Requiem for a newspaper
We’ve already discussed how, last week, our Sixth Sense newspaper, like Dr. Malcom Crowe, finally figured out they were dead. But unlike our movie psychologist who knew there was no coming back, the Kane County Chronicle and Shaw Media clearly believe they’re gonna pull off some sort of Easter miracle.
But they won’t.
So let’s digest this timely death in two parts. First, we’ll talk about why the Chronicle expired. Then, in part two, we’ll discuss why this shift to a weekly format will be the final coffin nail.
Why the Chronicle died:
They got sued!
It didn’t have to be the beginning of the end, but it was.
In 2007, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Bob Thomas sued the Chronicle and one of their columnists, finally settling for a cool $4 million. It wasn’t that this columnist’s hypothesis was wrong – judges are political animals after all – it was that he threatened a Supreme Court Justice with “bad publicity” in writing. And that kind of obvious malice will lose the case every time!
But instead of taking a stand and using the legal proceedings as the best kind of advertising money could buy, the Chronicle folded faster than a K-Mart suit. Then to compound that problem, they fired the one managing editor who was actually turning things around. Worse yet, they quickly resorted to “happy news” no one wanted to read and their blisteringly basic coverage of local events could easily be found on free websites like Patch.
“Facetime?” That truly is the epitome of all low-hanging fruit.
They hired family instead of talent
Once they dispensed with the managerial talent, they hired family to fill those spots and that’s never a good idea. The worst (and best) you can say about son of Shaw Media CEO, J. Tom Shaw, is he’s mediocre, but he arrived at a time when newspapers needed much more than middling.
The fact that, according to a number of ex-employees, J. Tom Shaw enjoyed “being nasty for nasty’s sake,” didn’t help morale matters either.
As a result, the good reporters fled
Seeing the writing on the wall, crack journalists like Dan Campana and Paul Dailing, and even the passable ones like Kelly Casino and Kate Thayer, bolted faster than a gay couple from the state of Georgia.
So in very short order, the Chronicle was left with, or hired, what can only be described as the journalistic minor leagues consisting of reporters who couldn’t catch on anywhere else. And it showed. At a time when print media was already in a massive nosedive, this lack of talent accelerated the Chronicle’s inevitable demise.
Content wasn’t king
When you add happy news to bad management to a lack of talent, you get content no one cares about. The best evidence of this theory is, more often than not the top Chronicle story is an anonymous Sound Off post or a letter-to-the-editor.
When your readers are infinitely more interesting than you are, it doesn’t bode very well, now does it? That’s what we have Facebook for!
Since there was no reason to read the Chronicle, nobody did!
Why this shift to once a week won’t work:
Add revenues will plummet
Shaw Media is clinging to that one print issue because Net ads get just 8.3 percent of the revenue of their print counterparts. We’re talking about at least a 75 percent decline in income which very few businesses can survive.
Granted, running the presses just once a week will mitigate the red ink to some degree, but not enough to ensure the paper’s long-term survival.
As far as the two remaining Chronicle reporters go, Shaw will no longer be able to afford them and, unless they’re willing to accept stringer status and do piecework with no benefits, in the immortal words of the great Don Henley, they’re “already gone.”
They have no digital presence
Daily Herald reporter Jim Fuller aptly noted that newspapers on the brink of going print-free typically have established a serious Web footprint. But the Chronicle’s website comments – or lack of them – indicate otherwise.
On the very piece that described the paper’s impending demise, there were all of three reader responses and, in a most delicious irony, one of ‘em was from the very columnist who sent the paper tumbling into the abyss in the first place.
Put more simply, the Chronicle’s older readership will not be willing to make this switch.
Chronicle readers want a daily newspaper
The average age of a Chronicle reader has gotta be at least 60 and those rapidly fading folks are used to a daily driveway paper. They’ll never go to the Net for news and they have no interest in a weekly recap either.
To make matters worse, young people have no interest in a publication that’s dry as dust and utterly irrelevant.
So if Shaw Media thought they’d seen a circulation decline before, as the great Randy Bachman once said, they “ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!”
J. T. Shaw is still there
He’s still busy making enemies and driving away whatever talent Shaw Media might possibly attract.
The two remaining Chronicle reporters are essentially working for Patch!
This irony makes me bleeping laugh out loud! After the Chronicle finally installs a paywall, the Tri-Cities Patches simply steal their material and immediately disseminate it for free. And there’s not a damn thing Shaw Media can do about it.
This bizarre dynamic will only further impact revenues and, in yet another massive irony, when the Chronicle does breathe their last, with no in-house reporters, Patch will shortly follow suit.
There still ain’t any content
The real bottom line here is, there’s no good reason to read any version of the Chronicle.
Have you ever picked up a copy of the Orange Peel Gazette? You’ll find it in various northeastern Illinois business waiting areas and it pretty much consists of jokes, a listing of some local events, and a boatload of advertising.
But despite that overly-simple formula, I pick it up every time I see it because I WANT to read it. What can I say? It makes me laugh.
The Chronicle has never understood that simple reality.
Shaw Media’s inevitable demise will have an untold effect on the Daily Herald who’ve been printing and delivering that paper for years. Those side effects are bit harder to predict, but they can’t be good.
Also, in an effort to appear like they still matter, Shaw continues to pick up fading local entities like the Elburn Herald. The consensus there is, under this new management, that paper will go down right along with the Chronicle ship.
But why listen to my thoughts about those acquisitions when we can end this not so Quick Hits edition with a quote from Danny DeVito’s Larry the Liquidator character:
“This company is dead. I didn’t kill it. Don’t blame me. It was dead when I got here. It’s too late for prayers. For even if the prayers were answered, and a miracle occurred, and the yen did this, and the dollar did that, and the infrastructure did the other thing, we would still be dead. You know why? Fiber optics. New technologies. Obsolescence. We’re dead alright. We’re just not broke. And you know the surest way to go broke? Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow but sure.”