Sunday, January 01, 2006

Let's move on

Tribune TowerThe first-floor storefront of Tribune Tower reopens this spring not as a pricey gadget store but as a museum to communication and democracy. It's a rare institution that can build a viable business on those principles.

But it's a profit made with apologies. As the Chicago Tribune laid off 100 workers,MoveOn.org launched a petition drive to reverse the layoffs, claiming that news coverage was being sacrificed to corporate profits.

The economy has hit Tribune harder hit than many of its peers, and its stock ended the year at low ebb. Wall Street is indeed demanding a higher profit from Tribune. But analysts seem to be looking for the same profit produced at The New York Times, or Gannett, or Dow Jones.

MoveOn's contention about the layoffs is that investors will see the gains while national and local news coverage coverage suffers. But the stock price hasn't moved up. and neither national nor metro desk was included in the layoffs.

However, City News Bureau was fated to close this weekend. The Tribune operated this local wire service but did not publish its work. Editors considered it a tip service on police and court news that Tribune reporters needed to corroborate. Yet the Tribune also sold the wire service to TV stations and news radio, which aired the reports immediately.

Possibly the Tribune wasn't charging other newsrooms enough for this — the Reader reports that a potential successor, City News Service of Los Angeles, would have raised rates 50 percent. Ultimately the Tribune declined to give their competition so much help. Instead, reporters and editors are being hired to do the same kind of reporting for chicagotribune.com.

My holiday reading included Jim Collins' Good to Great, which tries to explain how businesses start outperforming their competition. Turns out the winners share three factors: They find a business they're passionate about. They try to be the best at it. And they put their resources where they will be most productive.

Being the best at local news is a civic enterprise as well as an economic one. The latest battleground is online — no apologies.

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