Chicago theaters pan Tribune redesign before it opens p. 27

By: Mark Fitzgerald Performing arts impresarios raise ruckus
with talk of a redesign of one arts page sp.

NEWSPAPERS LIKE TO think they can get a big reader reaction with a redesign, but in truth most new looks rarely raise more than an eyebrow.
Right now in Chicago, however, performing arts impresarios and ticket-holders are raising an astonishing ruckus with the Chicago Tribune over just the hint of a redesign of one particular page.
Over the year-end holidays, theater owners solicited nearly 13,000 letters and signatures from arts lovers opposed to any change in ArtsPlus, which runs on the back page of the Tribune's Section One.
For years, ArtsPlus has featured the Inc. gossip column along the left-hand column ? and a full page of overnight reviews of theater, classical music, dance and pop performances.
As part of a redesign that will eventually change the entire paper, however, a Tribune task force has been at work since the summer, looking at changes in Section One.
In particular, the Tribune, like all U.S. papers, was looking for a way to make front-page story jumps more palatable to readers. A logical candidate was the back page.
One option that became public would be moving the Inc. column to Page 2 ? pushing the lengthy Reader's Guide that resides there now to another inside page ? and devoting the remainder to overnight reviews.
However, because there is a big space committed to advertising on Page 2, room for reviews would be limited. Other reviews, according to this plan, would run in the preprinted Tempo section ? at least two days after a performance had taken place.
Officials at such cultural institutions as the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Chicago Symphony and Steppenwolf Theatre treated this possible redesign as a full-fledged crisis.
"We mobilized as quickly as we could," said Tony Sertich, executive director of the League of Chicago Theatres.
Within days of hearing rumors of the redesign, the officials summoned two Tribune editors to an "emergency meeting" at the league's offices.
League officials contacted other arts groups and spread the word to the public by discussing the redesign on WBEZ-FM, the National Public Radio outlet in Chicago.
In addition, letters of protest were distributed to theatergoers in playhouses throughout the Chicago area. Signatures were also gathered at the Hot Tix discount ticket outlets run by the league.
By mid-January, the league had amassed close to 13,000 letters and signatures to protest a newspaper redesign that had not yet taken place.
Letters also appeared in the Tribune itself.
"Like thousands of others in Chicago's arts community, I never miss the Tribune and ArtsPlus. Let's keep it that way, and let's keep ArtsPlus where it is," wrote Zarin Mehta, brother of conductor Zubin and executive director of the summer classical-music Ravinia Festival.
Chicago arts businesspeople say ArtsPlus gives them continual exposure that is all the more important at a time when federal funding for their productions is under fire.
"ArtsPlus is an ongoing presence for the arts community in Chicago," league executive director Sertich said. "You always know it is going to be on the back page. Part of the problem is that if it goes on the inside, right away you will have a decrease in space.
"And if it some reviews go into Tempo, well, then, there's kind of this 'Where's Waldo?' kind of thing happening," he added.
There's another reason theater owners are upset, Sertich said.
"It's disturbing especially because the Tribune also decided to increase its advertising rates substantially at the same time they are decreasing coverage," he said.
For its part, the Tribune says nothing has been decided yet. Features editor Owen Youngman, one of the editors at the "emergency meeting" called by the impresarios, said the newspaper understands their concerns.
"Some [of the theater owners] claim they do 60% of their total box office on the day the review appears," Youngman said.
Youngman said there is no firm deadline on what changes, if any, will be made to ArtsPlus.
Sertich is happy with how things stand now.
"Our understanding is that whereas before this may have been a fait accompli, now there is a chance there will be no change," he said.


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