Trib Editor: Give the People What They Want
By Margaret Lyons in News on Aug 21, 2008 3:17PM
Chicago Tribune editor Gerry Kern sent an email to staffers yesterday outlining his big plan for the future, which is to "strengthen our bond with readers by giving them the news, information and irresistible storytelling they desire in their lives. We will enlighten, provoke, surprise and entertain them. We want them to say, 'This is my Tribune and I can’t get along without it.'"
His full missive plus his "Vision for reinventing the Chicago Tribune" after the jump.
What do you see in our newspaper’s future?
Do you see a bleak time ahead of continued decline with more layoffs like those we endured last week? Or do you see brighter possibilities that can be achieved through hard work and resourcefulness? The way you answer these questions will determine your success and ours.
I see tremendous opportunities amid all the uncertainty. Everyone who remains at this great newspaper must now commit to the work required to realize them. Our success begins with the belief that it is possible.
Like other news organizations, we are adapting to the new realities of the information marketplace. Audiences are fragmenting across an expanding array of digital media. Advertising dollars, already scarce because of a cyclical downturn, are following that shift.
We’re now in transition to a new media environment. We don’t know exactly what this will look like or how long it will take. We clearly are moving toward a 24/7 online business that also publishes in print once a day.
While there are unknowns ahead, we are not powerless. There is much we can do to create the future we all want. We can become relentlessly entrepreneurial about expanding our audiences by ensuring that everything we do is rooted in meeting consumers’ needs and desires.
Long before the rise of electronic media, dozens of newspapers circulated on the streets of major American cities, each competing on the strength of a story to strike a chord with readers. Success was easily measured: How many papers did we sell today? Today, web sites have replaced street hawkers clutching papers, and we can instantly measure response via clicks.
But let’s be clear. The good old days weren’t all that good. There were excesses, and often newspapers had few qualms about pandering to make a sale. Over the decades, journalism became a profession and embraced high ethical standards. Accuracy, fairness and courageous public service became the heart of our mission. They remain so today.
But a fundamental truth endures: Without an engaged audience that finds value in what we offer, we cannot succeed. Journalism is not an abstraction that exists apart from the audience. It must deliver what the audience needs and wants.
I have been listening to readers for years, in research studies, in focus groups and individually. They want us to investigate public issues, stand up for our communities, hold our government officials accountable, tell them the bad news they need to know and connect them to the larger world.
But readers want us to do a lot more. They want practical information and advice they can use in their daily lives. They want us to tell fascinating stories that they can share—and those don’t always have to be the “important” stories of the day. They want us to entertain them, too.
People have many choices for news and information, and if we’re not prepared to give them what they want, they can—and will—go elsewhere.
One of the most revealing insights from recent research is how little excitement some people feel about their daily encounter with us. Many of our regular readers regard us like the electric company or water utility. Yes, everyone wants electricity and water and it’s a pain to do without them. But your soul just isn’t stirred by the sight of working faucet or wall socket.
I realize that this perception is unfair and that it does not fully match reality. The Chicago Tribune routinely publishes groundbreaking investigations and is filled with compelling stories, columns and other features that deliver on our promise to readers. Your great work is evident in each edition. But perceptions count, too. We have work to do in changing them.
Think about the products that you love most. Maybe it’s your iPhone. It’s your personal portal to the universe of information and human interaction. It’s your music library, video player and photo album, ready to respond to the moment and your mood. You love your iPhone because of the richness of the overall experience, not just its functionality.
That’s emotional engagement.
And that’s the keystone idea in the vision driving the Chicago Tribune’s redesign. I’ve attached an outline of the vision and supporting principles that the newsroom redesign team has developed. We’ll be sharing more with you shortly about the new design, but first it is important to share the thinking behind it.
Here is the essence:
The experience of the news is as important as the news itself. We will strengthen our bond with readers by giving them the news, information and irresistible storytelling they desire in their lives. We will enlighten, provoke, surprise and entertain them. We want them to say, “This is my Tribune and I can’t get along without it.”
Readers will embrace us as their Tribune if they see themselves, their lives, their circumstances, their interests reflected on our pages. If they see that we provide solutions to their problems, we will become their indispensable survival guide to the complexities of life. If they find our personalities and experts stimulating, enlightening and entertaining, readers won’t want to miss a single edition.
And we will succeed.
That e-mail came with an attachment:
Vision for reinventing the Chicago Tribune
Emotional engagement: The experience of the news is as important as the news itself. We will strengthen our bond with readers by giving them the news, information and irresistible storytelling they desire in their lives. We will enlighten, provoke, surprise and entertain them. We want them to say, “This is my Tribune and I can’t get along without it.”
Smart, relevant, engaged, provocative, powerful, unpretentious, playful, passionate.
Who We Are:
We are in touch with our readers’ lives. We are here to serve them.
We are accurate and fair.
We are courageous and principled.
We are imaginative, surprising and curious.
We are competitive.
What We Do:
We capture, celebrate and convey the energy, vitality and drama of Chicago in the 21st Century—24 hours a day, online, in print and on radio and television.
We understand our readers and give them the information they need and want to lead their lives. Personal relevance and utility are essential elements of our reporting.
We tell compelling stories with powerful words and images that connect with our readers intellectually and emotionally.
We stand up for our citizens and communities, uncovering wrongdoing and holding our institutions, public servants, businesses and others accountable.
We deliver local news more quickly, accurately and completely than our competitors.
We illuminate the world for our readers and explain how it matters to them.
We entertain our readers and serve as a welcome diversion in their day.
We listen and talk to our readers and give them a voice on our pages.
We showcase the unique perspectives of our columnists, personalities and expert voices.
We constantly innovate, take smart risks and always look forward.