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Why the Sun-Times Deserves to Die

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Mike Doyle

Since 2005 scribe of the local blog, Chicago Carless. I invite you to visit.

(UPDATE 9/23/09: This story continues on my personal blog, Chicago Carless, in today's post: "The Day Michael Miner Killed Commentary".)

The Chicago Sun-Times deserves to die. Here's why.

As has been widely reported, two weeks ago an investment group led by Mesirow Financial  CEO Jim Tyree made an offer to save the ailing Sun-Times, which entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March. In return for a mere $5 million purchase price, the investment group, STMG Holdings LLC, would receive control of all Sun Times Media Group assets including Chicago's #2 newspaper, 58 suburban papers, and all associated websites--as well as $20 million in debt.

The potential sale was conditional on the tabloid's union, the Chicago Newspaper Guild, accepting as permanent a 15 percent pay cut imposed at the time of the bankruptcy filing, as well as eliminating seniority rules and reducing severance packages. (Download a memo detailing the concessions the Sun-Times asked the union to agree to here in PDF format via the Chicago Reader.)

Last week, the union voted 83-22 to reject the permanent pay cut and other conditions, but Tyree and company say the conditions are not open to negotiation. Instead, the investment group is demanding "complete flexibility" to move ahead with a bottom-to-top restructuring of Sun Times Media Group.

In Thursday's Reader, Michael Miner analyzed the state of the tabloid and had some surprising things to say--beginning with the admission that he reads the print versions of both of Chicago's leading newspapers every day. (That immediately undercut his contemporary credibility for me, but I digress.)

More importantly, Miner suggested the Sun-Times heed the advice of Columbia Journalism Review managing editor Brent Cunningham to "embrace the new social media but assert itself as the leader of this 'cultural conversation,'" writing:

"...(Cunningham) proposes this: 'The nation needs someone to help initiate and lead the discussion of what kind of place America will be in the twenty-first century.' It's a lofty idea flattering journalism's self-regard, but not necessarily wrong for doing so. 'Such a mission,' Cunningham goes on, 'would mean radically realigning a newspaper's resources and priorities toward the goal of broadening the discourse on important issues --even if it required narrowing the scope of what it covers...'"

The gist of Cunningham's argument is that newspapers no longer have the resources to cover every breaking story, so they might as well report on fewer stories which they can then analyze in sharper focus. An interesting idea, but Miner goes farther in his telling of it. Taking broad bear-claw swipes at Sun-Times columnists (whom he calls out by name), he asserts that the paper's salvation could be hastened by refocusing columinsts away from opinion pieces--that by Miner's unwritten yet seeming assumption don't matter much in the grand scheme of news media--in favor of news analysis.

I've said it before (and again, and again) and I'll say it one more time: journalistic hubris is the single greatest contemporary threat to the future of journalism. By Miner's measure, print journalism is somehow still worthy of "flattering self-regard", even though its modern-day inability to attract regular readers in print is what put the newspaper industry on its deathbed in the first place.

Journalism lost its right to set the cultural agenda the moment web technology placed the multimedia means of disseminating news in the hands of any human with an Internet connection. Suggesting journalism should or in any way even could place itself in charge of setting the agenda in an arena of crowd-sourced social mores like the blogosphere or the Twitterverse is, on the face of it, ludicrous. 

So is Miner's idea of expendable commentary. He may still be reading his news stories the 1999 way, but the overwhelming majority of us here in 2009 get our news electronically. And when we're done reading it, we spend the rest of our time reading our favorite bloggers and commentators. In fact, sometimes we read our favorite bloggers first...just like we used to do with our favorite columnists when our Clinton-era printed papers used to hit our doorsteps.

Cunningham is right in suggesting journalists refocus on analysis, but Miner's dead wrong in believing the daily work of columnists is dispensable enough to "refocus" them. Fact is, news has never sold newspapers. News you can get anywhere. News analysis is another story. And last time I checked, unless it's an all-knowing deity doing the writing, news analysis is nothing more than opinion. People tend to love opinion and gravitate towards those with a knack for sharing it. That's why they have favorite newspaper columnists and bloggers--who, if anyone hasn't figured out by now, are the native columnists of the Internet.

Opinion is also one of the reasons people read Miner. His Chicago Reader blog, News Bites, which has become the unofficial public forum for venting frustration about Jim Tyree's unilaterally imposed conditions of sale, is not without a healthy dose of Miner's own views on things. Yet Thursday's article makes it seem like he's calling for the death of commentary in order to prop up news analysis that is nothing but another form of commentary. Without commentary--Miner's or anyone else's--the media world would be a much more boring, much less monetizable place. Kill your opinion bearers (as Miner suggests in his article's cheeky title) and you kill your cash cows, plain and simple.

