Chicago Tribune, Sun-Times and Crain's leaders on the future of print media

Chicago Tribune, Sun-Times and Crain's leaders on the future of print media

The City Club of Chicago hosted a panel discussion on "The Future of Print Media" at Maggiano's Banquets with a sell-out crowd and a waiting list of hundreds. This hot topic was addressed by the heads of our top local newspapers: Tony Hunter (Chicago Tribune publisher/CEO); Jim Kirk (Chicago Sun-Times publisher and editor-in-chief) and David Snyder (Crain's Chicago Business publisher).

From what I heard, it's clear the future of print media is complicated but it still seems very hopeful for all of us who love newspapers. They're a long way from disappearing. Here's highlights from the 45 minute discussion delivered to a rapt audience.

Tony Hunter (Chicago Tribune publisher/CEO):

"I'm proud that we've embraced the disruption that's occurred in our industry. I believe we have adapted to this disruption and made the transformation that's required. Back in '08-'09, we said we're a newspaper company and it's going to be tough sledding--we need to transform ourselves and be a media and business services company that happens to publish a newspaper."

"Our purpose remains the same--to entertain, to inform, inspire and empower consumers anywhere, anytime and how they want it."

"It's our job to make sure that print continues to deliver great value for as long as possible. We have more content and more consumers than ever before. We're the number one news website in the Chicago DMA (designated market area), so we are far from declining. We're very proud of these facts and we believe the key to our future will be to evolve our company and our offerings to make sure we stay abreast of the marketplace changes and capture people when and where they want."

"Content is king and will be for a long time to come. We view print as a platform, one of many, largely driven by the marketplace and economics."

"We have a saying, 'we're very proud of our past, but we're focused on our future' and we think that future is bright."

Jim Kirk (Sun-Times publisher/editor-in-chief):

"We have and still see a viable audience for print, we see it every day. We've expanded that offering with news and content from partners. We believe that partnerships with either former enemies or frenemies is a viable path for us in the future."

"The Oscar last night for Best Picture, Spotlight, speaks well for journalism's future."

"Thanks to DNA Info and other news agencies, we have access to more info than ever before."

"During the last couple of years, we have developed a two-pronged strategy, to grow and maintain print where we can and, obviously, grow digital which is a big opportunity for all of us in this room and, at the same time, find new ways to deliver more content to more people that is relevant and meaningful in the here and now."

David Snyder (Crain's Chicago Business publisher):

In 2013, Snyder asked his management team to give him a date when they thought Crain's Chicago Business would no longer be printing. The team's average guesstimate was 2020, but some said 2016 or 2018. "Fast forward from 2013 to 2015 and I look at our print business from last year and our single largest growth category was not digital, it was print advertising. It increased 10% last year from a dollar perspective, " he said.

"Myself, our management team and all our Crain's colleagues in the room today wake up envisioning a day when print no longer exists. Everything we do is about diversifying our revenue streams and coming up with new products for the day when print will be zeroed out."

Snyder shared an anecdote about his 14 year-old daughter Sarah. He told her about the topic of the afternoon's discussion, "The Future of Print Media", and she said, "there is none." He pointed out she was reading a hard copy of "To Kill A Mockingbird" for class when she could've chosen a digital version. He said the reason is because of a "feeling we all have about print and that this special, tactile feeling we have from either reading a book or a newspaper or a magazine is very intimate and very different from any experience online."

"Even though e-books are popular, print books are making a rebound."

"Print is dead, long live print, but again, we're not under the illusion that this (print) will last forever."

"We are in a little different spot than both daily newspapers represented here and that is because Crain's has a very fortunate niche in the marketplace. Being weekly in print and daily online is a beautiful, beautiful interaction. Our digital readership is about 4 times our print readership."

"The risk we take as an industry is throwing in the towel and dis-investing in print too quickly, because the only economics that work for the time being is to have a healthy print business even though it's going to go away, even though we need to do other things to plan for the day when print is not there."

"For now, print still makes up the bulk of our revenues and we still have to maintain whatever last opportunity there is in print while planning for the future and planning for a digital future and any other diversified business."

My two cents---Overall, I left feeling very positive about the future of newspapers. And I do read my books on a Kindle even though my husband and I are rare book collectors. I think there's room for both.

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