Not Just For City Slickers p.20

By: Editorial Staff RUPERT MURDOCH HASN'T owned the Chicago Sun-Times since 1986, yet editor in chief Nigel Wade still runs into Chicagoans who think Murdoch runs the tabloid.
"At first it was shocking, and then as more people said it to me, it was increasingly damned annoying," Wade said.
Maybe it's Wade's own Australian accent that accounts for some of the misunderstanding ? but few things are more infuriating to a Hollinger Inc. newspaper executive than to be confused with Murdoch's operations.
"It disheartens me to know some people are still under that impression. It is evidence of the damage done by this aberration in the history of the Sun-Times," Wade said of the two-year Murdoch reign. "I start off every speech I give by saying, 'Rupert Murdoch has nothing to do with the Chicago Sun-Times.' Sometimes, I'd like to hang a banner to that effect from the building.
"We are a tabloid," Wade added, "that does not read like a tabloid."
Indeed, under Wade's leadership, the Sun-Times for the past nine months has done much to confound notions of tabloids in general ? and this newspaper in particular:
u Long regarded as a paper for the city of Chicago ? especially for Chicago's South Side ? the Sun-Times is aggressively moving back into the suburbs.
u Stereotyped as the blue-collar read, the paper is calling increasing attention to its fine arts coverage.
u Already admired for its sports and automotive coverage ? both popular with male readers ? the Sun-Times is trying to become more appealing to women.
u Printed on the oldest letterpress units in northern Illinois, the Sun-Times says it is nearing construction of a brand-new production facility with offset presses and modern mailroom equipment.
In all these changes, Wade says, the Sun-Times is finally doing something it had ignored for too long: Stay part of its readers' lives.
"Our readers moved to the suburbs, and for whatever reason we didn't follow them," Wade said. "A mind-set developed over the years that saw this as being a kind of niche paper. It was a mistake."
Now, the paper is "not giving up on any constituencies," Wade says.
"I was talking about [reaching] Chicago Symphony Orchestra [subscribers]," Wade said, "and somebody said to me, 'Symphony goers are not Sun-Times readers.' And I said, that's exactly my point. Why aren't they?"
As luck would have it, just about that time, the Chicago Tribune redesigned its A-section in a way that took arts coverage off its back page and had the effect of limiting the number of overnight arts reviews the paper could publish.
For its part, the Sun-Times slapped teasers for its own overnight reviews on the front page ? and it sometimes parks a delivery truck outside theaters to promote reviews that would be out the next morning.
The Sun-Times has also beefed up its suburban coverage. There are no bureaus ? just reporters with laptops driving around for stories.
"Some reporters I haven't seen in weeks," Wade said. "We've moved a lot of furniture out of the newsroom."
More recently, the paper has introduced subtle redesigns to make room for more explanatory news stories and features. Another priority is to increase the paper's appeal to women, Wade says.
"I did say when I came here that the paper had a very masculine feel to it," he said.
Now there is more fashion coverage, more features ? and a female columnist, Carol Slezak, on the sports pages.
Sports is probably the arena where Chicago's papers compete most fiercely ? and it is generally the Sun-Times everybody is gunning at. When the Chicago Tribune introduced its so-called "In Your Face" redesign of its sports pages last year, one of its first moves was to hire wise-guy columnist Steve Rosenbloom away from the Sun-Times.
Similarly, a premiere sports columnist on the Daily Herald is Terry Boers ? hired after Boers left the Sun-Times in a dispute when the paper was under different ownership.
"I think we have pretty much blunted [the Tribune sports redesign) which, not to use that vulgar phrase, has blown up in their face," Wade said.
The Sun-Times, however, remains a paper with a serious problem: The Sunday paper ? hobbled by an anemic recruiting classified section ? sells far less than half the copies of the Tribune, and not even as many copies on average as its own weekday paper. The paper has also put aggressive and expensive promotions on hold until it has a new production plant.
Wade acknowledged there have been several false starts over the past two years at making press decisions, and getting the plant going.
"For one thing, there is a rather large sum of money involved here," he said. "It's a decision for the next half century . . . but it's going to happen ? and pretty soon, too."
In the meantime, Wade said, the city can expect more guerrilla tactics from the Sun-Times.
"Where they retreat, we attack," Wade said. "I'm a competitive person, and I want to let folks know there's a war going on."
?("We are a tabloid that does not read like a tabloid.") [Caption]
?(? Nigel Wade, editor in chief, Chicago Sun-Times) [Photo & Caption]
? Web Site:http://www.
?copyright Editor & Publisher- April 26, 1997.


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