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Morning Shift

Tribune And Sun-Times Under One Roof And What It Would Mean

Chicago could become a “one newspaper town” by the end of the month. 

The parent company of the Chicago Sun-Times on Monday announced that it will sell the daily newspaper to Tronc Inc., the owner of the rival Chicago Tribune, unless any other bidders step forward by June 1. 

Jim Warren, chief media writer at the Poynter Institute, said he doubts the Sun-Times will get any other takers. 

“There’s still time to bid, but it’s unlikely that anything’s going to happen because they’ve already solicited folks and been turned down,” Warren said on WBEZ’s Morning Shift on Wednesday. 

Warren, a former employee of both the Sun-Times and the Tribune, talked to Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia about the potential impact of the sale on the Sun-Times, what it could mean for readers, and what the acquisition means for Tronc chairman Michael Ferro, who once owned the Sun-Times

Below are some interview highlights. 

The aspirations of Michael Ferro

Jim Warren: His ultimate goal is to become a big, big media kingpin. 

The Sun-Times deal is very small potatoes for him. This is someone who has set his sites on gobbling up other big companies. One reason why he spurned the entreaties over that year and a half by a major, major newspaper company, Gannett, which wanted to buy what we now know as Tronc — and why he would love to somehow turn the tables by buying them or buying one of the several ailing media companies such as McClatchy — he wants to be a big shot. 

Should Chicago citizens and news consumers be concerned?

Warren: Bottom line is yes, for a whole host of reasons, one should be really, really, really concerned. Because if you don’t have enough reporters and enough attention on all the stuff that’s happening around us, there’s just going to be a whole lot of darkness, and as citizens, we are not well-served by that. 

The sale to Tribune will eventually affect the Sun-Times’ independence

Warren: The question for me will be how much Michael Ferro and Tronc invest — actually invest — in preserving a strong and independent Chicago Sun-Times. Will you still have a truly separate, really competitive newsroom in a city obviously once famous for a rich tradition of that sort of competition? Or will Tribune content slowly start being channeled into the Sun-Times print and digital brands? Will it be harder and harder to differentiate? Will what is going to be the, I’m sure, sharp cost cutting on the business side — and remember the Tribune already prints and distributes the Sun-Times in what’s been a pretty onerous deal for the Sun-Times — but will that sort of “sharing” begin to impact the newsrooms? 

And I think, almost inevitably, yes.

The writing was already on the wall

Warren: It comes as absolutely no surprise that the Sun-Times is no longer really viable as a standalone paper given what’s been an absolutely relentless, decade-plus decline that the newspaper — like tons of other metropolitan, big city publications — have suffered in readership and revenues, in no small measure due to the internet. 

Impact of the internet 

Warren: Both have been creamed, especially by the likes of Google and Facebook. Whether it’s Chicago or Los Angeles, San Francisco or San Antonio, you now have a majority of the local and digital advertising — around maybe 75 or 80 percent — going to Google and Facebook. And whether you’re the digital sales folks at the Sun-Times or Tribune or WBEZ or WBBM radio or TV, you’re facing the same two digital Goliaths who are taking away revenue that once was yours. 

The Justice Department will review the sale, but is unlikely to intervene

Warren: [The Justice Department is] probably going to look at more economic factors. They’re going to look at what the ad revenues are for both. They’re going to look at what the total advertising pie is in the market, almost as if this was a term paper at Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. You’re going to look at the media marketplace and decide whether a merger of these two would disrupt things — whether it would be unfair competition to others. 

And the reality is — I don’t think you have to spend two, three or four months doing a term paper for Booth or looking at it in great length with the Justice Department. The reality is no. It would not have, sadly, an adverse impact, as I said, partly because of the dramatic fragmentation of the media marketplace here and elsewhere.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Press the “play” button above to hear the entire segment.

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