Chicago is about to become a one-paper town. This is a trending pattern in major cities, given the digital age. The Chicago Tribune is about to buy the Chicago Sun-Times, unless another credible buyer comes forth by June 1.
On the front page of its Tuesday, May 16 edition, Sun-Times editor and publisher Jim Kirk wrote about the possibility of new ownership. For some years now the Chicago Tribune, which is owned by Tronc, short for the Tribune Online Content Network, has printed and distributed the Chicago Sun-Times. Therefore, this is not a sudden, shocking surprise.
Technology guru Michael Ferro, who owns Tronc, originally formed a new company called Wrapports that bought the Sun- Times. He then gave up his ownership position with Wrapports to purchase the Chicago Tribune when it became available, after having sold a bunch of suburban papers owned by the Sun-Times to the Tribune.
And now here we are full circle, with Ferro trying to get the Sun-Times back under his control.
The new Tribune under Ferro’s ownership is moving more and more toward news provided by digital technology. The Tribune has a stronger digital presence than the Sun-Times and the Sun-Times will benefit from that.
This purchase – if and when it goes through – will probably strengthen the Sun-Times’ business position. The challenge to Chicago is whether the Sun-Times will remain independent editorially.
Will we see new columns and features or will we see merging sections? Will we see different entertainment reviews or will there be just one? Will there be two editorial boards or will they merge eventually? Will the national and international news of USA Today vanish from the pages of the Chicago Sun-Times, which currently carries that content?
Will Mary Mitchell, Mark Brown and John Kass become a single column in both papers? Will the Sun-Times become more conservative? Will the Sun-Times’ Fran Spielman appear on the front page of the Tribune with City Hall insights and scoops? Will Steve Chapman’s Tribune editorials appear in the Sun-Times?
Will Mike Sneed, Candid Candace and Chicago Inc. become a single column? Will there be room for former Sun-Times reporter Robert Feder’s media column, especially since former Sun-Times man Bob Herguth and Crain’s writer Shia Kapos, have joined the paper?
Kirk’s editorial claim was that the Sun-Times will maintain independence, however, we will have to wait and see, but it seems as though there will be some sort of shifting media landscape.
A looming question for both papers becomes Black readership. The Sun-Times has for decades been the favorite of Black newspaper readers in Chicago – even when there were four daily newspapers in the city – and it is estimated that at least half to three-quarters of the Sun-Times’ circulation is African American. Will the Tribune retain that Black readership if the Sun-Times is no longer the Sun-Times as we know it?
The Sun-Times bought the Reader, which was a very well distributed alternative paper that took pride in printing liberated news, with feature stories and profiles often critical of the mainstream. Their stories were long, well written and definitely independent. Their stories were not seen elsewhere. And now the Reader added Agenda which is a Friday insert in the Sun Times to include entertainment exclusively. But since the Sun Times bought the Reader it is distributed in its normal way and is now a Friday supplement exclusively with entertainment news.
The Political Endorsement Factor
I am sad that the Sun-Times is going the way of the Tribune. N’DIGO has had a relationship with both papers, both have been supportive in our printing and distribution – though we were always editorially independent – and they opened their corporate doors to us.
I am sad because Chicago, the city with the big shoulders, the city that works, with the beautiful lakefront and downtown skyscrapers, require voices, plural.
We deserve more than one major voice. We need voices that represent the diversity and independent thought of this great Chicago, where racism still lives. The Tribune favors Republicans. The Sun-Times favors Democrats. How is that going to balance out?
Chicago is a political town, and politics is our favorite sport. What happens to political endorsements? Will the two majors endorse the same candidate or will they look at candidates differently with independent eyes?
I don’t think so; I think we will end up living with one written voice. As print diminishes and lessens, political endorsements are still very real, so it is important. You don’t hear much about what online.com endorsed a political candidate. Newspaper political endorsements will become a tricky business with single ownership.
We deserve more than one major voice. We need voices that represent the diversity and independent thought of this great Chicago, where racism still lives.
As all of media struggles these days to find new ways and new voices and new avenues, there is nothing like a newspaper voice. I hope that Chicago, with all of its riches, can find a different buying group to step up and give the Chicago Sun-Times real and continued independence.
As we look at the major news outlets, we also consider the smaller community newspapers and the Black press and the Latino press and we wonder about the future. If the dailies have to merge to secure the advertising dollar, what happens to the small guys?
Will there be independence, mergers and/or acquisitions, or digital exclusively and no more printing presses? It is important to keep multiple voices in this landscape. Freedom is not free and independence is not independent. This is business and politics taking place now. Don’t be fooled.
Let us know what you think, comment below.