This story is moving so quickly, and has so many odd angles to it, that there's barely been time for many people even to get the story. Still, it's happening, and many of its less than inspirational aspects have received little comment. Chicagoans used to know always to ask cui bono? Who benefits? So here goes:
Perhaps with their hands forced by a partial preview story by Phil Rosenthal in Sunday's Chicago Tribune, an outfit calling itself the Chicago News Cooperative (CNC) announced today that it will be providing pages of local content to a new Chicago edition of The New York Times that launches next month. CNC has set up shop temporarily at WWCI, the parent company to Chicago public television station WTTW11 and Chicago's classical and fine arts radio station 98.7WFMT, and is taking advantage of WWCI's not-for-profit and 501(c)(3) status at this stage. (I work for WFMT, but none of us there were told anything about this before Tuesday of this week, none of us have been contacted by CNC people, and CNC head Jim O'Shea says that the potential radio partner he is talking with is WBEZ, Chicago's NPR-affiliate. Dan Schmidt, President and CEO of WWCI, is one of the seven members of CNC's "advisory board.") O'Shea is a former Trib managing editor who drew national attention last year when he was ousted as editor of the Los Angeles Times after refusing orders from Chicago parent Tribune Co. to make more cuts to that paper's newsroom. O'Shea is also advising the new owners of the Chicago Reader and several other alternative weeklies on restructuring plans. Money for CNC is coming initially from the Chicago-based, but not always Chicago-oriented, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The folks involved are all former Tribune people plus Peter Osnos (see below), and WWCI board members Newton Minow (see below) and Martin Koldyke, and a fellow with an Internet company (see below).
Here are reports from the New York Times's Media Decoder webpage, the Tribune, Crain's ChicagoBusiness.com, and Michael Miner's News Bites weblog at ChicagoReader.com. Here is CNC's own press release. And here's ex-Trib-er John Cook's take on gawker.com.
Needless to say, with jobs in journalism disappearing each day, the Sun-Times and the Tribune both facing uncertain futures, and new ventures being speculated on each day, telephones have been ringing, e-mails have been flying, and Twitter has been twittering all day among Chicago journalists. Here is what I posted as a comment following Michael Miner's report:So the all-white, all but one-male Chicago Tribune alumni club will start a "news and commentary service" to be overseen by an all-white, largely suburban board chaired by Peter Osnos, a Washington-based former journalist and entrepreneur who has a summer house in Michigan; that includes former Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski, the vice-president for public affairs (excuse me, "civic engagement") of a major object of news coverage, The University of Chicago; and another member, Newton Minow, who helped to break up the Field family holdings and sell the Chicago Sun-Times to Rupert Murdoch and, later, to force WFMT into selling Chicago magazine to some people from Detroit. Marquee commentator Jim Warren will write a column.
No younger people (except a board member, Michael Davies, who owns a website service company with his father), no Blacks, no Latins, no one from the Sun-Times, no investigative reporters, no one from the Reader, no one who doesn't already know everybody else from other boards or service in the Tribune Tower.
Money from their friends at the MacArthur Foundation. A contract with The New York Times (which is just giving away its editorial control, it seems). And free legal advice and perhaps office space at some point from Winston & Strawn, former Illinois Governor Jim Thompson's law firm and the one that offered "free" legal representation to former Illinois Governor and currently time-serving felon, George Ryan.
As a colleague put it to me earlier today, "So this is the future of journalism . . . . "