With fewer than 200,000 customers in the city proper, the Trib doesn't have the largest circulation in Chicago--the Sun-Times does. But the Tribune has been the paper of choice for Chicago's vast Republican suburbs since the days when Colonel McCormick branded Herbert Hoover a closet leftist and raged against the "crackpot socialism" of the New Deal. Those suburbs are still the heart of the Trib's 654,000 daily and one million Sunday circulation--and the place where affluent readers entice advertisers.
Last year, to shore up a circulation slide in the western suburbs of DuPage, the former fox-hunting country where the Colonel used to reside, bureau chief Terry Brown was dispatched to direct a platoon of 10 reporters and three photographers who bivouaced in the CLTV newsroom. The office also got a beefed-up sales and circulation staff of about 160. In Schaumburg, another wealthy western suburb, another circulation drop drew another new Trib army--40 correspondents.
"One of our goals is to get more involved in the community," says Brown, a former editorial page writer and Wall Street Journal reporter. In his office overlooking the CLTV parking lot, Brown is newsroom casual--no tie. He's one of four lieutenants who help command this suburban outpost, along with one executive for advertising, one for distribution and one for promotion. They all report to the DuPage general manager, or "mini-publisher." Brown says the team has undertaken extensive market research, primarily focus groups, to find out what readers want. What he has learned, he says, is this: "They don't think of us as their local paper. The Tribune has the reputation of being aloof and arrogant." Brown talks about how the Trib must become "more visible" and "more friendly." The DuPage executives are even discussing sponsoring Little League teams.
But isn't there a conflict between being "more friendly" and the demands of independent journalism?
"I think you can be both," Brown says. "You can be aggressive and yet not be aloof."
It's in the suburbs where some Trib reporters fear a breach of the wall between church and state, but in fact the wall has been chipped at everywhere. The Trib's managing editor, 42-year-old Ann Marie Lipinski, along with corporate marketing executive David Murphy, head the paper's "branding committee." Together, they sit in on reader focus groups to determine, in the words of Tribune Publisher Scott C. Smith, "what they should be writing about." Smith quickly adds, "Now, we don't substitute a popularity contest for journalistic judgment." But he insists on "a balance." And Lipinski, who won a Pulitzer in 1988 for investigative reporting and is widely thought to have the inside track to succeed Tyner, doesn't camouflage her business intent. "I'd like more people buying the newspaper," she says. "Certainly increased circulation is either 1-A or 1-B of this project." She sees her forays into marketing as a learning experience, an opportunity to reach beyond the confines of the newsroom. "I don't think research, a priori, is a bad thing--that's what you do when you do interviews," she says. "The objective is not to conduct a poll on which five stories should be on page one tomorrow. Readers expect us to make those decisions." But she adds, "I put some stories in the paper that readers suggested." In a focus group last fall, for example, as the crisis with Iraq was building, she heard a reader blurt, "No one's explained to me what this son of a bitch has. Can he bomb me?" Lipinski promptly ordered up a story on the actual military and terrorist threat posed by Saddam Hussein.
DuPage bureau chief Brown, now in his early 50s, bears the credentials of a traditional journalist. "One reason the editor of the newspaper asked me to come out here," he says, "is that I am an old-timer, and I can stand up to advertising people and can say, 'Look, we are not going to print what the advertiser wants.' Yet I'm softening up. This is going on in the industry. You see it at the L.A. Times. The editorial department of the Chicago Tribune was the least-understood part of the paper. We wanted it that way. We wanted to protect our turf." But thumb-in-your-eye defiance has to change, he says, because newspapers are fighting for their lives and need better communication between business and editorial, not to mention with the community. "I have a better understanding, or at least empathy," for the business side, he says. "If we do a special dining guide that our advertising people sell a lot of ads against, they'll say, 'We're not trying to control content. We just want to know if you're going to be writing about a certain restaurant.' I don't see anything wrong with them wanting to know about the product--God, I'm talking like this, talking about product! But I have no problem as long as they don't make requests about what I write or when."
Isn't there danger of pressure to assure a friendly review?
"I would be very troubled if I saw advertising guys talking to my reporters," Brown answers. "That's where I draw the line." But Brown is operating in an environment that favors teamwork and cooperation. If the old newsroom culture was too cynical, the fear is that it will be replaced by an environment whose imperative--from the business side, from market research, from the community--is to be too friendly.