Miner ends his column (*cough*) opining that "the press needs a better survival strategy than trying to glom onto a bigger slice of that banality" that he and Cunningham see as making up much of modern mainstream media. Translation: journalism has nothing to learn from opinion-mongering commentators and bloggers.

Do you know what I find banal? One journalist--like Miner--after another digging in their heels and bitching that the world changed and didn't take journalism along with it, then denigrating the potential of any informational model that doesn't sound like it fell out of a 1960s J-school textbook and blaming everyone else for their industry's predicament. How many times does the world-at-large need to shoulder the blame for journalism's failings before rank-and-file journalists actually turn a curious investigative eye into the willfully unexamined assumptions that undergird their field?

Civil society, social order, and humanity's ability to tell right from wrong do not rise and fall with the tides of journalism. Morals do not cease to exist, ethics do not fail to apply, and Earth's revolution around the sun does not fail to happen in a world where a small group of trained technicians is no longer trusted to diagnose the significance of everyday events. Yet a steady stream of journalists continue to write articles warning that life as we know it will come to an end if journalism isn't allowed to remain in charge of telling you, Dear Reader, what you should consider important. How overly pompous and utterly boring can one field get?

What's to blame for this deep-seated fear of change on the part of so many reporters? Is it really high-minded worry over the future of American civilization? Or merely self-interested fear of being handed a pink slip come next payday?

Either reason is annoying. To say society will fail without mid-century journalism around to safeguard it is the equivalent of calling Americans idiots and the Internet pernicious. Most people I know have a pretty sure grasp of right and wrong, and the last time I checked the Internet was doing a pretty good job of policing itself and promoting socially aware causes.

Personally, though, I think the above well-worn argument is just a red herring for rank-and-file reporters afraid of being out of work, potentially over the long term given mainstream media's highly web-flavored metamorphosis. Considering how many other people have lost their jobs in the past couple of years in this country, pardon me if I'm less than sympathetic.

Which gets me back to the Sun-Times deserving to die. Well, doesn't it? Its reporters union just voted overwhelmingly to dig its heels in and bitch at the world around it. Not content that at least they still have jobs, the Chicago Newspaper Guild has voted that it wants things back to the way they used to be, starting with their paychecks.

In this economy, how ungrateful can you get? Is journalistic hubris so blind that journalists are willing to be out of work en masse if the people trying to help them don't accede to their demands? Does the union actually think it has bargaining power? Or really, any leg to stand on at all?

Let me give local journalists some perspective. The end of the world isn't nigh for traditional journalism. It has already arrived. The giant asteroid has already hit and the city-sized crater is still glowing from the impact. The offers of advice, assistance, and aid you've been receiving have been coming from inside the survivors camp. Things are going pretty well in here. We have power, food, and the means to a new future, and we'd love to let you in. But if you keep telling us that we'll have to do things your way if we open the doors, we may just let you rot out there. After all, it was your decision not to heed the emergency sirens and stay out there while the world was falling apart around you.  

If Sun-Times unionized employees are so out of touch with reality--as their vote last week would suggest--that they prefer to remain outside the survivors camp, then they deserve whatever happens next.

The A.P. Stylebook offers no advice on where to send flowers when a newspaper dies.  

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43 Comments

Charles McPhate said:

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I've never been a fan of unions, which may make some stop reading my comments right now. I think unions have far too much power, and they force unreasonable, inflexible contracts on employers.

Case in point, the Chicago Public Library (as reported on the Tribune's website recently) has suffered from the layoffs Mayor Daley was forced to impose because the unions refused to compromise. Volunteers have offered to step in and help, but CPL is prohibited by union contracts from allowing volunteers to do work that would normally be done by union employees. This makes absolutely no sense to me. I have experience working in university libraries, and I would gladly volunteer to help with the grunt work. Instead, I'm forced to wait weeks for books I have on hold to leave the "intransit - sent" status -- all because the unions won't compromise in a time of fiscal crisis.

The Sun-Times crisis is just another example of union arrogance, especially when unemployment is approaching 10%. If the newspaper folds in light of an offer of help, union employees have no one to blame but themselves. And good riddance; one less union to worry about.

And I'm being polite. My dislike for unions is much stronger than what I've expressed here.

Synthia Rose said:

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"Not content that at least they still have jobs," ???? There is no guarantee that union workers would retain their jobs. They could lose them whether they support Tyree or not. They all have to reapply for jobs. And there could still be layoffs in the future.

