Today, only two major dailies remain in this city of 3 million, and both are in serious trouble from declining circulation, plummeting ad revenue and a new kind of competition that threatens to make newsprint itself obsolete...Even as the arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on federal corruption charges brought the latest and most luscious of scandals to the teeth of the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, questions were swirling about their futures...
In the 1970's, Chicago had four major daily newspapers. By the 1980's only two remained. But even through the late 1990's, the parent companies of the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, Tribune Company and Hollinger International respectively, remained in good financial shape. And as recently as the early 2000's, countless industry analysts considered Tribune Company -- with its myriad media/entertainment holdings -- to be a company that served as a model for how media institutions could position themselves to take advantage of the 21st Century era of media consolidation and synergy.
But these days, even the Rod Blagojevich scandal can't move newspapers. In days gone by, Chicago's rampant political corruption -- and the intersection of Chicago and Illinois state politics with organized crime -- helped to fuel its legendary newspaper wars. Journalistic heavyweights like Mike Royko and John "Bulldog" Drummond became household names because of their reporting and/or commentary on those all-too-common subjects.
How dismal must the current climate for Chicago's dailies be that amidst one of the biggest political scandals in the history of Illinois (a state replete with political scandal), no one expects the scandal to provide the papers with a shot in the arm?
The tabloid-size Sun-Times' average weekday circulation has fallen 3.9 percent from last year, to 313,176, and its Sunday circulation has declined 4.5 percent, to 255,905.
Notice that, in his attempt to ameliorate the concerns of Tribune employees/analysts/creditors/potential suitors and present the Tribune as economically viable, Tribune Company's spokesman, Gary Weitman, pointed to the "more dire situation" of the rival Sun-Times.
Those declines actually were better than the industry average and not as steep as the Tribune's 7.8 percent drop. But the broadsheet Tribune, with a higher proportion of sales from outside the city, still sold about 203,000 more newspapers than its rival on weekdays and 609,000 more on Sundays, despite a higher newsstand price ...
Gary Weitman, a spokesman for Tribune Co., said the Tribune newspaper remains economically viable, and the Dec. 8 bankruptcy filing by the parent company didn't suggest otherwise.
"The Sun-Times is in a more dire situation than the Tribune," he said.
Sun-Times spokeswoman Tammy Chase agreed Chicago's second-largest paper faces serious financial challenges. But she said the Sun-Times is doing everything it can to stay afloat, including slashing costs by about $50 million in 2008.
"We're not giving up," she said. "We're not waving the white flag."
I'm sure that will allow everyone to sleep better.
Implicit in Mr. Weitman's description of the Sun-Times' situation as "more dire" than the situation of the Tribune is the acknowledgement that the Tribune's situation is, indeed, dire ... just less so than the situation of the Sun-Times.
As for Tammy Chase's parallel attempt to spin a rosy future for the endangered Sun-Times, protesting that "we're not giving up" and "we're not waving the white flag" doesn't do much to inspire confidence. That's the kind of statement one might have expected to hear from the John McCain campaign once the first 2008 election returns began to trickle in and it became eminently clear that Barack Obama would be swept, by landslide, into the Presidency ... except for the fact that the John McCain campaign -- perhaps taking their cue from John McCain himself -- had given up and had waived the white flag, long before election day.