RedEye, Chicago

By: Mark Fitzgerald

When the Chicago Tribune launched RedEye in the fall of 2002, media critics ? including this E&P writer ?beat up pretty badly on the would-be youth tab. We jeered that the content was either yesterday’s celebrity news or severely shortened versions of articles right out of that morning’s Tribune. It wasn’t really cool, it was condescending. And it was ugly, too.

It didn’t help that Red Streak ? created out of thin air in six days by a panicked, competing Chicago Sun-Times just to confuse the market ? seemed more like the real thing: a sparkly mix of snarky celebrity dish, sports, and plenty of cheesecake for the boys.

Nearly four years later, though, it’s time to give RedEye some props, as I understand the kids used to say.

RedEye ? which these days distributes 100,000 free copies ? is a mostly smart and good-looking newspaper with a laser focus on serving its target audience’s eclectic appetite for news and information about sex, mass transit, drink specials, and Jennifer Aniston. It’s a quick-read paper with some positively addicting aspects that could teach mainstream newspapers a thing or two about connecting deeply with readers.

For one thing, RedEye gets humor right ? not exactly something the newspaper industry has in its DNA. RedEye’s sports section, for instance, pulls off a hat trick every morning by combining a soupcon of actual sports news, like game scores and summaries, with out-of-left-field humor and running gags. Like any good sports talk show, RedEye’s staff knows that the important thing isn’t the game, but the interplay of its yakkers.

And you don’t need to be a sports fan to laugh out loud at “Five On Five,” a daily feature in which five writers ? joined occasionally by creations like an evil supercomputer ? smart-aleck their way through five topics. “Wearwolves” does the same thing for fashion, as four fashionistas meow about the outfits of people photographed at clubs.

“We’ve found our voice and personality,” says Editor Jane Hirt. RedEye has also found something else that’s eluded other quick-read tabs: money. The offshoot has been profitable every quarter since last fall, with ad revenues running about 50% above 2005, says General Manager Brad Moore, who won’t disclose specific figures.

RedEye buried Red Streak long before Sun-Times Publisher John Cruickshank did. It outlasted a blog dedicated to documenting its daily faults. And it’s still going months after The Quad-City Times pulled the plug on the more audaciously original mini-tab Your Mom.

So RedEye, no hard feelings, eh? As Ali G says, “Respect!”

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