The Tribune, founded in 1847 and long known as a Republican paper, helped get Abraham Lincoln elected president, and its editorial criticizing Richard Nixon was a key milestone in the demise of his presidency.
But the Tribune has a mixed record in national politics, forever branded by the “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline displayed by a victorious Truman in 1948. (With that history in mind, the Tribune never declared George W. Bush or Al Gore as election-night winner in 2000, though many other newspapers did.)
These days, the Tribune sees its greatest opportunities in local news.
When we looked at what stories tend to drive more conversions [to subscriptions], the focus is on local, says Christine Taylor, the Tribune’s managing editor for audience.
So it’s that kind of differentiating factor that a paper like the Chicago Tribune can have in a market. We’re not trying to compete with the New York Times and the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal on the national scale. It’s what can we provide to the local market as the local news resource to people that’s going to differentiate us. So kind of trying to steer away from commodity content into more about how do we help people find perspective or context around the things that are happening in the news, whether that’s on the national scale or a local scale.
That requires approaching national stories with local angles. As an example, Taylor cites birthright citizenship, an aspect of the immigration debate that has resonance in Chicago because of the city’s large immigrant population.
But it’s not just about story topics. Transformation to digital requires openness to alternative presentation and new platforms.
I think we have to really understand where the opportunities are for us to branch out from our primary platforms, Taylor says.
And I think, too, it’s not just about jumping into the podcast game because everybody has a podcast. It’s: What do we as the Chicago Tribune bring to that space that’s going to be unique and give someone a reason to subscribe and download the podcast every new episode?
Taylor hopes the Local News Initiative will help the Tribune can evolve to meet its readers needs and wants --
how we can do a better job of meeting them where they are instead of thinking that we’re the Chicago Tribune and everybody just comes to us because we’re the Chicago Tribune. Because I think we can acknowledge that that’s not really happening anymore.
The Tribune has been through ownership changes in recent years. It is part of the Tribune Publishing chain, which was recently known as Tronc. Talks are underway to sell the chain.
One strong suit for the Tribune going forward is the consistent excellence of its investigations. Eight of its investigative projects have been Pulitzer finalists in the last eight years.
Taylor is eager to see the Local News Initiative’s findings since sometimes
we’re too nose-to-the-glass in the newsroom to be able to get to that outside perspective.
So I think it will be really interesting, she says,
to see the insights that they provide and how we can then take those and put them into action in the newsroom.