Chicago Tribune bosses seek to rally staff in perilous times

Chicago Tribune

Despite ominous warnings about what’s ahead under new corporate owners Alden Global Capital, the Chicago Tribune is closing out the year on an upbeat note from its top editors.

With the latest addition of four newsroom staffers and the announcement of 120,000 exclusive digital subscribers, Tribune publisher and editor-in-chief Bruce Dold said the newspaper is poised to continue creating “meaningful journalism” in the face of growing challenges in 2020.

Bruce Dold

“The Tribune has been on a tear,” Dold wrote in a holiday message to employees also signed by managing editors Peter Kendall and Chrissy Taylor. “From deep investigations to breaking news, from sports analysis to stunning photography, from journalism that took nearly a year to that which took a couple hours, our work has resonated with readers and made a difference in important ways.

“Through uncertain times, this newsroom has always rallied around its great work. We do that because we are all passionately committed to our mission, but also because we know quality journalism that is meaningful to people in their daily lives is the path to our continued success.”

New editorial hires at the Tribune include:

  • Jamal Collier, who spent five years at MLB.com, as Chicago Bulls beat writer. The graduate of Bolingbrook High School and the University of Illinois previously wrote for the State Journal Register in Springfield and the Peoria Journal Star.
  • Laura Rodriguez, a bilingual multimedia journalist and producer for the shuttered Spanish-language weekly Hoy, as a Tribune reporter covering Chicago’s Latino community. She was raised in Guanajuato, Mexico, and graduated from DePaul University.
  • DeAntae Prince, an NBA editor for Sports Illustrated, as a Tribune sports content editor. A graduate of Thornridge High School and Indiana University, he previously worked for the Sporting News.
  • Jocelyn Allison, former managing editor of New York-based Law360 online subscription news service, as Tribune senior content editor for City at Work. A graduate of Elk Grove High School and the University of Notre Dame, she previously was a reporter for the Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake. (Her great-grandfather, Zachary Taylor Davis, was the architect of Wrigley Field.)

Dold also noted that the Tribune just passed 120,000 digital-only subscribers — only eight months after hitting the 100,000 milestone.

“More readers find your journalism delivered to their phones and desktops and other devices so compelling and vital to their lives that they will pay for it,” he wrote to staff. “This is a testament to what you do day in and day out. Subscriptions are won and kept on the small stories as well as the big ones, on the reliable as well as the splashy, on utility as well as wonder.”

The news comes as Tribune Publishing is bracing for cutbacks under Alden Global Capital, the New York-based hedge fund that recently acquired a 32 percent stake in the newspaper’s parent company. Alden is notorious for squeezing profits by cutting newsroom staffs and diminishing coverage of local communities.

Here is text of the email from Dold, Kendall and Taylor:

Colleagues,

As we head toward the holiday, we want to thank you all for the hard work you do to create meaningful journalism for our readers and the communities they live in.

The Tribune has been on a tear. From deep investigations to breaking news, from sports analysis to stunning photography, from journalism that took nearly a year to that which took a couple hours, our work has resonated with readers and made a difference in important ways.

Take a look at these three examples:

The Quiet Rooms investigation, reported by Jennifer Smith Richards and our partners on the project at Pro-Publica Illinois, has had immediate impact. Because of the authority earned by months and months of reporting, every reader came away seeing how this practice had become badly abused and that children were suffering. Reforms have already been instituted, legislation has been drafted and there is hope for real change. It was a true team effort by the Investigations team, Photo, DataViz and the Audience team working with our outside partners.

Christy Gutowski’s heartbreaking story about the parents of A.J. Freund and the failures of DCFS was yet another example of the powerful work this newsroom is known for. That story demanded to be read, revealing how an unraveling family and an ineffectual bureaucracy led to a tragedy.

Reading Chicago’s sports zeitgeist, Rich Campbell and Dan Wiederer went deep on the draft of Mitch Trubisky, and readers went right in with them. This one truly was epic.

It’s important – and affirming – to look closely at how these stories resonated with readers.

The Tribune audience for Seclusion is approaching half a million readers, and 82 percent of them have come from social platforms.

The two parts of the A.J. Freund narrative combined to be one of the longest-read stories of the year, with average engagement time of 5:36. It had 71 percent of its readership on mobile devices – proving people will devote the time to read a good story on any device.

The Trubisky piece could well break into the lofty realm of 1 million engaged minutes, with an average of 4:35 per session. Again we see high mobile reach, with 71 percent of the audience reading on phones.

Those are just three, and they are just the big pieces. Every day, in ways big and small, we help our readers see and understand life in Chicago and this moment in our country.

Meaningful journalism compels readers to become subscribers. We saw this in the response to team coverage of the teachers strike: We converted our highest number of new subscribers since March. We are on a course to meet our goal of 118,000 digital-only subscribers by the end of the year. [The actual figure at year end is 120,000.]

Through uncertain times, this newsroom has always rallied around its great work. We do that because we are all passionately committed to our mission, but also because we know quality journalism that is meaningful to people in their daily lives is the path to our continued success.

Thank you for your dedication and good work, and have a great holiday.

Bruce, Peter and Chrissy

Tuesday’s comment of the day: Burt Levy: Love the initiative by the Sun-Times pursuant to the Hispanic market, however this isn’t the first time the Sun-Times has tried to play in this sandbox. There is a reason it was discontinued. It wasn’t profitable. Same reason the Tribune recently exited the space. For now, the Sun-Times would be best served concentrating and enhancing their core audience while creating creative and strategic digital and print content designed to grow their current audience and attract new eyeballs.