It’s a Strange Time to Start a Newspaper

By: Joe Strupp

Six months after launching competing daily tabloids aimed at younger readers, the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times both plan to keep their profitless offspring publications going for now, although with somewhat different approaches.

While Jane Hirt, editor of the Tribune’s Red Eye, expects success in the future, John Cruickshank, vice president of editorial for the Sun-Times, is more guarded for his paper’s Red Streak, which he fears may actually damage the Sun-Times. “If I had a name for this, it would be the ‘Red Menace,'” said Cruickshank, adding that the niche publication “chips away at the coalition of readers we are trying to build everyday” in the main paper.

Cruickshank and Hirt made their comments during a session on new newspapers at the American Society of Newspaper Editors, which is being held here this week. Others on the panel included Gilbert Bailon, executive editor of The Dallas Morning News, which is launching a new Spanish-language paper in the fall, and Seth Lipsky, editor of The New York Sun, a new Manhattan-based broadsheet.

Questions about the two red papers dominated the discussion, as editors attending asked how each paper was holding up after their October launches, and how they saw the future of each. Although both editors said they hoped to be profitable soon, Hirt, whose publication was created first, seemed more optimistic and stressed that the Red Eye was not an effort to draw readers into the Tribune.

“I see a great risk in editing the Chicago Tribune for an audience that doesn’t read it,” she said about the idea of giving younger readers their own paper. “We can get young people into the habit of reading a newspaper — their own.”

Cruickshank, who has admitted that the Red Streak was born out of pure competitive pressure, said the paper draws most of its news from the main Sun-Times. He added that the best outcome could be for the Red Streak to create new readers for its bigger sister. “We are trying to make sure the Red Streak will draw people into the Chicago Sun-Times,” he said.

Each of the “Red” papers distributes about 100,000 copies daily, according to Hirt and Cruickshank, with a single-copy price of 25 cents.

“I don’t know where this will go,” Cruickshank added. “I’m convinced it will be profitable long-term.” Hirt expressed a similar hope. “I see a long-term commitment,” she said.

For the other editors, the notion of starting a new paper was based on a similar idea: reaching an audience they felt was underserved. For Bailon, the growing Hispanic community was obvious with the increasing success of Spanish-language broadcasting outlets. But he stressed that the new publication would only work if it went after a niche audience that was not reading the existing product. “The readers we are targeting are not reading The Dallas Morning News,” he said. “It is not relevant to them and they are frustrated by that.”

Lipsky said he took a similar approach, going after an audience that felt underserved by The New York Times — the only other New York broadsheet daily and known as a more liberal voice.

All four editors, whose new publications have been criticized as financially risky in these times of declining circulation and advertising, contend that such circumstances should not deter those who want to launch niche publications with a hungry potential readership. “The notion of declining circulation is not an automatic sign that people are not reading newspapers,” said Lipsky. “But there are a lot of people in [New York City] who feel I am a fool.”

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