The church-state issue intensified at the Tribune as its focus grew increasingly local. The paper publishes eight zoned editions, and the number will likely rise dramatically within the next few years. There is widespread concern in Chicago that the Trib has become a suburban paper. U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), who praises the paper for "being very fair to me," nonetheless observes, "I didn't realize until I went to suburbia that oftentimes they don't read the same paper I do." What they're missing, he says, is news from another planet--from the heart of his district on the South Side of Chicago, for instance, where 18 shopping malls have closed and the sagging economy stands in grim contrast to the robust growth in affluent suburbs. "I wish the Tribune wasn't just catering to those who are doing well."
Hank DeZutter, a Malcolm X College journalism teacher and cofounder of the Community Media Workshop, says this about today's Trib: "Now it's like a baseball team. It can move. It doesn't have the passion for Chicago that it had, as bad as it was. I don't think it cares about the city." Clarence Page doesn't share that assessment, but he still worries. "What bothers me is that we have a Northwest section story and we keep it only in the Northwest section of the paper. What troubles me is when we ghettoize... It happens all the time."
This criticism is sired by a perception, shared by many Tribune reporters, that editors are fixated on local news. "It is more difficult to get national and international stories on page one," grouses a Washington correspondent. Adds Deputy Managing Editor James E. O'Shea, "One school of thought thinks we ought to be intensely local. My view is that we ought to be more regional. By that I mean a broader newspaper." He reached this conclusion after watching his former paper, Gannett's Des Moines Register, constrict its focus from statewide to central Iowa and lose nearly 200,000 subscribers from historic circulation highs. "The people in Iowa bought the Des Moines Register not to get intensely local news," O'Shea says, adding that readers were proud of the paper's scope and reputation. He fears Illinois consumers will turn to the New York Times for national and international news, and to local papers for local news. Thus the Tribune might get squeezed.
The Tribune recently lost its foreign editor, Thom Shanker, to the Washington bureau of the Times. After five years in Moscow and two in Bosnia, Shanker served only one year as foreign editor. He told associates he saw the writing on the wall: The number of bureaus was shrinking, the church-state barrier in the suburbs had become a picket fence. Although Shanker wrote a farewell letter extolling the editors' commitment to "excellence" and asserting that his move was "less about leaving the Tribune than about joining the Times," he was, in fact, more depressed than he let on. Like others in the newsroom, he thought the paper had suffered an identity crisis. As a member of the national staff puts it, "The paper isn't sure anymore whom it is serving."
Or perhaps it is sure. When I ask the publisher, Scott Smith, to respond to the criticism that the paper is retreating from national and international news, he praises his far-flung staff and says he respects that view. "But the economics are not with that. The New York Times has economics that work for them in that regard."
Newsroom critics detect the dreaded voice of a "bean counter" in Smith's response--a complaint at the core of the 1993 book by former Tribune Editor James D. Squires, "Read All About It! The Corporate Takeover of America's Newspapers." The "blueprint" for the newspaper company of the future, wrote Squires, was drawn by former Gannett Chairman Al Neuharth, who gobbled up newspapers, slashed costs, shortened stories and generally operated as if his principal audience was Wall Street.
But Lipinski, who joined the paper as a summer intern in 1978 and, save for a Nieman Fellowship, has never left, disputes her former mentor. "I feel like I'm working for a paper that's vastly better than the one I joined," she says. "The paper was relatively mediocre then. What Jim is describing is the fashionable criticism. It's very hard for me to balance that criticism with what I know my tools are... If I thought quality didn't matter here, I wouldn't stay."
It is hard to argue that the Tribune is not a better paper than it was when Colonel McCormick, like William Randolph Hearst, whimsically ordered up stories and used the front page to ridicule or punish foes. Yet the paper that the Colonel called the World's Greatest is clearly not that. It is not the same paper that in 1947 was the first to have at least one reporter on duty every minute the Senate or House was in session. It hasn't covered the White House with the same intensity as it did under Squires. The current paper has weaknesses that can be noted at a glance. The Sunday magazine and book review are painfully thin. The vaunted international coverage is sometimes thin, as well. Although the October 4, 1997, paper contained a page one story from Moscow on the joint space mission, the few inside pages of overseas news were filled with wire copy, with the exception of one Tribune short from Havana. Arts and entertainment reviews almost always run a day late (e.g., a Monday opening will be covered on Wednesday). These specific nits, however, are subsumed by the larger criticism that
the Tribune is, well, weaker.
