Chicago Tribune

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Polytechnic University

The Chicagotribune.com: Creating a Newspaper for the New Economy (A)

By Professor Nina Ziv [nziv@poly.edu]

Institute for Technology and Enterprise Polytechnic University The New York Information Technology Center 55 Broad Street, Suite 13B, New York, NY 10004 Tel: 212-547-7030 x.201 / Fax: 212-547-7029 www.ite.poly.edu

October 2000
Copyright © 2001, Institute for Technology and Enterprise, Polytechnic University.

I. Background As he sat in his office in The Tribune Tower in downtown Chicago on a sunny morning in August, 1999, Owen Youngman, Director of Interactive Media for The Chicago Tribune, reflected on what it was like to manage the Chicagotribune.com: The big deal is that you get up in the morning and come to work and you are on the bus and you know you’ll make a mistake today. You don’t know what it is and you may not know for a long time. Whereas in the newspaper business, there’s a lot more certainty regardless of what part of the business you are talking about. And adjusting to that reality is different. And so you manage differently as a result. Some things you hedge; others you don’t.1 Youngman, a seasoned veteran of The Chicago Tribune for over 28 years, was used to a culture which valued innovation, but was steeped in 150 years of tradition. He now found himself managing in an environment characterized by constant change, instantaneous feedback from readers, a volatile marketplace, and competitors who had never been on his radar screen. True, in its foray into the online world, The Tribune had been very successful. As a leader and innovator in developing an online newspaper, The Tribune had not only developed a distinctive persona for its online paper but had also been innovative at integrating the digital and physical aspects of the paper and providing unique online offerings for its readers. It had been recognized for its efforts by such prestigious organizations as the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) as well as the “bible” of the newspaper business, Editor & Publisher Magazine. In the summer of 1997, it was named “Best Newspaper site” (in the largest circulation category) by the NAA. In 1998, Editor & Publisher honored the Chicagotribune.com as 1998’s Best Online newspaper among publications with print circulations of more than 100,000. The online newspaper also won awards for the best business section and the best design. But clearly, the Chicagotribune.com faced significant challenges in its fourth year of operation. Perhaps the most important challenge was creating a digital brand which would build on the reputation of the print newspaper but offer its readers features they could not get in print. Most online news sites obtained up to 70% of their online content simply by re-using and reformatting print stories for the online market, a practice known in the industry as ‘shoveling’.2 Rather than just providing its readers with an electronic version of the print edition, Youngman and his staff were committed to exploiting the strength of each medium and constantly fine tuning the interaction between them. In order to do this, the organization currently in place would need to be restructured to accommodate the new medium and the right kind of talent would need to be recruited which could adapt to this hybrid environment. Closely linked to the development of the brand was the challenge of defining what business the newspaper should be in as it positioned itself in the NewMedia industry. Should the Chicagotribune.com be in the business of providing news to its readership, or should it become an e-commerce business with news as just one of its many products? Unlike many new media companies which operate independently, the Chicagotribune.com is part of the Tribune Company, a media conglomerate, and thus its development as an online entity is linked to the overall strategy of the parent company. In May 1999, the Tribune Company consolidated its national and local...
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