Before the Sun-Times told its staff late last month that it would begin publishing content from the Daily Herald, it was already publishing content from USA Today and picking up stories from the Reader. And it was decades ago that the paper began publishing content provided by the AP and other wires. Even at their biggest, strongest, and richest, the dailies never went it alone.
That said, our local newspapers make a melancholy sight leaning against each other for support. I said so to Daily Herald editor John Lampinen, and he replied with the obvious: “The world has changed and the industry has changed.
“Companies who used to be archrivals may still be competitors but not quite rivals in the same way,” Lampinen says. “Papers around the country have alliances.” To wit, in a few days the Tribune will take over home delivery of the Daily Herald, something it’s already doing for the Sun-Times and other papers.
Yet the Tribune is more of a rival to the Daily Herald than it’s ever been before, while the Sun-Times is less. That’s why Lampinen proposed sharing content with the Sun-Times (something first reported by blogger Robert Feder). “When the Sun-Times owned all those suburban properties they were pretty much our rival, and I wouldn’t have seen much in the way of an alliance,” said Lampinen, alluding to the former Pioneer Press weeklies and other titles that Sun-Times Media once owned. But last year parent company Wrapports LLC, which still publishes the Sun-Times and the Reader, sold 32 weekly and six daily papers to Tribune Publishing Co.
“Once they sold them off,” Lampinen explains, “it made sense to reach out and say, ‘Hey, we’re not going after each other’s throats any more.’ From our perspective, the Sun-Times is a gritty city paper with strength to the [suburban] south, and we’re a suburban paper but we don’t publish to the south. So why not see what we can do?”
The Sun-Times is already publishing the Daily Herald’s high school game of the week; its access to suburban high school sports coverage was devastated by the sale of the suburban papers. Lampinen said that the Daily Herald asked for two things in exchange: branding, in the form of the Herald’s logo displayed above the headline and Web throws. Sure enough, the Sun-Times’s Thursday story directs readers to the other paper’s site: “For more suburban football coverage go to football.dailyherald.com.”
Both Lampinen and Sun-Times editor Jim Kirk say their content-sharing agreement will expand quickly and substantially. But they don’t expect the presence of either paper’s content to reach the level of USA Today. That paper’s contribution to Thursday’s Sun-Times was 12 consecutive pages of national and world news, complete with USA Today typography, a USA Today masthead, and (for the reader with a beef) contact information for the USA Today standards editor. USA Today also threw in two pages of sports news. The Sun-Times is better for offering all these stories, but it looks like an occupied village.
“It’s a different day from 1975 or 1985,” says Lampinen. “One thing the great recession has taught all of us is we absolutely have to focus on priorities and maximize every dollar. Why spend money on something someone else can provide a little more affordably?”
But here’s a better question: When that “something” is a preview of the big game between Homewood-Flossmoor and Stevenson, why would a city paper commit to a full page of coverage?
Talks between the Sun-Times and the Daily Herald have focused on news and sports, according to Kirk. But there’s also been mention of sharing commentary and reviews, and the two papers might go so far as to collaborate on “watchdog projects,” Lampinen adds. Shared reporting does, of course, raise the possibility of fewer reporters. But both editors shrank from the thought, without promising this won’t happen.
“There’s no intent to let anybody go,” Lampinen says.
“This is not about staff reductions,” Kirk adds. “This is about partnership where it makes sense.”