"In some ways you're seeing a newspaper not quite as good as it was five years ago," says Jon Margolis, the Tribune's national politics writer for 22 years. He left the paper in 1995 to write books. "When the bean counters took over," he says, "they hired people who had no memory." The absence of memory became so acute that the paper called back Margolis as a consultant for the 1996 presidential election. He and other alumni can point to a series of changes in service of the bottom line: There has been a delayering of editors; the paper no longer hires reporters after a three-month tryout, but employs "associates" who remain on probation a full year; the paper lost many experienced reporters, all hired in the '70s--Margolis, Eleanor Randolph, Harry Kelly, Jim Jackson--that it didn't replace. "In the last seven to eight years," Margolis says, "you could count on the fingers of your hand the number of established reporters they've hired. There's not much bench strength." As a consequence, he says, the worst effects are yet to come. "To the extent that Squires is right, it's more prospectively. You can see a slight weakening. Not because people are not good, but because there are not enough good people."
The Tribune has many strengths, including a seriousness of purpose that prompted it to pour enormous resources into investigating the tragic rash of deaths among Chicago children in 1993. In December 1995 the Trib published an 11-part series exploring the ordeal of modern Africa. In June 1996 it exposed inadequate medical supplies aboard the nation's airliners, a shortcoming more lethal than crashes. The paper often carries snap-to-attention writing, such as Charles Leroux's profile of 82-year-old Bernard O'Halloran, whose debilitating strokes separated him from Agnes, his wife of 60 years. The sports section is readable and feisty, the TV criticism pungent and apt. Its editorial page, under former New York Times editorial writer N. Don Wycliff, doesn't have the bite of Wycliff's former page. But he says proudly that the Trib's page is "contrarian." It opposed the independent counsel law that now bedevils the Clinton White House, pushed for elimination of Illinois' teacher-tenure laws, and lashed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, "whose reckless and provocative behavior has jeopardized the chances for peace"--a blunt stance that could not be found in the Times or Post. In elections, Wycliff ruefully concedes, the Trib is still plagued by knee-jerk Republican instincts. In the 1996 U.S. Senate race, he says, the Tribune couldn't turn fast enough and wound up supporting Al Salvi, a Republican who was "way far out there." Tradition, he believes, triumphed over judgment.
The Trib is rightly proud of John Kass, who took over the late Mike Royko's page three column. The son of a Greek grocer from Chicago's South Side, Kass is a college dropout who joined the Merchant Marine and worked as a butcher before becoming a newspaperman. For 10 years he covered City Hall for the Trib. The competition to fill Royko's slot was ferocious, and the choice of native Chicagoan Kass, says Thom Shanker, "spoke a lot for the paper and how it didn't forget its roots."
Here's the beginning of a column Kass wrote about an alderman who was forced to resign last year because he enriched himself and friends of Chicago's mayor:
Ald. Patrick Huels spent a lifetime as a loyal appendage--and only a week as an infected liability.
So on Tuesday night, with the political health of Mayor Richard Daley at stake, Huels finally was removed after several painful days of sawing.
The Bridgeport alderman is not the first to be amputated, and he won't be the last. It's the way of politics. But despite the operation, the bleeding won't stop.
Something happened between Daley and his city this week that simple damage control and public relations spinning won't fix... There's money being made at City Hall for the mayor's close circle of fat-cat friends who eat no-bid contracts and sweetheart deals.
There's a freshness to Kass--the kind of freshness sorely missing these days from Bob Greene's columns. (Come the third week in November, Greene is in Dallas, so he fills his space with rumination on the death of JFK...) In time, Kass' name, like Royko's and Studs Terkel's, may become identified with Chicago.
But what about the news--the hard information that Alderman Huels used his public office to benefit his private security firm? That wasn't the Tribune's story. The Sun-Times broke it last October. Not only was it first, the feisty tabloid also skinned the culprits with a populist, throw-the-bums-out crusade. When the Trib finally weighed in on the story, it was in a manner perhaps symptomatic of why it got beat. Critics call it a simple lack of passion. The Trib already had two reporters exploring the mores of the City Council, so they used the Huels scandal as a springboard for in-depth, contextual pieces illuminating aldermanic culture--and explaining why it condoned Huels' behavior. More Socrates than Patrick Henry, the Trib was so busy telling readers "why" that critics say it almost forgot about "what" or "who."
