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A kid stands at the door to my CTA stop every morning handing out the latest RedEye, and commuters not only accept it but carry it upstairs to the el platform. This display of real if minimal interest distinguishes the RedEyes foisted on the public from the ones in the box across the sidewalk, which I never see anyone bother with, and from the Sun-Times's in an adjacent box, which cost 50 cents and which no one on the trains I take seems to read any more. And to judge by what gets tossed in the first available dumpster, a RedEye hawker is a more welcome sight to a passerby than either a Jehovah's Witness handing out pamphlets or the day worker giving away out fliers that tout the two-for-one special of the floundering eatery on the corner.
We all laughed when RedEye was launched in 2002, but it survived our ridicule and a cunning counterstroke by the Sun-Times to take its place in Chicago. In 2003 Tribune Company launched another free tab, AM New York. Now it's on to Los Angeles!
David Hiller, publisher of Tribune's Los Angeles Times, said the other day that the same sort of paper is in the works out there. Reuters reported, "Hiller, speaking at a luncheon in Los Angeles, said the new paper would be similar to Redeye, a paper published and distributed for free at commuter stations by the Chicago Tribune."
History's written by the daring and the foolhardy, and we'll see in time where this idea falls. Aggressive young newspaper hawkers are surely not in short supply in LA. But rapid transit stations for them to hawk at and commuters who'll take their product because they crave distraction for the 20-minute trip into town surely are. I asked a veteran journalist who knows both Chicago and LA what he thought:
"It's absurd. . . . The reason it wouldn't work in LA is the same reason a Red Eye wouldn't work in Milwaukee: with rare exceptions, 95 percent of people here commute in cars and not to fixed destinations. They'd have to give the rag away at gas stations or Starbucks. A Spanish-language edition would be necessary for these downtown office and maintenance workers who make full use of the buses in the wee hours . . .
"It's possible that RedEye could be distributed at commuter destinations -- studios, malls etc -- but you'd have to get permission to get on property or behind security gates, and there would be the same problem with honor boxes and litter. LA is quite a bit less tolerant about such things than Chicago."
Meanwhile, Sam Zell is trying to bring off a $8.2 billion deal and take the Tribune Company private. And a lot of hands at the LA Times are hoping that if and when that happens Zell will sell their paper to somebody local, somebody who knows how LA goes to work.