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Chicago Tribune testing premium daily edition
(Crain’s) — The Chicago Tribune is contemplating a pricier, premium daily newspaper to target affluent, more-educated readers, some of whom have dropped the biggest daily paper in recent years.
The unit of Tribune Co. is in the early stages of reviewing prototypes, but a new paper could be rolled out as early as this summer, according to sources familiar with the plans. A Tribune spokesman declined to comment.
It’s not clear whether the new paper would replace the current home-delivered broadsheet or add a third option to the publisher’s portfolio of products, which also includes a newsstand tabloid.
While the paper would cost more than the current daily, some Tribune employees say they are concerned about the cost of producing the new version. A yearly subscription to the Tribune can be purchased online for $143.
Chicago-based Tribune, which also owns the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers as well as 23 TV stations, is struggling to emerge from bankruptcy after more than two years as creditors continue battling over a reorganization plan in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.
Last week, the company named a new CEO, Times Publisher Eddy Hartenstein, to replace a four-person executive council that had been leading the company since the ouster last year of Randy Michaels.
The prototypes were developed before Mr. Hartenstein took over as CEO last week, so it’s possible that the new edition may be delayed or never launched.
Still, the company has traditionally given individual publishers leeway to pursue their own plans, and the Tribune may feel it can’t afford to lose that affluent readership, says Owen Youngman, a Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism professor and a former Chicago Tribune editor.
“It could make sure they have something in their portfolio that addresses that high-education, high-disposable-income audience,” Mr. Youngman said.
Newspaper revenue has plunged over the past few years as more advertising and readers gravitate to digital alternatives. But the Tribune’s content and approach to news also changed under Mr. Michaels, turning some readers off.
The Tribune last year considered a similar concept for a premium Sunday paper, but those plans fizzled, leaving the current home-delivery broadsheet, newsstand tabloid version and separate RedEye title to cover the market.
The move could be a response to the inroads that the New York Times and Wall Street Journal are making with Chicago advertisers and readers, though neither paper will disclose its circulation in the city. Some ad inserts long carried by the Chicago Tribune now also appear in those national papers.
The New York Times, which created a Chicago section in 2009 with content provided by the Chicago News Cooperative, claims it doesn’t compete with local papers because it’s a national premium product. The cooperative is run by former Chicago Tribune Managing Editor Jim O’Shea, who also was editor-in-chief of the company’s Los Angeles Times.
“That’s been the New York Times strategy for the past 20 years,” says Jim Schachter, an assistant managing editor for digital initiatives at that paper who oversees the Chicago effort. “Premium product, premium pricing.”