Chicagoland woke up to a new Tribune Monday, and the creators of that retooled daily opened their office e-mail to an ecstatic outburst from Lee Abrams, the Tribune Company's innovation chief and irrepressible memomeister. He said the "bold, and sometimes painful steps" taken by the Tribune, and a sister paper, the Hartford Courant, which unveiled its redesign Sunday, would "create a renaissance for these important news brands."
His eruption continued:
Being based here in Chicago, I was closer to the re-invention activity than most of our other newspapers, as the action was an elevator ride away. What is remarkable about the Chicago Tribune is that few thought they could evolve. Comments like these symbolized the perception:"Chicago Tribune . . . they'll never change . . . good luck"--A company veteran in a T-6 market April 2008
"The staid Chicago Tribune is attempting to modernize, though it is unlikely they'll be able to because of their conservative change resistant infrastructure"--A Blogger on a UK website, July 2008
"This place is toast . . . we'll never change . . ."--A Chicago Tribune employee April 2008
Well, there were roadblocks. But those were removed, and the New Chicago Tribune is more than a new version of the timeless Tribune, but it represents a completely new attitude in the newsroom, marketing floor . . . everywhere. A coming together and focus of some real smart and passionate people to create a high quality newspaper that is aggressively tackling the problems with actions. Key to the reinvention process is that we'll never have to do it again, because it will happen every day. There's a new flexibility and freedom to have so much belief on the brand, the city and the people that we can take chances . . . try things . . . have the attitude of re-invention locked into our genes so we can compete . . . and prevail without the shackles of sacred and tired old line thinking that is weighty enough top sink us all into the land of the obsolete. It's a whole new day . . . and attitude. . . . and take a look at the Orlando Sentinel's front page yesterday on newseum.org. Brilliant. Another example of the reinvention simply being the first step in a new attitude that opens the doors for daily reinvention that's going to set the tome to grow this business.
Along the lines of continual evolution, I had the pleasure of visiting Allentown and Baltimore last week. Both newspapers relaunched . . . but that was just a plunge. Now, they are re-inventing themselves DAILY. I was afraid of pushing back to old habits. Hardly, as these guys have used the reinvent date as a starting point and now they are more inventive than ever. I thought Allentown did an good job with their re-invent . . . it wasn't really that WOW though, but it is clear that they are a model of daily re-invent as they are on fire with new ideas and angles. They're continually launching new features, upgrading existing ones and THINKING about the newspaper . . . an a 24/7 basis. This is SO important because a redesign is just a first step in a whole new attitude.The Baltimore Sun is equally alive with evolution. And notable is that their recruitment classifieds called "Find It" (a complete and dramatic rethink) has GROWN in revenue by 9%. Key word there: GROW.
This gibberish about "daily re-invent" as something to get "locked into our genes" is probably no more harmful than your average halftime pep talk in a high school locker room. But then Abrams made a suggestion sure to make old-school journalists squirm.
A few ideas popped up in our discussions. One is that in our quest for local takes on Global stories, why not offer election polls based on neighborhoods? We have National State and regional, but imagine if you could see results for your neighborhood? Then there's a very controversial item: "Special Advertising Sections".
The Baltimore Sun did some very nice special sections . . . BUT--they were plastered with the line "SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION"OUCH! Why not just say "Don't read this because it's a bunch of ads and no credible content"I understand the importance of seperating these from the traditional news, that's fine, but how about another name??SPECIAL FEATUREA PUBLICATION OF (PUT PAPER HERE)etc. . . . The idea being "Special Advertising Section" is worded as a turn off. . . . A bunch of ads. We can reword this and the readers, advertisers and pretty much everyone will have a better experience, AND clearly keep it separated from traditional news reporting. The things I saw the Sun do were really well done. . . . but that "Special Advertising Section" thing seemed to cheapen the content. There's GOTTA be a better way to present these sections.
What Abrams seems to be saying here is that in addition to "traditional news" and traditional advertising there's some two-headed new beast that, if it's news, isn't traditional, and, if it's advertising, is so untraditional it deserves the protection of subterfuges and euphemisms. It's hard to describe, but it's said to look like the future.