New Kid on the Block
There's a new kid on the local journalism block known as the Chicago News Cooperative. The entity debuted this month by producing a biweekly local insert for the New York Times, and promises a content-rich web site available on a subscription basis next year. Led by former Tribune and Los Angeles Times editor Jim O'Shea, the CNC boasts a staff of 13, with heavy representation by fellow Tribune expatriates. They include Jim Warren, another past Tribune managing editor and current publisher of the weekly Chicago Reader, city hall reporter Dan Mihalopoulos, and business columnist David Greising.
The CNC is paid by the New York Times for their services, but also received seed money from the MacArthur Foundation and Chicago Community Trust. They anticipate being self-sustaining in 5 years, financed largely through subscription-based fees totaling an estimated $2 per week. The fee will provide more than web access to CNC material, offering to organize networking groups, soliciting original content, and assisting with op-ed drafting and placement.
The Times is interested in winning back disaffected readers, but O'Shea and company, many who left the Tribune on less than amicable terms, must be bent on sticking it to their former employers, correct? O'Shea dismisses the notion outright, according to a November 23 Times article: "I would be doing this even if I had never worked fro them, and I saw a need. We've got to figure out how to do serious journalism and pay for it, that's what's motivating me."
Warren, a CNC reporter, was less reserved in his motivations: "In (the Tribune's) mind, they've made it a more populist, utilitarian paper, and I think they've made it narrower, more lightweight, fueled by reflexive suspicion of the traditional ideas of traditional journalism."
Two weeks in, this casual observer is both impressed with the CNC's contributions to local reporting, but skeptical that their two-page insert represents the death knell for the Tribune or the Sun-Times. Count the latter's Laura Washington among the cynics.
As I've said repeatedly in previous posts, my contention is that there is no panacea for the broken economic model of traditional journalism. Efforts like the CNC to plug holes and break new ground should be commended, and better yet, funded.
Democracy wins when serious public affairs reporting flourishes. In my mind, two newspaper towns are inherently better than a one horse show, mostly because competition forces dailies to take risks and carve out their own independent niches. With both the Tribune and Sun-Times emerging from bankruptcy, and the potential peril this entails, not to mention the lighter menu of stories both now offer, there is certainly room on local readers' plates for more hard-hitting content.
Tribune managing editor Gerould Kern welcomes the challenge: "There's more competition every day, all the time, from every direction. So our view is, we will compete with anyone, any time, any place, and we believe we will win."
Gerry, we root for your success, and recognize that a rising tide lifts all readers.