Who Benefits?



Andrew Patner asks the question, and in the original Latin, in his energetic blog post on the new Chicago News Cooperative that Jim O'Shea announced today.

What is it? What will it look like? What will it eat? Is it friend or foe? Patner calls it an "outfit," a dandy word, having such resonance here in Chicago and so snappily conveying the idea that until we see exactly what it's up to we might as well be suspicious of it. As he says, it'll be overseen "by an all-white, largely suburban board" composed of the usual suspects. And MacArthur money's behind it.

Patner points out, "No younger people (except a board member, Michael Davies, who owns a website service company with his father), no Blacks, no Latins, no one from the Sun-Times, no investigative reporters, no one from the Reader, no one who doesn't already know everybody else from other boards or service in the Tribune Tower."

But here's my take. 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. Patner reports,"Telephones have been ringing, e-mails have been flying, and Twitter has been twittering all day among Chicago journalists." When was the last day that saw so much ringing, flying, and twittering yet nobody was laid off and no union was emasculated?

Sizing up what we've just been told about the CNC, Patner puts his finger on something noteworthy: "A contract with The New York Times (which is just giving away its editorial control, it seems)." So it seems.

"Basically," says O'Shea, speaking of the four pages of news the CNC will produce for the Times each week, "it will be, what do you call it? — branded. It'll have, 'Produced by Chicago News Cooperative.'" O'Shea says the message of that brand to Chicago readers (the only Times readers who'll see it) will be, "This is CNC content, we trust their judgment, and we have an agreement that they conform to our editorial and ethical standards." The CNC pages will be copy-edited in New York and, at least initially, laid out in New York, and O'Shea believes they'll run in the main news section, but the story ideas will originate with and the stories written by CNC.

So yes, the Times is clearly ceding some editorial control. Though how different will a story labeled CNC be from a story labeled AP?

UPDATE: The Chicago pages will run in the Times's A section, and after a brief start-up period will be designed as well as written and edited in Chicago. The CNC will coordinate with the Times's Chicago bureau and with an editor in New York, Jim Schachter, who can make changes if he has to; but that should happen rarely if at all. The AP comparison is flimsy; the Times is breaking new ground.

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