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If The Chicago Tribune Falls in the Forest Can It Cover Its Own Story?

By       Message Martha Rosenberg     Permalink
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The free Chicago Tribunes outside of the McCormick Tribune Center Forum on the Northwestern University campus have been replaced with a pay machine.

USA Todays are still free but the Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer wannabes at the Medill School of Journalism want to do Real News.

A year ago Medill Dean John Lavine was vilified by students for lacquering the news curriculum under which they enrolled with video, marketing and spin.

"We mortgaged our futures to be here," graduate student Sydelle Moore told the Daily Northwestern resenting the change in course direction.

Articles need "attractive presentation" to gain market share, said Dean Lavine fearing his students would be as obsolete upon graduating as 2000 grads with degrees in Ecommerce and Web Studies.

"You have to have an audience," he said, "or the story doesn't exist."

Lavine even threatened to change the school's name to Medill School of Integrated Marketing Communications--an academic concentration Medill created--over a chorus of outraged current and future alumni. (Viz. You studied WHERE?)

Of course it's no secret that newspapers are circling the drain, especially in Chicago.

This week the Tribune Company which owns the Chicago Tribune filed for bankruptcy after a long illness. Less than a year ago local real estate tycoon Sam Zell took the company private under an S-corp ESOP employee stock ownership plan which ended up doing no more than buying the company time.

Now the media giant probably wishes it had the $17.7 million golden parachute back it bequeathed to former Tribune Chairman and Chief Officer Dennis FitzSimons when he left the company twisting in the wind. (What would he get if he left it solvent--his own island?)

Nor is Chicago's "other" newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times the picture of health.

After being swindled of millions by former parent company's officers Conrad Black and F. David Radler--the accommodating board included Henry Kissinger, Richard Perle and former Illinois Gov. James Thompson--the Sun-Times slashed newsroom jobs, merged with its suburban papers and farmed out newspaper delivery operations to the Chicago Tribune (but who knew?) earlier this year.

Even the Chicago Reader, considered the granddaddy of free weeklies, is on the ropes after Florida based Creative Loafing Inc. bought it in July and proceeded to declare bankruptcy in September.

Thanks, guys.

While most say the newspaper ennui is from Web converts who want their news fast--and wrapped around Lindsay Lohan--cell phones have played a part.

Who reads when they have a cell phone vibrating or crooning Rihanna in their ear?

But of course the real source of the newspaper tsunami is the drying up of advertisers known as the Recession.

Because, as everyone who's worked in news knows, the obnoxious ads for Puffs and tire stores, tuckpointing and wart crème, big-and-tall menswear, cell phone anytime minutes, divorce attorneys, tube socks, new-and-used-cars-and-trucks, boxes of Tide and of course "lifelike" collectible Pocahontas dolls--the ones you line the bottom of the bird cage with-- pay your bills!!

And no matter how much your blogger may love to pontificate about Bush, Obama, Iraq, Guantanamo and the fact that marijuana should be legal--you have to pay someone to sit through a city council meeting.

You have got to pay them to unspool the legislative sleight of hand around a pending state bill.

And you've got to pay them to "fact check" whether the lady with the quote about the school board is Vicky or Vicki.

Even the Olympics, Nascar and philanthropic organizations are dependent on advertisers.

They just call them sponsors.

So if the Tribune fell in the forest and published no more-followed by the Sun-Times-who would cover the story?

Bloggers blogging about bloggers?

People with degrees in Integrated Marketing Communications?


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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)

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