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Brenda Starr/Not hip to the Net


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The Tribune needs to get its editors hip to the Internet. In the Friday section's "Home Front" column last week, writer David Rothschild's E-mail address was given as "HOMEFRONT1aol.com." The address should have had an @ sign following the 1, surely the way Rothschild originally entered it. Merely a typo? Doubtful: A week or so ago the paper's Newsmakers column had to apologize for leaving out the @ on several addresses as well. And also last Friday, the paper ran a big story on the CIA's Internet "home page." That's a site you might be interested in visiting. But since the Trib didn't bother to vouchsafe the Internet address you needed to get there, you weren't able to. These are all mistakes people familiar with the Internet would never make.

My colleague at Hot Type last week noted Brenda Starr's current story line, in which Starr's paper, an organization much like the Tribune, is on a jag of hiring younger, cheaper reporters. Now, Hot Type's point was to underscore the paper's chintziness, and of course Mary Schmich's strip lampoons Brenda's stuffiness as well as the inexperience of her new partner. But the underlying presumption--that the Tribune is in danger of being overrun by neophytes--strikes Hitsville as slightly fantastic. Standard operating procedure at most newspapers is for the old guard to systematically exclude a new generation--and end up looking silly in the process. That's what caused the Trib's Internet screwups.

In this context, Hitsville would like to note the departure from the Trib's editing hierarchy of Gary Dretzka, one person who systematically did the opposite. For the record, Dretzka--who's been reassigned to Hollywood to cover the biz--was my editor when I free-lanced there, and we've remained passing friends. It is not an overstatement to say that five years ago the Trib's soft news sections--Tempo, the Arts, Friday--were essentially moribund. In the years since, under Dretzka as associate managing editor and entertainment editor Geoff Brown, a number of things have happened:

Tempo evolved from a somewhat dreary and pretentious monochrome to a fairly interesting production that included some younger, more interesting writers (like Brenda Herrman You), relatively creative celebrity stuff (the "At somewhere with whomever" series), nice additions like the "Tempo Update" feature, and better use of photography and layout generally. It's not perfect--there's still Bob Greene, and it's rarely the stuff of water-cooler conversation--but it's not a waste, either.

Greg Kot was installed as rock critic and given the charter to aggressively cover not just mainstream rock but also the local scene, hip hop, new country, and lots more. He was also given enough of a budget--a key issue--to produce pretty good supplementary coverage by free-lancers.

The once-absurd Overnight page--whose editor used to tell free-lancers not to write negative reviews--now called Arts Plus, became a striking and diverse survey of the performing arts in which coverage of all manner of ethnic and underground music and theater done by a striking array of writers vies for space with reports on tony benefits and touring musicals. This breadth--not coverage of the Lyric and the Goodman--is what is at stake in the paper's current plan to jettison the page.

Many editor assignments contravened the paper's old-boy network--two women now edit the paper's Sunday Arts section, for example--and more often than not new writing assignments made the paper better: Rothschild covering local music, You on various pop culture subjects, Steve Nidetz on broadcasting, Ken Parish Perkins on TV, and Achy Obejas on out-there nightlife in Friday's After Hours column.

Not everything worked out: Perkins had a rocky time, and recently asked to be reassigned; Brenda You, very young and very in-your-face, was booted after an undisclosed infraction. Perhaps these had something to do with Dretzka's transfer; perhaps it had more to do with his reputation for gracelessness with subordinates, though it's hard to imagine that getting him into hot water at the Tribune. Another more sympathetic view suggests his achievements reflect a certain pushiness with higher-ups that wasn't appreciated. But whatever the reason, it remains true that newspapers are pathetically out of touch with readers these days. To the extent that the Trib spoke to me and perhaps to you over the past few years, it probably had something to do with Dretzka's influence.


Speaking of the Trib, Dan Kening, who did the overview of the week's rock shows in Friday, moves to the Daily Herald as pop writer. Reader contributor Chris Dickinson takes over Concert Line....The Illinois Entertainer, after 20 years of covering the Chicago scene from the suburbs, has moved into town. The paper's new offices are at 124 W. Polk in Printers Row....The Chicago debut of Wilco at Lounge Ax on Thanksgiving eve showed that Uncle Tupelo's Jeff Tweedy could rock out splendidly on his own. Next Thursday he's going further, playing his first ever solo acoustic gig at the club. Some of Tweedy's softer songs--"Wait Up," for example, on the record March 16-20, 1992--were Tupelo gems....David Prince, the local writer and publisher (he put out the elaborate techno fanzine called Reactor), has begun an every-other-issue column on the underground dance scene for Rolling Stone....Hitsville misspelled Gerard Cosloy's name last week: my apologies.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/reprented by permission of Tribune Media Services.

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