Also, giving up seniority allows the company to cut longtime higher paid journalists who've paid their dues in favor of inexpensive newbies who would have better cost value for the company.

If you were in a position where a company at will could cut you because you're old, they just feel like it, or because they want to replace you with their favorites, you would crave a union to ink out terms of objectivity.

LivingInTheRealWorld said:

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Synthia, You are so right to have a union and a union contract that guarantees you seniority rights and unreasonably high pay and benefits.....too bad it doesn't guarantee you more than zero hours at great pay, because if the Sun-Times goes bankrupt, so do you.

buddy1959 said:

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Synthia Rose-
Illinois is an at-will State. If I don't earn my job and my ability to hold it by my performance, I would expect to be replaced. I don't need a union to protect me so I can sit back and coast. The cost is too high to sell out my ability to speak for myself.

LianAuldpig said:

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You're missing the point. Chicago will be fine. Chicago his the Tribune, it has legions of bloggers champing at the bit to be unleashed on city hall, on the Chicago night life, even on looking at sales of Chicago media. Chicago's going to be fine.

Joliet won't. Hinsdale won't. Aurora won't. All the other places that are also jeopardized by the union's insistence that this is a negotiation when all evidence points to the contrary won't be fine. What bloggers and new media gurus always forget is that people glom onto the most interesting topics, not the ones that need coverage.

You are actually a perfect example of why traditional journalism has value. That's not an insult to what you do. You picked an interesting topic, stated your take on it and let people respond. However, you didn't pick a topic up before the Elk Grove Village council meeting. You didn't pick a 0.1 percent tax increase that could cost the community millions. You picked something nifty and interesting that will generate a lot of hits.

You can get thousands of people willing to line up to blog the Super Bowl, but who's going to cover the water district? That's what the self-styled gurus forget.

Take the public debate online if you want -- I don't care. But just remember that this entire blog you just wrote was your take on a paid print reporter's take on facts first reported by newspapers, radio, etc. Without ground-level reporters providing the raw material, the facts, figures, research and topics, you bloggy types have nothing to repackage. Without people actually doing the work, you Monday morning quarterbacks are left with nothing but the mouse in your hands.

As for the union bit, I am a reporter for a non-union paper owned by the Sun-Times. My job is in jeopardy because of someone else's seniority. No words you can say are strong enough to express my outrage at these people. If anything, I don't think you were harsh enough at them. Where you missed the point was in mistaking them for the entire organization.

They want to play a game of chicken with their own jobs? Fine. Free country. But when they play with others jobs and not even allow the others a voice in that debate, it's, for lack of a better term, immoral. It's just wrong.

And it's not just guilded reporters vs. non-guilded. It's all the other people whose livelihoods rely on their newspapers. We're talking the pressmen, the ad reps, the behind-the-scenes people whose jobs are as much as risk because of 17 people in Joliet, 83 in Chicago and 16 in Indiana. (My most sincere gratitude to the union employees who voted to go along with the concessions.)

Oh, and Synthia. I am in a position where a company at will could cut me because I'm old, they just feel like it or because they want to replace me with their favorites. I deal with it.

DeanO said:

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Bloggers champing at the bit???? Chicago will be fine??? Most bloggers will never be willing to look into real issues, do real reporting, spend lots of time, confront people in-person with tough questions, regularly get out of their "comfort zone." All of this happens when real journalists are paid to do real work and do it every day, relentlessly. Bloggers are fine for commentary, and most of what they comment on is the work done by real reporters. If newspapers die, the public's voice dies.

Mike Doyle said:

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Charles: I've done plenty of work for union causes in my time, so this was a hard position to take. But it's rare to see a union make a decision that is almost guaranteed to cause the end of the employer in question.
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Synthia: were your hands over your eyes while you were reading? (If you're a reporter, I'm betting so.) The point isn't a few more Sun-Times people out of work later, the point is all of them out of work now. Which would you prefer?
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LianAuldpig: You're absolutely right, either way community news is not going to be a winner in this, and it's not fair for one group of employees to have a say where another group is not given the same opportunity for input. Perhaps the vote would have been different if all employees had had a voice in it. But like it or not, that's not the way things work. The union process was followed, and that's the risk you take as a non-union employee in an industry where unions have--or more to the point had--real bargaining power. You made the choice to work there, and since you are a reporter I can only assume you were wise enough to figure out what you were getting into. For investigative types, reporters sure seem to have a problem picking their battles strategically. As in: if the Sun-Times simply closes down and everyone there loses their jobs, how much chance will Hinsdale have to be covered then?

Craig Kanalley said:

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Interesting, thought-provoking piece, Mike.

