What’s the future of section one of the Reader—with its movie reviews and TIF exposés and relentless 17-years-and-counting coverage of torture in the Chicago Police Department? Certainly editorial content wasn’t anything the Reader’s new CEO, Ben Eason, dwelled on at the staff meeting Wednesday, where his focus was on Web opportunities, regaining ground lost to Craigslist in classified advertising, and the efficiencies of centralizing the design work in Atlanta–a change that is likely to cost a dozen or so Reader employees their jobs.
So afterward I asked him about editorial. “It’s everything,” he said. He talked to me about the “convening power” of a newspaper, about stories that attract “movers and shakers” even if they don’t interest the multitudes. And about the autonomy of the editor, who will remain Alison True. I’ve looked at a couple of Creative Loafing papers from other cities; to my eye their design is garish and homely, and it doesn’t respect the stories it ought to serve. If the centralized design staff makes this the look of the Reader–which will be turned into a one-section tabloid by Creative Loafing, though the old owners were planning to do the same–I think readers will judge it as antithetical to what they’ve understood the Reader to be.
We’ll see. The Reader has been visited by one of the most common but dispiriting traumas of the newspaper business–new out-of-town ownership. A newspaper, I think I read somewhere, is supposed to be a community talking to itself, and owners from a thousand miles away make an intrusive addition to the conversation. The paper I grew up with in Saint Louis is no longer locally owned, the paper I cut my teeth on, the Sun-Times, was sold by Marshall Field to Rupert Murdoch almost a quarter century ago, and now the paper I’ve worked for ever since has joined the procession. Even if the public doesn’t care one way or another about all this imperialism, journalists do–and I wonder now why anyone at the Tribune Company thought for a second that the LA Times would reconcile itself to being controlled by Chicago.