"The Tribune has withdrawn from the investigative journalism business," says Michael Miner, media columnist and senior editor of the Chicago Reader, an alternative weekly. "Instead of an investigation designed to nail someone, we get long studies of poverty. Their investigative reports are meant to help us understand, not change anything. A lot of the fun is drained out of the Tribune... The Tribune is not in the pelt-bagging business anymore. It would rather commune with the bear."
Miner has a theory on why the Trib is fixated on "why." He links what he sees as a vice to what others see as the virtues of the man at the top: the president of Tribune Publishing, Jack Fuller.
Fuller has his share of august newspaper credentials--he won a Pulitzer Prize as editor of the Trib's editorial page, and succeeded Jim Squires as editor in 1989. Now he oversees all four Tribune papers. But his resumé also features interesting "outside" experience. He got his J.D. from Yale Law School in 1973. He served two years as special assistant to the U.S. attorney general in the Ford administration. He has lived on both sides of the barricade--which no doubt contributes to his tendency to see four sides to every issue. Fuller says that from his former view in the Justice Department, he saw "a disconnect between what I was observing and what the press was reporting. It was fascinating how right the press was on so many facts that people tried to hide--and how wrong they were about people's motivation."
At the Trib, the bearded Fuller is perceived as an intellectual. Books form small mountains on his desk and fill the shelves behind him. He writes his own books, too, including a philosophically challenging entry on newsroom ethics, "News Values: Ideas for an Information Age." The book roams easily from Greek and Roman philosophers to the Reformation and the Founding Fathers. Along the way, Fuller picks up, examines, doubts and finally dismisses many of journalism's platitudes. Fuller, for example, rejects the totem that journalists are meant to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." The statement "makes sense," he writes, if it means journalists should report on the suffering of the poor and "have the courage to tell unpleasant truths about the powerful... But it also can be an invitation to bias." Should journalists always afflict the comfortable, even when they do no harm? "Should they afflict them simply because of their comfort? And what about the afflicted? What if telling the truth to and about them would cause them discomfort?" To critics like Miner, this is Fuller blather: "The man is drenched in his philosophy, which is scrupulous to a fault."
In his office at the Tribune Tower, Fuller is still dismissing easy truths--for example, the charge that the newspaper has turned its back on its hometown. "We still devote more inches to the city of Chicago than anyone else does," he says. But he adds that a newspaper must balance reader interests. "If you're in Lincoln Park," he says, mentioning a pricey Chicago enclave, "are you interested in who the sheriff of Cook County is? Some things are universally important, and some things are not."
Fuller has plenty of allies in the newsroom. The growing interest in suburban news, says two-time Pulitzer winner William C. Gaines, "hasn't detracted from anything that I've seen." Gaines joined the paper as a police reporter in 1963 and is its investigative ace. He says the paper is as good, and hard, as it ever was. "We always have large projects going. I see the editorial department expanding." The Tribune is not without scoops: It forced Chicago Police Superintendent Matt Rodriguez to resign after revealing his brother-like friendship with a felon; it spotlighted police abuse on the front page; it revealed how some immigrants were assumed guilty until cleared by drug tests. Likewise, columnist Kass rejects the notion that the Trib was somnolent on the Huels scandal. "In other words, let's have some more Gotcha!" he snaps. "We got beat. It was a good story. We've beaten them. That's the ball game. You don't need all this intellectualizing about it."
But Fuller is eager to join the debate. He wants his reporters to be explainers, not hunters. "I'm not sure this newspaper can justly be accused of being too polite," he says. "If anything, the journalism of today is too often fixed on finding the culprit. I believe there are culprits, and we should find them and get them out of office. I believe we were spoiled by Watergate to believe every ill of society can be explained by one man. It's jejune. But I don't think the real purpose of journalism is jejune. The influence I'd love to have is to say our job is to get as close as we can, every day, to an accurate depiction of how the world works, without being afraid to point fingers, and yet not feel we have to."
Some at the paper would trade Fuller's cool musing for some old-fashioned heat. There would have been hell to pay under Squires, they say, if the Trib got beat on a corruption story. Columnist Page praises the paper's explanatory journalism but says, "That place is like an aircraft carrier. It's a very large operation. It needs strong leadership at the top--a go-for-the-jugular instinct. I haven't seen that instinct since Jim Squires and Bill Jones." Jones was a young Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter who became managing editor. He died of cancer in 1982.
