Reality has a way of intruding on the best intentions. This week reality intruded on Tribune Publishing across several fronts.
First came news that Tribune Publishing's stock has lost about 40 percent in value since it began trading in early August 2014. Advertising revenue continues to fall.
Just days before that, CEO Jack Griffin had written a congratulatory letter to employees celebrating “a number of successes” Tribune Publishing achieved in the 12 months since it began trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
Then came word Thursday that the company was folding all but five of the remaining 16 print editions of TribLocal, the hyperlocal news weekly inserted into suburban copies of the Chicago Tribune. At one time, the company operated as many as 22 separate print editions and 90 individual websites under the TribLocal brand.
Starting August 20, readers in many north suburbs will begin receiving local Pioneer Press publications with Thursday editions of the Tribune. South suburban TribLocal readers will find their news in the Daily Southtown's Community Star. Naperville TribLocal fans will be offered the Naperville Sun. Chicago Tribune Media Group acquired the 32 Pioneer Press weeklies along with the Daily Southtown, Naperville Sun and four other suburban dailies in a $23.5 million deal last fall with Sun-Times parent Wrapports LLC.
For most of its eight-year run TribLocal has been a respectable and worthy supplement to the big paper (except for a disastrous period in 2012 when Tribune bosses fired or reassigned all of TribLocal’s writers and outsourced its content to a scandal-plagued outfit called Journatic, which was later exposed for “serious ethical breaches”).
While it may make sense businesswise for the company to eliminate overlapping of TribLocal with Pioneer Press and other suburban publications, that wasn’t the original plan.
In fact, immediately after the acquisitions were announced last October, Chicago Tribune Media Group said explicitly that TribLocal would continue to coexist with Pioneer Press.
“We think we really can bring together the great things that are happening with TribLocal as well as what’s happening with the newly acquired suburban properties, and make it better for all,” Bob Fleck, publisher and general manager of suburban operations, said in an interview at the time. “There’s no plan to abandon the TribLocal strategy. We believe this is just going to make everything stronger.”
On Thursday a company spokesman said the effect of the latest moves would be to improve the Pioneer Press products in size, scope of coverage and means of delivery. He emphasized that there would be no reduction in editorial resources or news staffing levels by the consolidation.
Next on the watch list is RedEye, the youthful daily tabloid that’s been without a general manager/publisher since Amy Guth stepped down in May. Pointing to a decline in circulation and a reduction in editorial staff, a recent story in Crain’s Chicago Business hinted at more changes to come.
(My blog is published independently under a licensing agreement with Chicago Tribune Media Group.)