It's time to ask the hard questions: What do local audiences want from their local media?
Late Friday night, the Chicago Tribune's Phil Rosenthal published a memo from his bosses. The memo stated that Rosenthal would be leaving the media beat and concentrating on general business coverage for the paper.
This, coupled with the news that the Sun-Times does not intend to replace fired TV critic Paige Wiser, ushers in a new day in Chicago media: There is no longer a major television reporter or a major media reporter at either the Chicago Tribune or Chicago Sun-Times. Say what you will about the need for these beats in major media, but those beat reporters and columnists comprised a significant portion of the newspaper you'd buy for quarters and dimes only a decade ago.
Now, facing declining readers and revenues, the local newspapers have decided to go the route of the local school council: Music and art go first. Gym second. Then heck, pull up a trailer to the side of the building for extra classrooms and maybe just combine social studies and math. And don't get new textbooks. The ones from 1987 work just fine.
This is a big win for Chicago's online ecoystem. Robert Feder (former Vocalo blogger) used to be the Sun-Times media columnist. He now stands tall at Time Out Chicago as the biggest media writer in town. You could make an argument that his tenacity and his daily bible-like output forced the major newspapers' hands (Lazare was writing media at Sun-Times and was laid off recently).
And for TV, shops like A.V. Club and other local sites are giving the same kind of coverage, but with an edgier tone for a more sophisticated television watcher (i.e., they aren't writing about Glee).
Make no mistake about it, this is a serious win for the underdogs. The online media establishments have been fighting and fighting against the "bigs" for the better part of the past decade and have been forced to compete against much larger circulations and organizations.
If I were a music or food writer at one of the dailies, I would think about learning a trade. And how long before local sports sites start popping up in bulk, chipping away at the audience and eliminating the need for a columnist to tell us what we already heard somewhere else, hours earlier?
Places like the CNC went straight at the papers with news coverage. I get that. But it seems to me that right now might be the time to gauge local audiences. Do you want more news? Or do you want local media covering television? How bout the media business?
Being part of the Feder blog all of last year, I can say with certainty that there is a robust audience for such work, one that the newspapers cultivated, and then squandered. I can also say that when this site dabbles in television coverage, the response is high.
But what do you want, Chicago?
B story: Someone couldn't figure out the schedule and six UP Metra trains didn't run today because they were short staffed? Who's doing the schedule, the night shift guys at the Dominicks?
Weather: The weather is like an old truck. Just turn over. So close. So close. Come on, baby....you can do it...
Sports: I told myself I wasn't going to watch the NBA Finals out of respect for the Bulls, but darnit, the hype drew me in. Great series and the better team won. It wasn't a fluke - the Mavs were a hot team all year long (only to play in the same division of the hotter Spurs). It was great watching James and Wade sputter, wasn't it? Now the storyline shifts to 'Heat'. My favoriite? 'Do you think it's possible Lebron James could never win an NBA championship?' That is the one I'm buying into.
If Sergio Santos didn't wet the bed Saturday night, the Sox would be 3 1/2 back. But even losing that heartbreaker Saturday, the Sox sit 4 1/2 back ready for interleague play next week. Speaking of interleague play, why is the Cubs/Sox series in the middle of the week? It plays so much better on a weekend. But a Tuesday thru Thursday? Lame.
And speaking of lame, the Cubs lost again. Are Cubs fans just dazed? If this were Dusty Baker, we would have t-shirts and web sites shouting "FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE." Why not with Mike Quade? The Cubs are not only losing, but they are listless. That's a dangerous combination for a manager.
Obit: This weekend, this world lost a great woman. My Grandmother-in-law Catherine Floridia passed away at the age of 90. Catherine came to this country from Italy when she was 18. She came with a group of Italians leaving Italy before World War II. They settled in the South Bend area. Catherine didn't speak English. So she was put into the first grade. She lived and worked in Mishawauka, Indiana for years and years, sewing hospital garments and raising her daughter, Marge.
Catherine and I had a great relationship. Whenever a room would clear, she would give me life advice at the drop of a hat. Using her broken English, she would tell me to 'get married' or 'have a baby' or 'to tell me my wife loved me' (her granddaughter). In the last couple months, those platitudes turned dark, where she would tell me 'I'm ready to go' or 'It's my time'.
She was a very strong, dramatic and funny woman. When I saw her in the hospital this weekend, her last words to me were 'Justin, it's time for me to go where I am going.'
Catherine, I have a feeling you already have them laughing.