When Squires was editor, through much of the '80s, shouting in the newsroom was common. People who made mistakes feared for their jobs. "The Tribune is a place where there is lots of excellence, but no one yells at you if you don't achieve excellence," says a former Trib reporter who asked not to be identified. "The Tribune is putting so much of its effort into synergy and brand." When Squires left, says a veteran Trib reporter who also requested anonymity, "passion walked out the door." Squires may have been explosive, "but so was Colonel McCormick. It sure helps to have a strong personality at the helm."
Lipinski makes a point of saying that there was a "dressing down--but not in the center of the newsroom." And no yelling. Her boss, Tyner, concurs. "There's not been a lot of screaming since Squires left," he says. Tyner's arm sweeps toward the newsroom, just outside the bay window of his office. "If you went around here and talked to folks," he says, "what you'd get is, 'We don't want to be flashy.' "
For his part, Squires is sticking to the critique in his passionate and acerbic book. Now raising horses at his farm outside Lexington, Kentucky, he praises Fuller and Tyner as good men who deserve credit for not tarting up the news. But today's Tribune, he insists, lacks "energy and passion." He links this failing to his book's larger theme, the corporatization of news. "The newspaper has always been relevant to the lives of people when it had passion," he says. "What it's trying to do now is keep up its profit margins. That's different. You're looking at a good newspaper, a newspaper with talent and serious people at the top, like Jack Fuller and Howard Tyner. But they are existing in a different world. I'm not as concerned about the survival of the newspaper as I am about the survival of journalism. What the Tribune is today is what every big newspaper is to its owner--a franchise. It's viewed differently than newspapers used to be viewed. We used to think of it as a quasi-public service to inform people about what they needed to know: Who's cheating whom?.. What disease is lurking?.. What government is wasting their tax money?.. Journalism's job has always been to educate people. Today the owners view it as an information franchise whose job it is to make money."
For several months I subscribed to the Chicago Tribune and the other three newspapers that fly the Tribune Co. flag. A few impressions hit me immediately. First, the three sister papers get their national and international stories from the wire services and other newspapers--though rarely from the Chicago Tribune. This frustrates Trib reporters, who wonder what became of synergy. Alas, Chicago is an hour behind its colleagues. "Usually they don't get us stories on time," says the Sun-Sentinel managing editor, Ellen Soeteber, who came from the Trib three years ago and is widely credited with bringing new energy with her.
A second impression is that these are essentially local papers, probably better than most in their mid-range circulation categories. (The Sun-Sentinel daily circulation is nearly 257,000; the Sentinel, 251,000; and the Daily Press, 100,000.) Tribune acquired the Florida papers in the mid-'60s, the Daily Press in 1986. When comparing the Trib's acquisitions with Gannett's, Fuller pointedly says, "Our signature is running good newspapers, and when we buy a newspaper we make it better."
Although the smaller papers don't publish as much investigative or enterprise reporting as the Tribune, you can still find exemplary work. The Orlando paper undertook a months-long investigation of Central Florida's overcrowded schools, a series that helped provoke a special session of the state legislature. Nor did Orlando editors censor TV critic Hal Boedeker when he eviscerated the monotonous coverage of Central Florida News 13--the Sentinel and Time Warner's jointly owned 24-hour cable news channel. The Fort Lauderdale paper exposed Florida's sex entertainment business. The reporter on that six-part series, 34-year-old José Lambiet, who arrived two years ago from the New York Daily News, marvels, "They left me alone for six months!" Nor did editors flinch when he wrote a sidebar on the paper's practice of taking ads from sex services. Lambiet wishes the Sun-Sentinel did as many whistle-blowing stories as the rival Miami Herald; he says the Daily News was "more dynamic to read" and adds, "We're kind of boring." But he's proud of his new paper. "We think more about what we do. The News just slaps things in the paper. They did a sex series in the News--it took them a week to do. An editorial meeting at the News was like a gang meeting. Whoever yells the loudest gets the story. Here they think things through a bit more."
