New York Times Makes Play On Chicago

By Marcus Gilmer in News on Oct 23, 2009 3:40PM

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Photo by wallyg

While we knew the New York Times was planning a local edition of its paper for the Chicago area, details emerged yesterday about the paper's specific plans. The news for the Chicago-centric paper will be handled by a group called Chicago News Cooperative. The CNC will include former Tribune editor James O'Shea and James Warren; the advisory board will be chaired by journalist Peter Osnos and another Tribune editor, Ann Marie Lipinski, is a board member. The group will receive a bulk of its funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation while also receiving assistance from WTTW. In fact, the CNC will start life as a non-profit affiliate of Window to the World Communications which happens to be WTTW's parent company. The Cooperative is also in talks with WBEZ for potential future collaboration. Two pages of Chicago-related news will appear twice a week (Friday and Sunday) in copies of the New York Times distributed in the Chicago area starting November 20.

The effect of this venture remains to be seen but one has to think it could have a significant impact, especially if a collaboration with WBEZ is worked out. But given the high number of former Tribune folks on board, not to mention the lack of youth in the initial group, there is reason for skepticism. So what are some thoughts circulating on the new group?

The Reader's Michael Miner says of the new collective:

At the age of 66, when most journalists are retiring from the PR firms they chose go to seed at, or are already dead of drink, O'Shea's making the most interesting non-bankruptcy-court-centered journalism news in Chicago in months. For comfort, he's rounded up some pals. He hasn't announced, or for the most part hired, a staff of reporters, who will almost certainly be younger and more multifarious than O'Shea's cronies, since they could hardly be older and less. It is presumptuous of old farts with money and connections to think they can possibly contribute to the reinvention of journalism, yet they have my permission to try.

As Miner points out, O'Shea has kept a high profile in the Chicago journalism circle in recent months: he's also on the board put together by Atalaya Capital Management to oversee Creative Loafing publications, including the Chicago Reader when the investment fund was awarded ownership of the reader in August by a bankruptcy judge.

Meanwhile, over at ChuffPo, Dan Sinker also shared some salient thoughts.

The organization that the CNC is proposing is a far cry from the bloated Tribune--a small editorial staff of nine to twelve, with content partnerships at quality news shops in the city--sounds right, and as long as they don't chase the paywall dragon, a website that covers Chicago politics smartly will be a welcome addition to the field. And the partnerships they're proposing, especially the one with WBEZ, could bare some delicious fruit (toss the Reader into that mix as well, and you've really got something).

But, at the end of the day, I wonder if this is all there is. The cast of characters behind this is a pretty familiar one, Tribune hands almost all, and while it's nice to see the big dogs out for another run, one has to wonder if they've got it in them to truly learn some new tricks. Because it's not just about bringing real news back to a city that so desperately needs it (one wonders if the Olympic planning would have moved so far along if anyone other than the lonely duo of Joravsky and Dumke were digging into it), but also about rethinking how we can produce, distribute, and interact with news when you start from scratch in 2009.

Will the collective use the NY Times as a jumping off point to something bigger? Can they provide the "answer" everyone is looking for with all these conferences and seminars? Can they have the foresight to succeed in a constantly shifting landscape? Like everything else involving journalism, the future, and this city, we'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, the folks at Gawker have something to say on the matter and it throws a bit of cold water on the hopes of anyone who thinks this new collective may be "the answer."