The Tribune layoffs this week sent a message to its readers about how much the new management values business coverage. As I said in an earlier post, “That section of the Tribune is now four employees lighter — and there’d been other layoffs before Wednesday.” Then I quoted someone familiar with the business section: “They don’t care about business. They’re not a privately owned company and they don’t want to be written about.”

That just brought me a stinging reply from Michael Millenson, a former Trib business writer who’s now a health care consultant. He writes:

For you to quote “someone who knows the department well” as saying the Business section was gutted because “They don’t care about business… They’re now a privately owned company and they don’t want to be written about” is absurd on its face if you think about the statement for even a moment.
Hello — they’re not writing about themselves. They’re writing about business for readers in the third largest city in the nation and one of the biggest concentrations of large corporations in the nation.That makes as much sense as saying, “They don’t care about sports. They’ve sold the Cubs and they don’t want to be written about.”

The paper cared about Business in the 1980s/early 1990s when there were lots of financial ads. Indeed, they started building up the business section when they were a private company. Those ads are gone and, more subtly, business no longer has the “buzz” it once did. (Go and ask Crain’s about those factors.) And you yourself said they were looking for a Sun-Times model. Put that together with the Newsweek philosophy (we do perspective, not news) and you can cut hard news coverage of business and, frankly, of some other areas. Which is just what they did.  

As a former Financial reporter for the Trib, I sighed when I saw what you wrote. Because Hot Type never paid much attention to business coverage as a
subject for scrutiny — not as sexy as politics, right? — and so you simply accepted that “source” at face value without stopping to check it out. And probably had a copy editor equally intimidated by anything that said, “business” as a story when simple logic would tell you the statement is untrue.  

Those of us who understand the need for credible reporting on the media in Chicago would suggest to you that you avoid easy mistakes like believing someone whose conspiracy theory makes no sense whatsoever.

I don’t believe my source was peddling a conspiracy theory. The point, as I understood it, was that a company that doesn’t much care to see itself covered feels little sense of obligation to cover anyone else. That said, Millenson’s observation is to the point: the buzz is gone, the ads are gone, and as a consequence the hard news is gone, even though Chicago consists of “one of the biggest concentrations of large businesses in the nation.”