garry Meier to host afternoons on WGN-AM
-Michelle Obama's royal touch a break in protocol
-Dow soars past 8,000
-Key senator questions Pakistan aid
-North Korea fueling rocket for satellite launch
-G-20 leaders back tougher regulations, $1 trillion stimulus

Some Takeaways and Tangents

When I go home to the Philadelphia suburbs I devour the local paper because its the only place I can get that news. It sounds odd to go local in a globalizing world but as Merlin Mann says, when you try to do everything you end up doing nothing, own Chicago again, forget the nation for now.

Make friends with bloggers they're not your adversaries and would probably jump at the chance to contribute (bonus for you, reduction in full-time staff to pay).

Here's something novel I'll toss out there:

I'd pay to subscribe to the paper if I could pick what sections I got and pay per section (maybe this is what should have been meant by that iTunes for news crap).

So as as Subscriber I'd recieve a paper customized to what I want...example: sports, politics, business, no entertainment or national news. Other people could still choose that stuff if it interests them but I'm not bombarded with it anymore... you'd have to print less, I'd pay, there'd be less waste and because I'm picking only sections I like I'd percieve the paper as higher quality.

Just some food for thought from someone who thinks about this a lot...

Brad Maier / April 2, 2009 3:38 PM

As an added benefit, having granular subscription data like this: i.e. we have this many people subscribing to the sports section... gives you other data related business models and better ad targeting, raising your ad rates.

It would also be a way to find out from their wallet what sections customers value and would allow you to make some resource decisions

Brad Maier / April 2, 2009 3:51 PM

Thanks to a discussion I'm having with brad flora of

I've realized this idea also applies to the purchase at the newsstand, Imagine being able to only buy the sports section each day or the business section or what have you

Daniel / April 2, 2009 4:24 PM

I can't speak to the operational costs of printing specialized sections for a major metropolitan daily -- I don't deal with print operations at all -- but thinking logistically, pricing models would have to change for advertisers.

I agree -- I don't see why more money can't be made on ads in sections people opt into. Granted, separate pricing models would need to be created for subscriber copies and single copies of the publication.

Then there are the presses themselves -- and keep in mind, this isn't my forte -- only one paper is constructed, covered and delivered. Logistically, for it to work on a big scale, something very basic about the printing and distribution process would have to change.

Operationally, it would be difficult. But it's worth asking about, no?

Now making money online -- that's something completely different.

Brad Maier / April 2, 2009 4:46 PM

I'm not saying specialize or improve the sections, I'm saying print the same exact paper you do now but let me only buy the sections I want,.

The only difference in the process is that the paper doesnt get assembled.

Its left in sections, and sold at the news stand in sections, the extra cost of assembling the paper for subscribers would be dispersed among those very subscribers who pay for customization

Brad Maier / April 2, 2009 4:52 PM

I am of course operating under the assumption that the majority of the sections get printed on like sheets of paper and then assembled into a whole.

I do agree that opt-in is a major key as is better reader data

DaveDave / April 2, 2009 5:18 PM


Can't you have that newspaper you want now? Just go to their website and print out just the things you want. Im pretty sure that all of the stories in your "stories I'd pay for" list are there on the website and most have a "printer friendly" option. Just take maybe 10 minutes in the morning, print out what you want and take it with you.

Best of all, it's free. For now.

Well, except for the printer ink and paper.

Or am I missing something (and it wouldn't be the first time)?

mike / April 3, 2009 12:22 AM

I can't wait for Good Luck and Madachode to chime in with their insights about how this is all Obama's/the gays' fault.

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