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.

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