Minneapolis’ Star Tribune declared bankruptcy last night.
This is just the latest in the series, but demonstrates just how tough it is for papers these days.
The Strib has presumably been getting a boost from the Franken/Coleman debacle, but despite scanning every single challenged ballot, its web traffic is just not filling the ad gap.
Like most newspapers, the Star Tribune has experienced a sharp decline in print advertising. Its earnings before interest, taxes and debt payments were about $26 million in 2008, down from about $59 million in 2007 and $115 million in 2004.
The article also notes the recent purchase of the paper by private equity group, Avista Capital Partners. Such fiscally-minded groups have generally not been as apt as family-owned companies to take a loss on their newsmaking, whilst balancing the books with other, more lucrative ventures.
In other bankruptcy-plagued news, the Chicago Tribune tried its damnedest this week to cut costs and produce a product someone wants to purchase.
In addition to last week’s re-redesign (which I’ll address in a minute), the Trib is now producing its single-copy paper as a tabloid, leaving its broadsheet to subscribing customers. [announcement and print version]
It’s unclear if readers will adopt/adapt to the latest Tribune change. After all, the Tribune’s truncated broadsheet isn’t some Age-sized behemoth. The change may also acclimate readers to the tabloid format, perhaps making them more likely to pick up the Sun Times, which is 25c less. Finally, given the new format, why would readers not pick up the Red Eye, which provides Tribune content in a tabloid format and is also free?
The Tribune presents these as positive changes, but - the aesthetic and cultural (elitist?!?) impacts of a tabloid Tribune aside - the printing of two separate editions seems scattered. It makes the paper seem as though they’re scrambling, which, of course, they are.
I was going to say that a brave face, a la the NYT, might be a better approach. Then again, they may merely be trying anything to stay afloat at this point.
I do have some commendation for the Tribune, though. They redesigned their redesign this week (late last week?) and included a helpful pull out about it in the new edition. There was some PR-speak, but the Trib addressed some reader complaints head-on, saying of one aspect, ‘Yeah, we hated it too. It’s gone.’ (Not sure if that’s a direct quote.)
While there are still lots of things I hate about the redesign - such as the horrible Page 3, over-arting in most sections and the ed/op-ed in the back of the Business section - staying in communication with subscribers is the best possible way to keep your base.
Their (mostly) honest assessment of their work makes me more inclined to keep reading the Tribune than anything else they’ve done this year.
And that is what passes for an ‘attaboy’ in this media market.