Amid Newsroom Cuts, 'NYT' Goes Outside for Regional News

By: The New York Times is trying to lure more readers and advertisers by launching regional editions with extra stories in major U.S. markets. Yet the newspaper is also cutting newsroom jobs to save money.

The solution: The Times will rely on outside groups to gather much of its regional news ? seemingly a gamble for such a highly regarded newspaper as it tries to hold its own in competitive media towns.

It's not an entirely new idea for the Times. Like most other newspapers it runs wire service stories from The Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg News. And the move into other cities fits with the newspaper's strategy of being a truly national publication.

But the Times is taking a different approach in its effort to offer regional editions in San Francisco and Chicago, which will serve as test cases for further expansion.

Rather than plucking wire stories or expanding bureaus, the Times is turning to homegrown groups. In both San Francisco and Chicago the organizations are nonprofits that are cobbling money together from a variety of sources as they try to plug holes in local coverage left by shrinking newspapers and broadcast stations.

In Chicago, the Times will pay the fledgling Chicago News Cooperative an undisclosed amount to provide two pages of local stories on Fridays and Sundays.

"The idea of the Times turning over pages in its newspaper to a news service ? that's novel for us," said Jim Schachter, who is overseeing the project for the Times despite his title as head of digital initiatives. "So we're going to have to work our way through it."

At first, the Times will have a big hand in producing the pages, simply by necessity.

The Chicago edition begins Nov. 20, and the cooperative is still getting on its feet. It is moving into office space donated by a downtown law firm and hiring between eight and 10 reporters, said the group's editor, James O'Shea, former editor of the Los Angeles Times and managing editor at the Chicago Tribune.

The cooperative will give stories a first edit before sending articles and photos to the Times for copy editing ? a close second reading for grammar, spelling and style ? and page layout. Eventually, Schachter said, the Times expects the cooperative to provide a finished product to send to presses.

The Chicago public television station WTTW is also contributing resources to the group, which plans to launch its own Web site next year and expand beyond simply providing stories to the Times. It has seed funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Similar local outfits are popping up around the country as traditional media cut costs to cope with falling ad revenue. The recession and the migration of readers and advertisers to the Web have hit almost every major publisher. The Times, which has not scaled back as much as most, told employees this week it will have to cut 100 newsroom jobs.

O'Shea's resume is one reason the Times feels confident it will get top-notch reporting. "Jim O'Shea didn't just fall off the turnip truck," Schachter said.

Still, the local competition is unlikely to roll over and let a new player siphon readers ? even if that new entrant is The New York Times and Chicago's two major dailies have been in bankruptcy protection this year. The Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times still have many more reporters.

"Just covering Chicago public schools is a bigger job than covering most cities," said John Lavine, dean of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. "You're going to have to be very, very skilled in what it is you're covering and how you're covering it."

Schachter said the Times is not looking for a fight with the Tribune or the Sun-Times.

"Unlike the local papers, we're not making any promise of comprehensiveness. We can't," he said.

"We do think we can lead the news conversation by doing smart, enterprising journalism," he added. "We hope we can reach the point where if you're not reading The New York Times, you don't know some of the most important information about your hometown."

Chicago and San Francisco seem logical markets for the Times because they have big numbers of highly educated and affluent people, the newspaper's target readers. It already has a circulation of about 25,000 on weekdays in Chicago and 40,000 in San Francisco.

Calls seeking comment from the Tribune were not immediately returned Friday. In an e-mail message, Sun-Times spokeswoman Tammy Chase said the newspaper is "no stranger to competition, as Chicago is already an intensely competitive news town."

For now, the Times is producing the extra section in the San Francisco Bay area with its own 10-person bureau there. The new edition launched a week ago and also runs on Fridays and Sundays. The newspaper is in talks with another nonprofit, led by San Francisco investment banker Warren Hellman, who is teaming with public broadcaster KQED and the University of California's journalism school.

But the group is still "figuring out what they want to do and be," as Schachter put it.


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