The continuing crisis.

As I drift further from the newspaper business, I write about it less. Frankly, its stupid self-inflicted problems don’t interest me very much anymore, particularly as they — the managers who still have a) jobs; and b) offices with doors that close — seem intent on continuing to generate them.

Still, it seems a day doesn’t go by without a mention of the Tribune Co.’s reinvention officer Lee Abrams on Romenesko, the only media blog worth reading. Abrams, so cheerily clueless, is sort of a clown prince of the newspaper meltdown, an ongoing poor-Yorick scene that we turn to for gallows humor as we contemplate a life spent selling apples on street corners. As you newspaper people know, Abrams recently oversaw the essential project of any newspaper consultant, the first thing they always do, the No. 1 busywork job that can take the better part of a year and thereby puts off the great reckoning that much longer: A redesign. The Trib was remixed in the usual way, into a big, graphics-heavy load of crap that makes designers pee their pants with pleasure and readers say, “Um, where’s the news?”

(The introductory video on the Trib’s website featured a designer using the term “big, exciting promo,” a phrase surely only used by designers.)

The reviews are mixed, but of course Abrams is a big fan. Here’s one of Abrams’ trademark memos, linked on Romenesko, with the usual stylistic flourishes of exclamation points and all-caps:

Of course we get the “it looks like USA Today” comments. Well, USA Today is one of the few newspapers GROWING, so I’m not sure that’s so bad–but MORE importantly, all you have to do is read the Chicago Tribune and you’ll know it’s clearly NOT USA TODAY. IF a colorful and energetic looks that reminds some remotely of USA TODAY and it gets more people engaged in the content….good.

So this is an e-mail I recently received from a Chicago resident and former Trib subscriber. I pass it along not to rain on Abrams’ parade, but on the off chance he might actually want to read it. To make it more familiar to him, I’ve edited it in the new Trib style of eye-catching text. In other words, it’s been Abrams-ized:

We’ve decided to DROP the Trib and take the seven-day NYT. We feel like we gave the redesign A FAIR SHOT over the past two weeks, but we HAVEN’T taken to the new look. Here we are in the midst of the BIGGEST STORY of our LIVES — we really are on the edge of a potential GLOBAL ECONOMIC MELTDOWN!!! — and 70% of the front page is given over to GRAPHICS, TEASERS and HUGE ART. Plus, the geniuses folded the business section into the news section. These are serious times but the Tribune looks and reads decidedly UNserious. FUCK ’em. I’ll keep the Sun-Times for local news and sports and depend the the Times for EVERYTHING ELSE.

See you on the corner!

Posted at 2:23 pm in Media |

11 responses to “The continuing crisis.”

  1. Dexter said on October 16, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    I check out a lot of online papers and they are all changing like this…of course the sister-of-Trib B’more Sun , but also Murdochs like The NY Post & Chicago Sun-Times.
    Except for The Times & WaPo, the online formats are same-same. A short while the LA Times went to the new online design, too.
    The ones I hate are online editions like the Philadelphia Inquirer and Fort Wayne Newspapers. You know, like the Cleveland Plain Dealer…ya gotsta go to “” or “Fort Wayne .com”…it just sucks.
    And I live in a town where I can no longer buy out-of-town papers as the newsstand closed a decade ago and most of the coin boxes have been pulled. Three-quarters of the time I can’t get a Freep and hardly ever a DetNews…but I can get all the Bryan Times and Defiance Crescent-News I can stand.

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  2. Elaine said on October 16, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    We’re done with it.
    Nothing like a “new look” that’s 20 years old (that retro USA Today type all over the place), comic-book story treatments that much longer to read than any well-crafted article and a snarky tone that makes a formerly serious paper appear to be auditioning for FaceBook. Yuck.

    This is without a doubt the worst redesign I’ve seen: ugly, poorly organized, and off-putting in the extreme. I can’t force myself to “read” it–and for this old newsy that’s saying a lot.

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  3. MichaelG said on October 16, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    The Trib used to have its own way of spelling and phrasing. Is that what they mean by a “style book”?