In Virginia, the Daily Press has run tough editorials blasting Pat Robertson and the National Rifle Association. And when Oliver North ran for the Senate in 1994, it published weekly editorials headlined "Ollie's Lies." Publisher Jack Davis sounds like the Chicago Tribune editor he once was, citing these editorials among his proudest achievements. "We lost maybe hundreds of subscribers who were mad at us for our weekly insistence that Oliver North was not a trustworthy person," he says.
A third impression is that there are notable weaknesses in the Tribune papers. In Orlando, with a market heavy on young service workers (courtesy of Disney World, Universal Studios, et al.), the Sentinel seems light on government reporting. Publisher John Puerner says his audience wants mostly sports, classifieds and entertainment listings. At each of the papers, half the front page is locally generated, but their A sections invariably brim with bylines from other sources. For example, Fort Lauderdale's November 18 edition ran 40 stories in its 28-page main section. Only two came from the Sun-Sentinel itself; 38 were from other newspapers or wire services, and that was not unusual. All five columns on the op-ed page were syndicated.
Fort Lauderdale's editor is Earl R. Maucker, a neat, mustachioed man of 50 who tends to speak in clichés ("Nothing succeeds like success!"). But he is thoroughly up-to-date on Tribune Co. philosophy: "This is, in all honesty, a reader-driven newspaper." Maucker says he wants readers to be "comfortable." And they won't be if the "newspaper breaks on the doorstep" because it is "heavy" with government and investigative news. The result of this ethic can be seen across the company: All three sister papers feel light, at least by metro standards.
It doesn't take a Wall Street whiz to notice another characteristic of Tribune papers: financial health. Unlike many city newspapers, they are located in vibrant economic enclaves. The Orlando paper monopolizes the region. Only 15 percent of its readers, says editor John Haile, read a second newspaper. The Sentinel reaches 37 percent of all potential households, 55 percent on Sunday, according to Puerner's figures, and offers advertisers 140 zones--one reason he cites for revenues growing 25 percent over the past four years. Haile prides himself on the fact that he thinks like a publisher as well as an editor, and he frets about inroads Cox might make into this market. Cox already owns nearly half the Daytona Beach Journal, plus Orlando's top TV station and a cluster of radio stations. But the Sentinel, he knows, has a sizable head start.
In Fort Lauderdale, the Sun-Sentinel owns fast-growing Broward County. No longer the mecca for college students on spring break, this has become an affluent residential area, more like Beverly Hills than Coney Island. The Sun-Sentinel has more competition than its brethren in Orlando--from Cox's Palm Beach Post to the north and Knight Ridder's Miami Herald to the south--but it has better penetration numbers. Reflecting more affluent, more news-conscious readers, 44 percent of potential subscribers receive the paper daily, and 62 percent on Sunday, says Publisher Robert J. Gremillion. Adds editor Maucker, "People would die for the kind of problems I've got!"
In Virginia, the Daily Press lost circulation when it raised its price a few years ago (a mistake publisher Davis says he would not repeat). He says circulation has stayed flat for the past 10 years, but revenue has increased "dramatically." The Press, like its sister papers, has state-of-the-art printing presses that allow later deadlines and zoned editions. Plus, all three papers operate without unions, enjoying more freedom to manage costs. And, like the Chicago Tribune, they have redefined how they do business.
Indeed, this is yet another characteristic of Tribune papers: a business culture that permeates every edition. Across the company, editors and publishers express a common devotion to editorial independence. No doubt this is genuine. No doubt Fort Lauderdale's Ellen Soeteber is correct: "In some ways these pressures were worse in the old days. It was more small town, and the newspaper was part of the local power structure." She concedes there's always a risk when the wall between business and journalism is lowered. "But less of a risk than before the corporatization of newspapers--which has allowed them to be more independent of the local power structure."
A financially strong corporate owner offers protection, adds Jane Healy, managing editor of the Orlando Sentinel. She won a Pulitzer in 1988 for a series exposing the downside of unchecked development. "Developers pulled advertising, and the publisher didn't flinch," she remembers. "I never even heard about it. That's a benefit of a healthy newspaper."
On the other hand, corporatization brings a new and, sometimes, too-cozy culture. In October, the Sentinel stripped a story about the start of its 24-hour cable news operation across the top of the front page: "Local news channel debuts tonight." The Daily Press, on election day, plastered its front page with a notice to "Visit Digital City Hampton Roads tonight for updates on the governor's race" and to watch columnist Jim Spencer on WAVY-TV.
