What's left of the Tribune?

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Is Sports going the way of the stock tables? There's a lot of agate, a lot of numbers that newspaper readers used to wake up in the morning, open their papers, and turn to, but that they now bone up on at their computers the night before. Sports never drew a lot of ads, but it sure pulled in readers. But former Trib sportswriter Ed Sherman counts eight sportswriters and editors among Wednesday's casualties at the Tribune. Two focused on prep sports—whose results the Tribune now reports in print so small I don't even try to read it; I simply look for the scores in the Sun-Times.

And Business? That section of the Tribune is now four employees lighter—and there'd been other layoffs before Wednesday. "They don't care about Business," said someone who knows the department well. "They're now a privately owned company and they don't want to be written about." With David Greising, Phil Rosenthal, and Greg Burns, Tribune Business still has compelling columnists, but Jim Miller was a workhorse as a straight reporter who specialized in reading and understanding financial documents, and Miller is out.

Features has been gutted. For example, Elizabeth Taylor, who edits Books and the Tribune Magazine, lost each of her assistant editors and two of her magazine writers. But then, as a weekly product rather than a special event, the magazine's about to disappear anyway.   

When editor Gerould Kern published his "You spoke, we listened" report to readers in January, responding to their criticisms of the Tribune's revamped design, the report said this: "Visual communication / People are visual learners, perhaps more than ever before. We use photos, images and graphics to convey information and ideas. The new Chicago Tribune is visually exciting."

So on Wednesday the Tribune laid off six photographers and two photo editors.  

The so-called future of journalism took a beating. Featured bloggers Eric Benderoff and Bob Sakamoto lost their jobs, not to mention Louis Carlozo, whose blog the Recession Diaries, written at the request of his editors, will be seen no more.

Carlozo did no go meekly, explaining at trueslant.com that his blog "was a beat I did not want nor ask for, and it involved me telling very tough stories about my own family finances—stories that led me and my wife to squabble many times over which details to withhold, which to print, and which ones looked inappropriate in print after the fact. I wanted to post a final blog Wednesday to readers explaining that I had lost my job, a victim of the very recession I covered. I posted this without management’s approval. I then informed management. Management took it down."

Local news survived pretty much unscathed. So did the upper echelons of management—the layer of editors, as one writer no longer at the Tribune observed to me, who decided who to get rid of and spared themselves. 

There's no question but that the Tribune is a reduced and more narrowly focused paper, in the sense of a person who cuts off his right hand being more narrowly focused on the left. Whether the layoffs serve a strategic purpose remains to be seen. The payroll in two weeks will certainly be smaller, but does that constitute a strategy?


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