I think this speaks loudest about journalism as a whole, not as much on the Sun-Times. And I couldn't agree with you more that journalists saying "woe is me" don't deserve much sympathy. Yeah, it's a radically different time. Yeah, online has entirely transformed the media industry. No, it's not going to get any better if you keep doing things the old way.

Obviously change is needed. I'm one of many young minds pushing the limits, trying new things, and seeking answers. But one thing I think your post misses completely is the importance of journalism in the first place. It shouldn't be a debate about commentary or news analysis. Journalism is a public service; it involves research, verification of facts, the presentation of information, and it allows the public to take that and do what they wish with it. Generally, it involves information for the public good -- exposing government corruption, holding politicians accountable, sharing events and building community through sports and other common bonds. That's the part that can't be lost.

Now longterm, journalism is going to look a lot differently than it did years ago -- even a year or two ago -- I get that and I agree, but the industry is about facts, not opinions. And while you may be onto something that people gravitate toward commentary, and have favorite bloggers and so on, I agree with LianAuldpig, you need something to work with in the first place. Otherwise, you have nothing to repackage. That's where "old journalism" comes in and that's the part of it that CAN'T die, IMO, but there's no reason it can't have a new look.

Also, you are both right on about community news. And that situation in itself is scary. I again agree with LianAuldpig on that. Chicago will be OK, but those communities will lose key cornerstones.

Mike Doyle said:

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I agree, Craig. News must remain. So must news analysis and commentary. All are necessary for telling and and teasing out fact and potential meaning from things that happen in the world around us.

Mind you, I never say journalism should die, although Miner seems perfectly at ease saying commentary should be "refocused." Why is it you never see columnists and bloggers throwing journalism under a bus, but reporters always feel free to fling everyone else under there in their incessant finger-pointing to find blame for the predicament of their own profession?

Craig Kanalley said:

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Glad we agree on that first point. I too see value in news analysis and commentary. And I see value in blogging.

As for your last question there, it's fair. Again, I don't agree with those who point fingers elsewhere or try to collect sympathy. It is what it is and it's up to journalists to figure out what that means and what's next, especially higher-ups at media organizations. Adjust and adapt.

danielhonigman said:

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Or be more innovative and entrepreneurial. There's still lots of room for improvement, not only in the current MSM structure, but in community journalism, and there's grant money to make it happen.

But the idea must exist, and most traditional journalists are in "survival" mode. That doesn't lead to innovation; it just breeds a negative work environment.

Craig Kanalley said:

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Yeah, I'm with you, Dan. Well said.

Mario C. said:

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I graduated from college with a journalism degree back in 1998. I didn't enter the field upon graduation. I knew back then that print journalism was dead, killed by the Internet. How the industry didn't see it then is beyond me.

I still read the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and sometimes the Los Angeles Times, but all online. Additionally, I read Reuters, BBC News and The Wall Street Journal (indirectly, through free links). I hardly ever read print versions of full newspapers, unless they happen to be laying around in a cafe.

My point is I do like getting my news from respected sources, but I will not pay for the print version. I find all that paper wasteful nowadays. I understand that some people will lose their jobs, but as you said, "The giant asteroid has already hit ..." So, why delay the inevitable.

I don't watch TV news because I don't believe the news should have a theme song. Besides, I haven't owned a TV in five years.

There is a market for serious, fact-based journalism in the electronic world. I certainly want to know what's going on in the neighborhood, city, state, nation, and world. But I don't rely on blogs to give me that information. Blogs to me are the screen equivalent of op-ed sections, and self-help columns.

We haven't seen a true electronic-only "newspaper" yet. And that's really where the money should be going.

As for me, after graduation I went on to work in production for a couple of direct marketing agencies in New York. I live in Chicago now looking for a similar gig. Perhaps, I'll start my own electronic newspaper. Wouldn't that be something?

RustyJones said:

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Mike, you are being deliberately obtuse. Tyree made a game show out of his offer, telling the employees they can roll the dice and maybe, just maybe, they'd be one of the lucky ones to still have a job. It was perfectly rationale for a union worker to figure they weren't likely to get anything anyway and thus risk the higher payoff either from 1) another buyer coming along or 2) calling Tyree's bluff and getting him to sweeten the deal. Do you really think these people are so callous as to their and their kids' future that they can't rationally size-up their situations and vote accordingly?

As for which paper is better, the Tribune is a marginally better paper than the Sun-Times, which is shameful given how much more resources the Trib has. Their only interesting columnists save Kass are the ones they poached from the Sun-Times in the first place. Thank Jah the New York Times delivers here.

