Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Chicago Tribune Rearranges Deck Chairs As Its Ship Sinks -- Now Will Publish in Two Formats

The Chicago Tribune continues its slow slide to oblivion, which is very, very sad to see for those of us who appreciate the critical role newspapers play when they do their job well in a balanced and fair way.

The Tribune has announced (link) that it will convert from a broadsheet to a tabloid format for street sales, retaining the larger, traditional format only for home delivery. It claims that content will be the same, although I'm skeptical for if so why would it incur additional costs to publish in two formats. The Tribune apparently hopes to attract more "street " purchases, now a small fraction of their overall sales, by people, otherwise craving for the Tribune's product, currently put off by the larger format.

The Tribune continues to struggle to survive. Its parent company is in bankruptcy (link), it seems indifferent to the web given its mediocre and slow site, and it recently apologized (link) for its dumbed-down appearance and content since its last redesign only months ago (which I wrote about here).

This latest move is truly rearranging deck chairs as the big ship sinks. I recall the old broadsheet Chicago American newspaper, which in its final days 30-40 years ago also clutched at straws as it drowned: less content; dumbed-down articles; a shift to tabloid format, and a name change -- to the chicago today -- all lower case apparently so as to not seem intimidating to potential readers (believe it or not).

Yes, the internet has dramatically changed the world for newspapers, who no longer have a monopoly on news and information and whose biases in reporting, undoubtedly longstanding, are now painfully exposed. But it is not at all clear that "newspapers" cannot survive. They must, however, reinvent themselves as a news and information source with multiple distribution methods focused on delivering content so good and original that customers will pay for it, even on the web. They would need to be much leaner and much more focused, and not offend potential customers with bias in "straight" news reporting (link). The customer base would be smaller but profitable.

Since the Tribune management thinks their ship is sinking because the deck chairs are poorly arranged, time for new management, and there is not a moment to lose. Trying to appeal better to people who don't read much is doomed to fail.

John M Greco

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