Tribune Company Bankruptcy Highlights New Media Opportunity

About an hour ago, the privately held Tribune Company filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection. The Tribune Company is the owner of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun, as well as a minority owner of the Chicago Cubs (not included in the bankruptcy filing).

The conversation I’ve heard around this news has been interesting. For as much grief as some of these main-stream press have caused some community members, mostly in politics or local governments where the Tribune papers are, the feeling is that metropolitan areas served by these papers currently cannot function without a hard format newspaper.

The cities with the biggest three Tribune papers all have alternative daily circulars. Kind of. Los Angeles could lose the LA Times and still have the Los Angeles Daily News. Chicago could theoretically lose the Chicago Tribune and still have the Chicago Sun-Times. Baltimore would be stretched thinnest losing the Baltimore Sun and leaving the Examiner (though proximity to Washington, D.C could position the Washington Post or the investigative journalistic Washington Times to fill the void).

What strikes me is the difference between long-standing community members (those who have been born and raised in an area, and have been shaped by the daily circular) and the generational transience of those who simply don’t care, and move from locale to locale throughout life.

I’ve personally lived in the Baltimore area for most of my life, and have no loyalty or affinity to the Baltimore Sun. But those who have lived here all their life (and maybe from another generation) have been directly impacted by the Sun and can’t cope with life without it.

In my life, I can’t answer the famous Palin question/non-answer “What newspapers do you read?” because I don’t. If there is a loyalty to a paper, it is the New York Times. Why? Because they adjusted to a world not based on the physical paper. They are no longer “the grey lady” and now represent something so much more, and have extended their base outside of the previously known and understood paradigm. (Of course, that won’t necessarily keep them out of trouble either, but I digress.)

It will not sadden me to see the Tribune company go. It is obvious to me that newspapers, like the Tampa Tribune, who don’t adjust to the 21st Century need to fail. That does not mean that the age of hard print should die. On the contrary, it is possible for news organizations to rise up around an open culture of information sharing and digital cultural change, and provide an offline (paper) offering as well. It’s not just a possible change. It’s a required one.

Also to be clear, Chapter 11 is reorganization… not apocalypse. The Tribune Company will likely spin off some of these assets to, hopefully, better digitally savvy stewards. It is possible for these papers to reinvigorate and jump into the 21st century as well. If not, they will be replaced by lighter, more nimble and astute media organizations that are digitally competent.

I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

6 thoughts on “Tribune Company Bankruptcy Highlights New Media Opportunity

  1. Tribune (now featuring Sam Zell) is actually the sole majority owner of the Cubs, that is until I buy them out of bankruptcy using my PayPal account.

    Have to admit to being sad about this story, being a native Chicago guy and longtime fan of Bozo on Channel 9, but it’s a quintessential old school media company…and we all know how that is working in 2008.

    1. Paypal FTW… Are you going to use the overdraft on Checking Account feature just in case you don’t have enough funds in there? :)

      Seriously, thanks for the info on the Cubs ownership. I misunderstood the ownership stake.

  2. No problem and thanks. I’ve had to know that fact my entire life…especially the part where Tribune spent zero money on improving the team or facilities for 20 years in a row.

    My plan for purchasing them is to send $800 million to them via PayPal, then reverse the transaction via MasterCard. By that time I will have taken possession of the team and PayPal will have put Tribune in chargeback hell for 9 years trying to get a remedy, and I will have already traded for Pujols, Sabathia, and Ryan Howard.

    You know…something like that. :)

  3. I love newspapers. I actually make a living from them at the moment. I wonder how much longer the daily paper in our town will be able to make it, and I’m very sad to see the Tribune going through this.

    Digital news and feature articles are not the same as newsprint, and advertising does not have the same impact online as it does in printed media. I hope the dailies find a way to survive – I don’t want to live in an all digital world.

  4. On Jillian’s point…I have to concur that I’m going to miss sitting down with the fat Sunday paper, whether it’s the NY Times, the Chicago Tribune, or the Indy Star here in town (those are the 3 that I get, putting me way above average). There’s a romance to it. It’s a routine.

    We need a Kindle-style digital newspaper device that is super thin and sits on the coffee table all week updating, so we can approximate the social experience with our family and friends. Here’s rooting for digital paper tech.

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