Sun-Times gets USA Today makeover

Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago Sun-Times

If you’re a fan of USA Today, you’re going to love the new Sun-Times.

Starting with Wednesday’s print edition, the Sun-Times will carry pages of national news, world news, business news and national sports news created and branded by USA Today, the national daily newspaper published by Gannett Inc. Sun-Times staff will continue to report primarily on local news, local sports, watchdog investigations and politics.

Sources familiar with the redesign said it will feature a new logo in conformity with the Sun-Times website and the addition of at least 10 pages of editorial content each day.

USA Today

USA Today

Management of the Sun-Times was expected to release a statement about the partnership with Gannett on Wednesday.

(Tuesday afternoon update: Timothy Knight, CEO of Sun-Times parent company Wrapports LLC, confirmed the move in a memo to Sun-Times staff. “To help us serve the needs of our print readers, we are working with USA Today on an exciting new partnership through which we will be adding 72 pages of additional content to the daily and Sunday newspaper each week,” Knight wrote. “Through this partnership, we will be providing our readers substantially more news and information.”)

The arrangement appears to be the most drastic step yet to save Chicago’s No. 2 daily newspaper in the face of diminished revenue and dwindling circulation. Last fall Wrapports renewed its printing and distribution deal with the rival Chicago Tribune when it sold all 38 of its suburban publications to Tribune Publishing. In recent weeks, more than 20 percent of the paper’s editorial staff was targeted in the latest round of buyouts with additional job reductions and layoffs looming.

Local entertainment coverage, once among hallmarks of the Sun-Times, is expected to fade further after the latest staff cutbacks and this week's makeover, according to insiders. (Although movie critic Richard Roeper, theater critic Hedy Weiss and celebrity columnist Bill Zwecker continue on their respective beats.)

The USA Today deal isn’t the first time the two companies have done business. For years the Sun-Times carried USA Weekend, the Sunday newspaper magazine published by Gannett until the supplement’s demise last December.

Here is the text of Knight’s memo Tuesday to Sun-Times staff:

Dear Colleagues:
I am writing to give you an update on some of the many initiatives we have underway at the Chicago Sun-Times.
Over the past year we conducted research with our home delivery, single copy and digital readers to understand better what content they expect and value from us.  Based on the results of this research, we increased our focus on providing what they value most--relevant and informative coverage of local news and politics, watchdog investigations and sports. 
On Wednesday we will launch a redesign of the paper to better highlight all of the award winning journalism we provide on a daily basis.  Specifically, we will be emphasizing the “beats” that our reporters cover, such as politics, education and transportation, by specifically identifying each one.  We also will be showcasing our excellent graphics work by having dedicated pages twice a week featuring graphics on interesting topics, in addition to our regular graphics accompanying stories of the day.
In the course of our research, readers have told us they would like to have important national and international stories covered in the paper in addition to local news and information provided by our staff reporters.  To help us serve the needs of our print readers, we are working with USA Today on an exciting new partnership through which we will be adding 72 pages of additional content to the daily and Sunday newspaper each week.  Through this partnership, we will be providing our readers substantially more news and information.
While consumers continue to have more and more choices on how to get news and information, we know the daily newspaper continues to be an important part of this experience.  We believe home delivery subscribers and single copy purchasers will value our ongoing emphasis on staff produced local news plus the national and world content provided from USA Today.  In the markets where local papers have partnered with USA Today, both single copy sales and home delivery retention have increased versus previous trends.  The research in those markets established that readers recognized the local paper was providing more quality coverage and this increased their loyalty to the paper. 
Due largely to our content focus and the work by our audience development team, our print single copy and home delivery circulation trends have substantially improved in recent months.  The improvements we are making to the paper will help us continue the very positive month over month circulation results we have been experiencing.  Additionally, increased vigilance on our part combined with both an improved working relationship and more stringent performance requirements in our new distribution agreement with the Chicago Tribune have resulted in better service to our readers. 
On the advertising revenue front, we are continuing to organize our sales team against opportunities to drive more revenue.  To be successful, we need to develop a better understanding of a client’s marketing goal and then present products and services that can help achieve that goal.   We have three primary initiatives to help us: (1) telling our story better through training and improved sales collateral; (2) continuing to build out our suite of digital marketing services; and (3) leveraging our business development team to provide custom content and events that allow readers to better engage with our advertisers’ brands.  Each of these efforts allows our sales team to serve both current and potential customers.
We are bullish on the future of this organization and our plan for profitability.  Our progress to date is evidence of this.  In the meantime, however, we need to work within current budget realities.  Our objective is to invest the revenue we generate from advertising and circulation sales in initiatives that strengthen and sustain the print edition of the iconic Chicago Sun-Times.
Now I want to review our digital plans.   As consumers continue to use web, mobile and tablet devices as part of the way they get news and information, media organizations need to capitalize on this opportunity.  In November, we partnered with the new Sun Times Network to leverage the online audience of the Chicago Sun-Times across the U.S.  I am happy to report that in just a few months the Network has been exceeding our planned goals.  Total users to have doubled since we partnered with the Network and our overall page view growth has been very strong.
Over the next few months, we will be working closely with the Network on version 2.0 of the website and apps as well as working to enhance our content programming.  We are exploring in a coordinated fashion ways to expose Chicago Sun-Times content that might be of interest to a national audience, focusing initially on sports and politics.
Why is this so important?  Simply put, the investment in technology and programming is still too high to focus only on one market.  With the Network, we have a unique opportunity to transform the Sun Times from just serving Chicago to providing relevant and interesting content to people across the country.  As early results show, we can increase our overall audience, which provides us more opportunities to increase our share of the rapidly growing digital revenue pie.  Our continued investment in the product and development of new ways to serve consumers is a foundation for our future success. 
We all know the media business is undergoing profound changes as technology has provided consumers with new ways to receive news and information and, consequently, advertisers new platforms to reach these consumers.  Our investors have set as an objective for us to invest the revenue we generate from advertising and circulation sales in initiatives that strengthen and sustain the print edition of the iconic Chicago Sun-Times while we build out the Sun Times Network.  If we achieve this objective we will grow a large and engaged audience that is valuable to current and potential advertisers.    
In the next few weeks, we will hold a series of Town Hall meetings to answer any questions you may have about the business. 
On behalf of our investors and the leadership team, I want to thank you for your continued dedication to ensuring that the Chicago Sun-Times can fulfill its mission to our readers while you help us build for the future with the development of the Sun Times Network.