With passion, Orlando's Haile speaks of the need to preserve the wall between business and news because "the newspaper trades on its credibility." But Haile is a reasonable man--someone who loves his job, sees himself as an entrepreneur and takes pride in being open to change. So he adds, "Too many journalists seem afraid to confront the future. It's almost as if we deal with new media that somehow journalists will make the wrong decision about where you draw the line. I think you ought to have more confidence in yourself." The Sun-Sentinel's Maucker goes further. "It's all attitude," he says. "You don't have to declare there are no walls. We've had project teams since I got here. There's always been a belief here in a team approach... There are no walls. There shouldn't be any walls."
Does this mean, I ask, that someone from ad sales could call his editors?
Well, it's okay to call him, Maucker says, which is what most editors would say. But then he goes further: It's okay for an ad manager to call his bureau chiefs too.
At Tribune papers, the lingo of market research fills the air. People talk of setting up "joint task forces," of "listening to readers." Says Haile, "We have to rethink how we define news. My newsroom may not be in sync with what readers think. For example, if no one in my newsroom is interested in Puerto Rico and my readers are, we are in trouble." The editor, like the publisher, must bring a business sensibility to his mission. Haile welcomes the paper's cumbrous research into what readers want. "You've just got to try and keep ahead of them. We have to have some relevance to them. If they have no interest in government and politics, we have to find out what they are interested in." Ask publisher Davis to cite the strengths of his Virginia paper, and he immediately answers, "It knows its market." Fort Lauderdale's Soeteber says, "We're oriented to our readers."
To track readers' desires, editors attend two monthly focus group sessions, a common practice at the four papers. Giving readers more of what they want, Soeteber insists, "is not dumbing down the news. It means what issues are most meaningful to their lives." Maybe. Or it might also be true, as James O'Shea, the Chicago Tribune's deputy managing editor, tartly observes, that most readers don't know what they want. "If I go to buy a suit," he says, "I don't go and say, 'I want a brown suit.' A newspaper is the same. You don't know what you want when you pick it up."
Finally, one notices that each Tribune property sees itself as an information company, not just a newspaper. Each has a multimedia desk. Each has an online newspaper and a Digital City guide on AOL. (Orlando also offers a Black Voices site.) Each has a TV broadcast partner or a 24-hour cable news partner. And, except for Orlando, each has a radio partner.
Indeed, the Sentinel, says publisher Puerner, is "a regional media holding company." He sees his newspaper in the pivot, with a variety of businesses rotating about it: three magazines, including Magic Magazine, a joint publication with the Orlando Magic basketball team; a direct-marketing company, Sentinel Direct, which sells the newspaper's database to advertisers and direct-mail firms; a sign company, Sentinel Signs, which manufactures banners and storefront signs; a market research firm, Sentinel Tele-Services; Sentinel Classifieds, a company that bundles newspaper, online and magazine classified ads; and Sentinel Printing, which produces TV books and other publications. The mission is one-stop service for customers, be they readers or advertisers. "It's like mountain climbing where, as you go up, you have to secure yourself and keep moving up the rock," Haile says. "We know about technological change. But as you go up you have to find some place to secure yourself."
This climbing entrepreneurship is touted in every newsroom. Editor Davis of the Daily Press says, "The whole energy level of the newspaper has picked up. You feel you are reaching a bigger audience, having more input, with hardly any more work." Reporters at the four papers sometimes express annoyance that they're not paid for these extra appearances. But they welcome the occasionally larger audiences and the sense of riding the wave of the future. "I feel we're in the process of carving out our place with technology in the marketplace," says Doreen Christensen, who has worked at the Sun-Sentinel for 18 years and currently edits its TV section. "I view it as my job to assure that the newspaper has a place in that new marketplace, and making sure that I am not left behind when the train leaves the station."
There is less mention of the downside: resources and attention being siphoned from the papers. In Fort Lauderdale, publisher Gremellion says that this year some money for multimedia will come from the newsroom. "Anything we do in 1998 is going to come out of shifting resources around," he says. But there is an advantage, he insists, when other media provide "a promotional vehicle to brand" the newspaper. These promotional platforms reach nonreaders. They also, he says, save marketing dollars with "free" advertising. It all dovetails neatly with the mission of the Tribune Co., which corporate literature describes as "an information company" seeking "to create leading branded content."
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