The Precarious State of Print Journalism

Many of you know that I’m more than a little obsessed with the decline of the quality journalism in an environment where web pennies will never replace print dollars.  This from kinda sums of the state of play:

Chicago Tribune Editor Gerry Kern sent a memo to staffers last week that challenges some shibboleths of journalism and appears to advocate for giving readers more entertainment at the expense of traditional community affairs.

The message reads like a mission statement. “We clearly are moving toward a 24/7 online business that also publishes in print once a day,” Kern says. While acknowledging the value of traditional fare like public service and investigative reporting, he also stresses the need to delight and entertain.

The nut graph is about halfway down, where Kerns relates that “One of the most revealing insights from recent research is how little excitement some people feel about their daily encounter with us. Many of our regular readers regard us like the electric company or water utility. Yes, everyone wants electricity and water and it’s a pain to do without them. But your soul just isn’t stirred by the sight of working faucet or wall socket.

“Without an engaged audience that finds value in what we offer, we cannot succeed. Journalism is not an abstraction that exists apart from the audience. It must deliver what the audience needs and wants.”

This sounds like a not-too-subtle message that Tribune staff need to take themselves a little less seriously and listen to their readers a little more closely.  If that means giving them record reviews and Sudoku puzzles, so be it.  The Tribune is about to debut a new design along the lines of its Tribune Co. brethren.  If their lead is any indication, you’ll see a lot more color and a little less gravity.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has apparently got the same religion.  The paper is upgrading its features sections with more emphasis on local entertainment and leisure destinations while merging its news sections and cutting back on commentary.

Also, the Tribune has a new managing editor with a track record of success addressing young audiences. Jane Hirt was the founding co-editor of Redeye a free tabloid aimed at Chicago commuters that is considered one of the Tribune’s more successful recent ventures.


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