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October 08, 2006

A National Tribune?

Also on the LA Times op-ed page today, Michael Kinsley offers some sorta-sage advice for the Tribune Publishing Company amid their recent attempts to chop up the LA Times:

In fact, there may be no better way to preserve The Times' role as a major newspaper (if that is of any interest to its owners). These days, on the one hand, thanks to the Internet, any newspaper can be a national newspaper. On the other hand, near universal availability of the New York Times print edition makes the traditional role of a regional paper like the Los Angeles Times superfluous.

But now imagine the Tribune chain as a single newspaper with separate editions in each of its cities. Call it the National Tribune. Or the papers could keep their separate identities, but carry a "Tribune" insert or wraparound with national and international news. This paper would start out with towering dominance in two of the nation's top three markets (Los Angeles and Chicago) and a solid position, via Newsday, in the largest (New York). It would even have a toehold in Washington (thanks to the Baltimore Sun). All this, and Orlando too.
Like the British papers, this new national paper could go after a demographic slice of the market instead of a geographical one. It could aim for the currently unoccupied sweet spot between USA Today and the New York Times, or it could take on the New York Times directly.

True enough. Problem is, the paper would lack an identity. The Chicago Tribune is a relatively conservative rag with a character both distinct and inferior to The LA Times. Newsday is its own animal, as is The Baltimore Sun. In this age, when Fox News dominates the cable rating and blogs seems so ascendant, the way to wrest market share from more established competitors cannot possibly be a dilution of an outlet's personality and opinion, but an amplification of it.

For all the complaints, America has a "paper of record" in the New York Times. It has a political broadsheet in the Washington Post. It has an economic chronicler in The Wall Street Journal. And all these papers are reasonably good at what they do. What it doesn't have is an opinionated paper, a la The Guardian. It lacks an aggressive, nationwide, ideological-but-not-partisan newspaper that could grab those frustrated by the fog and fat the technical conventions of faux-objectivity impose on so many news stories. The LA Times, under the guidance and treasure of Ron Burkle or another left-leaning billionaire could take a shot at that market opportunity, and open up a new front in the newspaper wars. A National Tribune, while benefitting from undeniable economies of scale, would be playing for well-defended and adequately governed territory.

October 8, 2006 | Permalink

Comments

You're overrating the NY Times. OTOH, you may be appropriately rating its competition, and noting that no other paper seems willing to challenge its shaken position.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Oct 8, 2006 2:42:14 PM

As far as this argument goes, it only lands substantial blows against the "wrapper" style of "National Tribune" strategy.

Indeed, having a "Nat Tribune" as a coherent insert allowa each paper to provide more in depth national and international news coverage while each paper devotes more effort to its own serious analysis of national and international news, whether focusing on local impacts or, in the case of the flagship LA Times, as an opinionated populist crusador.

Posted by: BruceMcF | Oct 8, 2006 3:11:27 PM

"faux-objectivity"

So true.

What's this I hear about the new LAT publisher being a right-wing "hatchet man?"

Posted by: Tony | Oct 9, 2006 2:06:02 AM

It's a nice idea, but the Tribune is Hacktackular, never holding Bush accountable. They went against Nixon back in the day, but only really when the Republican did. They follow and not lead. I hold my nose and ignore the op/ed's ( Vic D Hanson, Krauthammer, Pantload Jonah, kathy parker, and a load of others all carrying Rove's water. )

It's a great idea, but they would need new ownership.

Posted by: fasteddie | Oct 9, 2006 1:30:56 PM

What it doesn't have is an opinionated paper, a la The Guardian.

And the Graun itself depends on two things: a market in which all the other papers are equally national in scope opinionated, and an ownership trust instead of a proprietor.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Oct 11, 2006 7:33:31 AM

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