The Chicago Sun-Times made an astounding announcement a few weeks ago – that they were laying off their Managing Editor, and would put out the paper and manage their digital presence without one. That editor was Craig Newman, and he’s our guest on this week’s Chicago Newsroom. The staff will carry on, he predicts. “They adapt so well to chaos and divisiveness,” he tells us.
But Newman points out that day-to-day editors are slowly being eliminated at news organizations, and it’s probably a sign of things to come. We talk about what the definition of a “news organization” even is today, because readers of the Sun-Times and any other publication can get their news almost anywhere. “…this is going to be a poor example because the current iteration of the Sun-Times Web site is a mess, but you can find the things you care about easily on the internet. You can find the things you care about by a curated twitter feed. You have your Facebook friends that are telling you things that they think are important or sharing back information,” he explains.
It’s imposible to have one of these conversations without discussing the economic model, if one even exists, for newspapering. He admits that he himself finds the printed paper less valuable, since he’s already read so much of it 6, 8 or 12 hours earlier. So are we finally at a point where we can accurately predict the end of the printed product? For some papers, it’ll be soon, he asserts. “It is hugely expensive to produce and it’s hugely expensive to maintain, but that’s still where the revenue structure is at, so you’re stuck with that for a bit. That said, 5 years from now it’s hard to make an argument that we’ll still be picking up any of these.”
There are still advertisers in the printed product, and that’s what’s keeping print alive, he explains. “I think fundamentally the advertising structure is completely invalid now but we’re still holding on to it because there’s a couple of pennies to rub together. If you look through the Sun-Times, Trib or whatever you’re going to find a couple of high end ads upfront and then it’s just a steep drop-off after that.”
We talk at length about the value of a newsroom. A place where smart people gather in a classic, chaotic scene to hash out what they collectively believe to be the important news of the day. That’s still valuable, he says, but much of that process has been democratized now. Each individual can make an assessment of the day’s news and make an independent judgement about what’s newsworthy. And as the country becomes more polarized the idea of a theoretically impartial newsroom has been severely challenged.
“It has to have a place of value within peoples’ minds,” he asserts. “and I think over the last five, maybe ten years the value of a backed news organization has lost a lot of value. People don’t want to believe that there’s accuracy. They want to believe conspiracy theories. They want to believe that there’s some sort of an agenda, the left or the right wing media. And there are some examples of that, to be clear.”
Newman has a new position with Techweek, but he tells us that, while this is a journalism-related job, it’s the first time in 25 years that he hasn’t worked in a daily news environment. Does he feel remorse?
“… so this position being gone I think hurts. I would like to tell myself just for my own ego that me being gone probably hurts them a little bit. I did know a lot about the inner workings, as you might imagine, and was something of a digital architect there.”