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Sinking Ad Pages Take Tribune Co. Into Chapter 11

Sinking Ad Pages Take Tribune Company Into Chapter 11

By Martha Rosenberg
Evanston, Il

Click to enlarge

You know the newspaper industry is hurting when free copies of the Chicago Tribune are replaced with a pay machine outside the Tribune's own Medill School of Journalism building on the Northwestern University campus.

Hey, every 75 cents counts.

Medill School of Journalism students can still read copies of USA Today for free but it is neither a hometown paper, benefactor or former home of iconoclasts like Mike Royko.

A year ago Dean John Lavine added video, marketing and "spin" to the Medill curriculum so journalism grads wouldn't be as obsolete in the collapsing news business as, say, Ecommerce and "Webtailing" majors in 2000.

Articles need "attractive presentation," he said to compete in the current environment.

"You have to have an audience or the story doesn't exist."

Lavine even threatened to change the school's name to Medill School of Integrated Marketing Communications--an academic concentration Medill created--over a chorus of outraged current and future alumni. (Viz. You studied WHERE?)

But he made no friends.

"We mortgaged our futures to be here," graduate student Sydelle Moore told the Daily Northwestern, resenting the changes in direction from the program she enrolled in.

Of course Lavine was only responding to the news industry debacle around him.

This week the Tribune Company which owns the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times filed for bankruptcy after a long illness. Less than a year ago local real estate tycoon Sam Zell took the company private under an S-corp ESOP employee stock ownership plan which ended up doing no more than buying the company time.

Now the media giant probably wishes it had the $17.7 million golden parachute back it bequeathed to former Tribune Chairman and Chief Officer Dennis FitzSimons when he left the company twisting in the wind. (What would he get if he left it solvent--his own island?)

Nor is Chicago's "other" newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times the picture of health.

After being swindled of millions by former parent company's officers Lord Conrad Black and F. David Radler--the accommodating board included Henry Kissinger, Richard Perle and former Illinois Gov. James Thompson--the Sun-Times slashed newsroom jobs, merged with its suburban papers and farmed out newspaper delivery operations to the Chicago Tribune (but who knew?) earlier this year.

Even the Chicago Reader, considered the granddaddy of free weeklies, is on the ropes after Florida based Creative Loafing Inc. bought it in July and proceeded to declare bankruptcy in September.

Thanks, guys.

While most say the newspaper ennui is from Web converts who want their news fast--and wrapped around Lindsay Lohan--cell phones have also played a part.

Who reads when they have a cell phone vibrating or crooning Rihanna in their ear?

Others, like newspaperman Duncan Graham blame the papers themselves for "overwritten crime" and padding "the rest with syndicated copy, travel and TV columns post telecast."

Valuable space he writes on New Zealand's Scoop website is, "taken up by contests, in-house ads and oversize photos of alleged stars supplied by agencies that also fixed the interviews, hagiographies essential."

But of course the real source of newspaper decline--in quality and on the balance sheet--is the drying up of advertisers known as The Recession.

Because, as everyone who's worked in news knows, the obnoxious ads for Puffs and tire stores, tuckpointing and wart crème, big-and-tall menswear, cell phone anytime minutes, divorce attorneys, tube socks, new-and-used-cars-and-trucks, boxes of Tide and of course "lifelike" collectible Pocahontas dolls---pay your bills!!

And no matter how much your blogger may love to pontificate about Bush, Obama, Iraq, Guantanamo and the fact that marijuana should be legal--you have to pay someone to sit through a city council meeting.

You have to pay them to unspool the legislative sleight of hand around state politics. (see: Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and Tony Rezko.)

And you have to pay them to "fact check" whether the lady with the quote about the school board is Vicky or Vicki.

Even the Olympics, Nascar and philanthropic organizations are dependent on advertisers.

They just call them sponsors.

So if the Chicago Tribune fell in the forest with no one to hear it and published no more--followed by the Chicago Sun-Times and other newspapers--who would cover the story?

Bloggers blogging about bloggers?

People with degrees in Integrated Marketing Communications?


Martha Rosenberg is a columnist/cartoon who writes about public health.

© Scoop Media

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