Finally, "journalism lost its right to set the cultural agenda" -- Yes, the cultural agenda is so much better off with the hysterics of Drudge, Andrew Sullivan, Michelle Malkin, Breitbat, Gawker etc. driving the agenda. What pretentious crap.

FatNSassy said:

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The Sun Times turned into a tabloid. The reporters and editorials are all second rate. Of course the Trib is no better. Wise up. The public does not want to pay for news that is manipulative, incomplete, deceitful and propaganda for corporations. As well as one big commercial!

Mike Doyle said:

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Rusty, just because you're disappointed that the Sun-Times doesn''t get the same attention as the Tribune, nor the work of mainstream journalists the same attention as mainstream columnists doesn't mean you can do anything about it. Calling me "obtuse" for calling out journalists as short-sighted well underscores my point.

I do very much think the Guild members who voted incorrectly sized up the situation. I do indeed. Because there isn't going to be another Tyree and they're lucky he came along at all. I'm curious to see who they're going to blame in a few weeks if the paper folds and they're all out of work--thanks to their own vote.

bumstead57 said:

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There is an integrity to the union's vote: that they will all succumb together as opposed to jumping ship. Maybe they know could not live with the decision to forsake what the union gave them.

That said, Tyree should not negotiate because he's not running a charity.

This is an insoluble issue and that means the Sun-Times is going away. I liked it as a paper, but my life won't change because it's gone.

LianAuldpig said:

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Where's the integrity in dragging down a company of 1,800 employees? Where's the integrity in union members risking their colleagues' jobs to protect perks and bonuses those colleagues never got nor wanted?

Don't try to point out the good in both sides here. We're talking about people risking others' jobs for their own perks.

viachicago said:

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"News you can get anywhere". Where do you think the news you read online comes from? Virtually all of it (as well as the news that is broadcast on TV), can be traced back to dead tree newspapers. Once its gone, what are we left with? A whole bunch of unpaid talking heads pushing their own agendas like yourself, and a real dearth of reporting and journalism with a capital J. Who is going to invest the thousands of manhours to uncover the next Hired Trucks if they cant support their family doing it? What blog is going to staff an educated newsroom with the talent to uncover, intelligently dissect, and report local stories? For all this talk of "new" media, I've yet to see it produce anything on par which can be acquired through traditional channels. You make it sound easy, but the simple fact is that magical model dosent exist yet, and who knows when it will come around and what its form will be. In the meantime, we ALL are going to suffer. Theres potentially going to be an Olympics coming to this town. Tell me, who is going to be the watchdog over those billions. You?

Mike Doyle said:

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Not me, via. I don't support those games and if we get them, I sure don't plan on being in town to suffer through them. That said, all of your points are good--good and old. News is good. Journalism is good. No one has the answer. Yada. Yada. Yada. Tell me something I don't know. Verbal hand-wringing like yours about the future leads nowhere. If there's anything new and substantive in your comment, I fail to find it.

LianAuldpig said:

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Wait a minute. A man who just wrote a blog post saying the Internet killed newspapers is complaining about people stating the obvious?

Also, via's points are very common. So common as to deserve a yada yada yada from you. Wouldn't the ubiquity of those points be an argument FOR traditional journalism?

If those points are so common and old that you're sick of them, isn't that a sign that a lot of people think that way? Not evidence. I mean, hell, Internet comments do not a rigorous survey make. But if you've heard the same thing a lot, doesn't that mean a lot of people have said it?

But the argument from your post seems to be that the people have spoken and newspapers lose. Why do you mock and yada yada yada when people speak FOR newspapers?

Either way, if your point is to trigger the same tired argument ("Internet good. Newspaper bad." "No, Internet bad. Newspaper good.") you've succeeded. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go to the much more intelligent and focused discussion at the Chicago Reader.

I'm not saying that the Internet can't provide good commentary or intelligent debate. I'm saying you, Mike Doyle, can't provide good commentary or intelligent debate. Let the pros -- or at least the amateurs who don't suck at it -- lead the discussion. I'm out.

Mike Doyle said:

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No Liam, my point is that some if not many reporters want a defunct status quo to return, and seem willing to blame, demand of, and attempt to manipulate the world outside their profession to make that happen. I mock comments that deserve mockery. All you and via have done is verbally jump and down and bitch that no one is reading newspapers any more. No one is. And if you want to talk about amateur, next time you leave a comment in my comment thread, try running a spell-check on it first.

Perhaps a grammar-check, too.

LianAuldpig said:

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OK, so I made a liar out of myself by saying I was done with this when I'm apparently not.

1. I did run a spell check on my post after I saw your comment. Seriously, what did I misspell? Both Microsoft Word and I are at a loss.

