CN May 25 2017

What will a tronc-absorbed Sun-Times and Reader look like? Does anybody believe the claims that tronc will allow both to operate their own newsrooms independently?

With Sun-Times circulation dropping below 130,000 per day, there are more people watching the ten-o’clock news just on Channel 7.  So has our Number Two Newspaper slipped into irrelevancy?

Two seasoned media observers, both experienced creators of content on multiple platforms, join us today.

Both Thom Clark and Scott Smith fear that the web sites for the Sun-Times and Tribune aren’t where they need to be, and with huge numbers of people using the digital, rather than printed, versions of their products, that’s a problem.

“I mean the Sun-Times really has a website that almost dares you to read it,” Smith says. Both Clark and Smith say that there’s not enough original, local content on the sites to make them competitively valuable to digital consumers. “Then you start to say well I don’t know how much value visiting this website has,” Smith explains. “And the bigger more important thing is it’s really hard to drive a digital subscriber then. Because a person who is a digital subscriber is only going to fork over money for original content that’s of high use and high value to them that actually matters to them.”

Newspaper organizations, even big ones – are facing difficult times in their digital spaces, our guests say, because there’s so much competition for digital subscribers.  So the papers are “trying to squeeze as many digital display advertising dollars out of their readers as possible, even when everything that we see says that that business is declining, and not just the CPMs, not just the money you get for running those ads, but just the interest that readers have in that and the value they see in ads is also in decline,” says Smith.

We talk in some detail about the fate of the Chicago Reader.

“I think you could probably pick up The Reader for $3-million,” Smith claims, “And you would be getting an incredible product, particularly when you think about the amount of money that most of those staffers are being paid…They’ve also been doing a really good job of partnering with some of these sort of news lab startups like City Bureau and the folks over at Southside Weekly and Invisible Institute. I mean there is some incredible reporting happening on that street level kind of thing that could with the right marketing and the right visibility really take off. And that’s one of the complaints that The Reader’s staff has had is that it’s not just about the reporters’ salaries, it is the amount of sales and marketing resources that have been pulled from it as the Sun-Times has been struggling.”

And we touch on the perennial topic – how you gonna pay for journalism and journalists as the advertiser-funded print model vanishes?

“I think what’s significant here is the extent to which news consumers are relying on the free internet,” Clark explains, “because they kind of got trained that the last generation as newspapers tried to catch up. And I think the only way we’re going to keep good journalism, however you want to define good, going is through paid subscriptions of some kind, because that’s how you pay the bills and you buy journalists time to really do good journalism. How we get those dollars and on what platform I don’t think anyone has quite figured out yet.”

Ultimately, though, Smith asserts that an even bigger issue than finances is getting news organizations to figure out who they’re serving. Sites like DNAInfo, Capitol Fax,   The Wall Street Journal, Crain’s and The Daily Line – all serve specific audiences with specific needs, and are able to persuade their customers to pay for the service because it’s uniquely valuable to them.

“So the question is for the Sun-Times and the Tribune and for ProPublica and everybody else, is what part of the audience, since it’s so big now online, what part of that audience are you going to focus on, and what do they need from you the most?” Scott concludes.




About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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