    I would like to have a good look at USA Today’s growing circulation figures. I don’t know anybody who actually gets it delivered to their home. I see it in vending machines and each one of the many hotels I frequent strews the thing up and down the halls every morning. I wonder if they count me as a reader. I don’t look at it, I just kick it out of my path on my way out of the room. I wonder how the hotels pay for USA Today. By the pound? Of course circulation is growing. Every time a new hotel opens that’s X number of new pounds of oops, I mean issues of the paper.

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  4. Dexter said on October 16, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    Here’s an odd story from the online Trib…lawyers are being laid-off by the dozen….,0,2059582.story

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  5. A Riley said on October 16, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    Boy, I sent a similar letter to the editor & editorial board of the Trib just the other day — this isn’t the time to print less news, dammit.

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  6. nancy said on October 16, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    That firm is Scott Turow’s. Maybe he can fall on his rich-author sword and give an up-and-comer a reprieve.

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  7. Deborah said on October 16, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    As a graphic designer, been in the biz for nearly 30 years, and a resident of Chicago, I can say without a doubt you are right on about the redesign. What a bunch of hooey the Trib redesign is. Much to do about nothing. What we need in this world is good information design and above all good content. Read Edward Tufte. This gaga point of purchase display is crap, pure and simple.

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  8. Pam said on October 16, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    Well, the Dispatch put the Business news, which is all I ever look at any more, on the back of the Sports page. One page of business news is all we get. Since I hate even touching the Sports page, this is a real problem for me. I flip it over real fast!

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  9. Bryan said on October 16, 2008 at 10:26 pm


    I agree about the Trib redesign. I’m a page designer at a large metro daily, but we’re much more interested in getting information to readers, not how many bells and whistles we can put on the page. A number of those steering the Trib redesign are heavily involved in the Society for News Design, which means they are designing pages to get the attention of their friends. They couldn’t care less about the readers, they just want to be thought of as cool by their peers.

    And Nance,
    I’m with you on Lee Abrams. A friend of mine works at one of Tribune’s smaller papers (as did I until 17 months ago.) He’s a huge music fan, and he once considered Lee Abrams one of his heroes for the way Abrams reinvented rock radio. (That is, until he ultimately destroyed it with his uniform playlist, whether you lived in Indianapolis or Peoria.) My friend said that Abrams mounted the stage after some serious ass-kissing by the reptilian publisher and then went into a speech that was akin to one of his memos. My friend left about halfway through Abrams’ remarks because he realized “it was all just bullshit. But what made it worse was that the editors of the paper knew it was bullshit, too, but they lapped it up like it was the best bullshit they had ever tasted.” The best part, though, is that in my friend’s drawl “bullshit” becomes a four-syllable word.

    Now, anytime i see one of Abrams’ memos I think to myself “buuullllshiiiiiiittttt”

    I also call bullshit on Abrams exhortation about USA Today’s circulation growth. If he had done just a few minutes of research he would have discovered that most of USAT’s increase in circulation is attributable to hotel guests.

    According to the USAT Web site: Over the last 12 months, third part sales and copies purchased by hotel guests are up nearly 5%. Registered college student copies also grew year over year, up nearly 2%.

    I doubt the redesign is going to give the Trib those kinds of numbers.

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  10. Heather said on October 17, 2008 at 9:02 am

    I haven’t read the print Tribune for years, but I check out the website regularly. In the past several months I have noticed egregious spelling errors in the “more headlines” section: “Picthfork” (in regards to the huge music festival this summer) and “Julie’s Helth Club.” Embarrassing.

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  11. Jim said on October 17, 2008 at 10:10 am

    The Tribune’s not the only place where the management makes those kind of silly, stupid decisions, of course. At our community paper the new publisher eliminated the online editor position – responsible for this paper and two others – and shifted the responsibility to the copy desk. They were thrilled, naturally, to have to assume new work… and I was out of a job after 30 years at the paper.

    I compare it to being thrown off the Exxon Valdez at its last port of call – there’s a reef out there and the captain is in his cabin, drinking.

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