2. It's Lian, not Liam.

3. My only point is that a service newspapers once provided is still valued. That service is the research, the facts, the figures, the muckraking, the digging into hired trucks from via's example. People still want that. I want that, via wants that, people talk about that so much you're tired of it.

If you can find a way to provide that service in a free yet sustainable online form, you will be unstoppable.

But we're not going to find that middle path with you mocking people who see the baby in the middle of all that bathwater. If you (and I mean you personally) want to see blogs get accorded the respect you think they deserve, then you're going to have to do better.

Maybe via offered nothing new. But maybe that means he or she is asking a question you have yet to answer.

Charles McPhate said:

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LianAuldpig hit the nail on the head with this statement:

"I am in a position where a company at will could cut me because I'm old, they just feel like it or because they want to replace me with their favorites. I deal with it." [emphasis mine]

What unions do is negate the at-will employment philosophy that keeps employers from having to tolerate mediocrity and helps prevent bankruptcy -- as the Sun-Times situation demonstrates clearly.

Employment and advancement should be based on merit, not seniority. Unions make being employed a right, not a privilege. Ditto for promotions and pay raises. Those are socialist ideals you'll find throughout Europe -- it's next to impossible to fire anyone in the UK, for example, something I've had to deal with as I have clients there. For all the whining about the President's "socialist" agenda, you'd think we'd rather distance ourselves from that mentality.

Union employees need to "deal with it" -- like the rest of us do.

Brian 'Wiz' Ray said:

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Things you already know.
We do need Journalists and journalism both good and bad. journalism as it once was, was only that once. Like the changes that we all face in life, newspapers and journalism has to alter.

What you may not know. News media needs to stop giving their shit away for free. It undermines any business strategy and cheapens the product. What would be really good is for them to find the best way to do it. Maybe if you want free news, you can get yesterday's news for free. You might be able to get headlines free. You might be able to get stories and advertising for less than stories with no advertising. You might be able to respond to these posts for free, but you might have to pay to see it (unless the paid blogger feels your point furthers the conversation more then the those of the paying members. As much as I disagree with the politics of Rupert Murdoch, I love the fact that the WSJ is no longer free on any front. He may as well have said, "You bitches been dancing to the music, now you got to pay to the piper!"

As far as 'blogging' goes, sure anyone can do it and there are quite a few who are influential and are getting paid, at least til the subpoena gets delivered.

As for unions, someone needs to look out for folk, because we have been repeatedly shown it ain't gonna be no corporation. Dropping unions is as smart as dropping your soap in the prison shower. C'mon baby, take it like Enron.

alfsiewers said:

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I'd have respect for your position if you also called for the bankrupt Tribune to die. But since your blog is connected to the Trib and you're calling for the deserved death of its competition I'd say: The hubris is yours!

Lou Grant said:

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Lian,
First, a critique, "this entire blog you just wrote was your take on a paid print reporter's take on facts first reported by newspapers, radio, etc. Without ground-level reporters providing the raw material, the facts, figures, research and topics, you bloggy types have nothing to repackage." ZING! Do you, a non-union reporter, say that you have NEVER found a story except by diligently working the phones, spending endless hours pouring over documents buried in a government clerk's office somewhere? Oh! Wait! I think I hear a PRNewswire chime.

There is more than a bit of bile in a "professional" writer's opinion that blogs merely repackage information that was taken in some illicit fashion from hard working journalists. I think you called them bloggys. I have a different word for these people: writers. You might want to check your professional ethics about bias? Among millions of writers, both paid and unpaid, there are going to be some duds. Every writer should pay respect to where their idea originates. It is a backward and early 20th Century idea that stories should be rewritten so that there is no attribution to the source of inspiration. Educating the public about how stories are developed would not harm the brand of journalism.

Now, as you noted, in addition to the writers guild there are "the pressmen, the ad reps, [and] the behind-the-scenes people..." Thank you for noting that ink-stained wretches include more than a few blue collar people.

From talking to my contacts in Teamsters 706, representing the pressmen and the drivers, there is significant and serious discussion about what these concessions mean. It does not appear as though all of the other bargaining units will agree to the concessions demanded.

I'll put it this way, which bargaining units HAVE accepted the company demands?

LianAuldpig said:

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First of all, you make a good point equating most bloggers with a reporter who gets his/her stories from press releases.

You know what we call a reporter who does that? A bad reporter. You know what we call a blogger who does that? A good blogger.

The current situation is unsustainable. Blogs are killing traditional media, but at the same time rely on them for the raw material.

When the newspapers go the way of the dodos, the bloggers and new media gurus who gloated over their demise are going to find themselves with no material to repackage. Unless the Internet journalists change how they do things.

I know it's hard. You were connected with the Chi-Town Daily News, correct? How well did Geoff's initial experiment with citizen journalism work? Not very. He couldn't get people to sit through tedious meetings for free and he had to spend all his time re-writing the substandard stuff so it was printable. I salute him for his efforts (and wish him well with the conversion to for-profit), but you're too connected to this example to fall for the fallacy of the excluded middle that seems to dominate the blogger v. reporter shouting matches online discussions like this generate.

You're also too close to a news agency that saw total layoffs to take the Sun-Times situation so glibly.

By the way, I never said there was anything illicit about repackaging stories, putting their own take on it. Please don't put words in my mouth. If you look at what I wrote, my point was not that there was something wrong with it -- I took care to tell Mike Doyle that I meant no insult to what he does. I typed those words.

My point was that a lot of stuff slips through the cracks when the goal is driving up hits. Who's going to cover the water district?

You call people who put their own spins on the news "writers." Yeah, writers do that. So do stand up comics. So do pundits. So do politicians. So does my Uncle John. Call it writing if you want. Just don't call it news.

The point is not that bloggy types are horrible people who are stealing hard-working reporters' living. My point is that unless online journalists refocus THEIR efforts on original reporting, we're all going to lose when the newspapers fold.

I really don't give a damn about low-grade paper and ink that rubs off on your hands. It's not newspapers I value. It's reporting.

And that's at risk because the old medium is dying and the new medium seems to confuse repetition with research.

Lou Grant said:

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Lian:

"You're also too close to a news agency that saw total layoffs to take the Sun-Times situation so glibly."

You are so close to the truth; I suspect you know who I am. I've been laid off. I've seen just about everyone I was associated laid off. It is heartbreaking. I don't wish it on anyone. I apologize to anyone if they were under the impression that I was taking the potential end of the Sun-Times in stride.

You bring up good points. I think I can say I'm an expert on citizen journalism. First citizen journalism just doesn't work in the form imagined two or three years ago. I think putting a thousand citizens out there and having them cover those LSCs and beat meetings is important. But they, the CJs, do not turn in copy on a dependable basis. That's the real reason why CTDN and other sites have moved away from CJs.

On the other hand, CJs and others have beaten professional journalists on stories like the California wild fires. I can also tell you a story about how they left a site in the lurch on a big story. They have a mixed record so far. It isn't a good foundation for the future.

We need to have paid writers with the backing of a major legal team, like the Trib or the CST has, to break through the barriers put up by the established power holders. Yes, I call them writers, not journalists.

Geoff's great idea was to create a site that featured paid content. That content, mainly about under covered civil topics, filled the site. But he forgot about the CJs. Their stories were buried: you had to dig to find their copy. And there were other problems too.

As a society we want news. Journalism is used to express news. Journalism is a construct of how to write. It has a form that has to be followed. And it can be taught to people who are writers. News is a term used to describe new information. News can come from many sources, including your Uncle John and bloggy types.

I think we agree, more than disagree, that "it's not newspapers I value. It's reporting." Although I would substitute the word “news” for reporting. I submit to you that the best blogs are breaking news and performing other civic functions that are important to society, just like a newspaper does.

What I have been campaigning for is for journalists to recognize blogs when a story develops out of that activity. It is important to the society, with a smaller news staff, that we recognize the unpaid efforts of citizens who report news to us. In other words: attribute, don't rewrite.

MichaelSebastian said:

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Yawn. This article is way too long for my Web weary eyes. I wish I could take it on the train--or to the bathroom. If only there was a medium for that.

Craig Kanalley said:

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Best comment here.

This is much, much too long for a Web piece.

That being said, I know you're invoking print here, MichaelSebastian, but that's what mobile is for. I use my iPhone wherever to do a lot of my news reading. But even there, this is much too long.

MichaelSebastian said:

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Why thank you Craig.

I, too, use my mobile phone to read online content, usually when I'm on the train (doesn't seem right in the bathroom). But that leaves much to be desired. Reading an article in newsprint makes a man, or woman, feel like he's been somewhere.

There's the ink and the ads, the unexpected two inch story that catches your eye and that brittle noise when you ackwardly turn the page. Not to mention the horoscope and the crossword, or for many people the Sudoku, and in the Sun-Times there's the Scratch-to-Win game -- which I play every day like I'm some kind of lotto junkie. (I'm not.)

Perhaps best of all, there are space restrictions -- and as a result, professional editors. (Something this comment sorely needs.) Thanks to the hard work of those editors, news print stories hum.

Mike Doyle said:

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*Yawn* I forgot, no one is a worthy writer unless they're employed in print by a newspaper. That's, of course, why so many reporters are working at McDonald's right now. Makes total sense...

MichaelSebastian said:

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Not exactly what I was saying, but hey, when it comes to print, you say tomato and I say tomata.

And to all the print journalists out there, I'll be the one ordering the black angus burger. Those things are goooood.

Mike Doyle said:

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There is, silly. Read it on your iPhone in the can like everybody else does but never admits to. Problem solved!

viachicago said:

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"All you and via have done is verbally jump and down and bitch that no one is reading newspapers any more. No one is."

I am a 25 year old male, with no connections or employment in the print media realm. I subscribe to the Tribune daily, and often pick up a Sun Times on the way to work. I typically read both in their entirety. If I've got a few extra bucks in my pocket, I may also pick up a WSJ or NYT depending on my mood. Why? Because I DO love the printed medium. Now, am I typical for my age group? Unlikely. But to say "no one" is reading papers is disingenuous and you know it. And besides, since when have papers made their money through subscriptions and street sales anyway?

And one more point..why are you placing the blame on the downfall of print media on reporters and columnists? Since when have actual journalists actually run and managed media conglomerates? Thanks for the laugh.

Mike Doyle said:

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Maybe you're right, via. Journalists bear absolutely no responsibility whatsoever for the direction of print media in America. Not one iota. No matter that whole thing where they keep taking credit for having set the national agenda for the past 100 years, huh? I'm supposed to believe journalists managed that but in other respects are actually powerless victims who had no impact at all within their own industry?

These are not rhetorical questions.

viachicago said:

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First of all I dont think journalists have set the "national agenda for the past 100 years." And no, I dont believe they are at fault for the current state of affairs of the industry. When the STNG or Sam Zell starts letting beat reports manage the tens of billions of dollars, come back to me.

This is the first time I stumbled across your corner of cyberspace (ironically, or maybe not so much, due to a link from the Tribune), and I truly have no clue who you are, but after a short time browsing your writing all I can say is you sound like a very bitter and resentful man. I see you work in PR. Fitting, considering its a fancy euphemism for "propoganda", and the antithesis of the ultimate truth that any real reporter or journalist dedicates their lives to seeking out.

Mike Doyle said:

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Today on Chicago Carless, I call out Michael Miner for conduct unbecoming a journalist in the post: "The Day Michael Miner Killed Commentary".

Lou Grant said:

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after a short time browsing your writing all I can say is you sound like a very bitter and resentful man.

I've heard that before, always from a person beneath contempt commenting on my thoughts. Since it was directed at Mike, not me, I'll share with you what writers think about that insult... :YAWN!:

Mike Doyle said:

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Thanks, Lou!

Via: Of course resentful. After all, people keep asking me to share my opinion as a paid commentator on regional and national blog networks, and the power of the opinion I share online keeps generating communications strategy work for me in real life. Oh...wait...I'm sorry, I thought you meant laid-off reporters are frequently resentful of people like me, who instead of labeling opinion as the enemy surf its good graces to the bank, hopefully telling a useful story to the public at large along the way.

Actually, I have a much better word for that, though: jealousy.

PF South said:

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Mike: After reading your extensive commentary, I believe you need to take a longer perspective.

I think it is informative when you say, "...sometimes we read our favorite bloggers first...just like we used to do with our favorite columnists when our Clinton-era printed papers used to hit our doorsteps." While situations and technologies do continually change, I think when you smugly refer to the "olden days" of 10 or 15 years ago, you reveal a lack of perspective that might help you appreciate the way that many people outside your age group prefer to get the news of their worlds.

If I correctly remember the circulation figures reported earlier this year, some 200,000 to 300,000 people still apparently prefer to get their daily news from the Sun-Times -- not to mention those who read the 50 or 60 other publications that are part of the Sun-Times Media Group.

I wonder how many hits your blog gets on an average day?

cb said:

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The union vote appears to me to be the line in sand. To say these people are out of touch with reality is nothing but a guess on the part of the author. These people are educated and fully understand the consequences of Chapter 7. Perhaps the group is tired of working for senior management teams that only have their interests front and center. Isn't that how the Sun-Times got to where they are today? If I remember correctly, the downfall was a result of criminal activity by those trusted to run the company.

I would argue that the union vote is very much in touch with reality. The reality that these people do not have to wake up everyday and use their talent to help make people rich that could care less about them. I do agree with the author that the Sun-Times needs to die but for a different reason.

But I guarantee it won't because Mr. Tyree concede that he can still make it without taking it out of the hide of the people that actually do the work.

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