You're a savvy man -- this much I know from your New Yorker profile -- so why, having spent $8.2 billion on the Tribune Company, are you staking its future on an "innovations" guy whose best ideas grew stale a decade ago? I refer to Lee Abrams, who I know nothing of save this memo, which I discovered by way of LA Observed. The estimable Kevin Roderick mocks it a bit but not nearly enough, for those of us who've seen the atrocious idiocy of upper management at American newspaper chains finally have written and irrefutable proof that a new generation is needed -- now -- if they are to be salvaged.
Were these interesting but wrongheaded ideas I'd cut the guy some slack. Something must be done. Any innovator is going to take risks that fail now and then.
But these ideas... can anyone be so out of touch?
NERVE TOUCHING. This is where you get people to stand up on their chair because you touch a nerve. One underused way is simply to play to passions. For example: CATHOLICS: There are a LOT of Catholics in Chicago. 2.9 million in Cookand Lake County. Easter is a big deal. I'd think a high profile Easter "celebration" would be in order. Easter Bunny stuff is fine...but there's a more serious side to it that isn't being captured. A devout Catholic, I would imagine, would feel very good about this. The same thing with Black History Month and African Americans. The coverage is there, but we're not using a 2x4 to drive it home.
CUBS VS SOX: OK, I'm a huge fan...but I'll bet there are a lot of huge fans in Chicagoland. They faced each other again...and tied. Only Spring Training, but I think we should fan the flames. Get in the spirit. Touch some nerves.
Here I must admit that I rarely read the Chicago Tribune. Do they not cover Easter, Black History Month and the local baseball teams? If not, good idea! You should cover those things! I'd call it a core competency rather than an innovation, but what's in a name? Might I suggest, however, that it takes more to win readers than once a year panders at the most blindingly obvious time? And what does it mean to drive home Easter with a 2x4 (a metaphor that probably shouldn't be used in your coverage, b/t/w)?
LOCAL NEWS: This is THE local news source, but everything seems so generic. "Southside Boy Killed" Where...What street corner?? Touch nerves. Or, the category "Local." Huh? How about breaking it out on the web by NORTHSIDE LOOP AREA SOUTHSIDE WEST SUBURBS SOUTH SUBURBS etc... "Local" without more detail strikes me as old school, as no-one "owns" it like a newspaper/TV/website can. There are ways to take assumption of ownership to an untouchable position of ownership.
Got that? Take "assumption of ownership" to "an untouchable level of ownership". How? Name neighborhoods! Even streets! I think Abrams is onto something here. Why not get crazy specific and talk to actual residents in these neighborhoods, writing down their first and last names so that actual people would be mentioned in the paper!
MORE GENERIC: Music is such a good example. "Music" strikes me as a throwaway, whereas it could be category headings Alt Rock, Country, Broadway, etc... Touch nerves. You might have a great story about a big musical coming to Chicago, but under the heading "Music" I'll bet the show tunes fan never sees the story.
Organizing Web content by category! It would be almost as if you were "tagging" the content. There should even be a way to "search" that content.
MOST VIEWED: I think this can be expanded for the stat hungry public. Most Viewed...good. How about for the week, month, year...how about comparing most viewed to National, International etc...Maybe breaking it out by most viewed by local area.
That's actually his best idea; I'd take you through the rest but it's too depressing. Go to the extended entry if you can bear it.
--IMMEDIACY: Still get a static feeling on websites. Updated 6:57am looks old if you read it at 8:57. More second by second feel...less hour
--SPOOF: Probably too late for this year, but it might be cool for RedEye to do a special front page on April 1. Or complete edition. Oniony spoof. Could create a buzz and they could probably get away with it.
--ONLINE COMICS: Might be way too cost prohibitive, but imagine Online
animated versions of major comics that run in print. An evolution of the
print comic. Maybe if they ran in hundreds of websites it could work
economically...especially if Tribune syndicated them.
--STAR REPORTERS: I may have mentioned this before, but picture
reporters doing a short online video "Story behind the Story" where they
tell the story via video of writing a given piece. A video intro that:
a) Puts a face to the writer. Humanizes the story. An electronic byline.
b) Added "reason" to go to the website. An added dimension in story
c) Interesting stuff.
--"THEN": A daily page that is "Today in Tribune History". Long-time
fans would love to look back. Today in 1944, Patton...Today in 1977, a
huge storm... Reprint the page out of history. The key: Use this page to
drive what I think is an enormous revenue opportunity that hasn't been
tapped--THE ONLINE ARCHIVES! These are amazing! Yet, a mystery...hidden.
This "THEN" page can drive awareness to the archives...then we need to
figure out how to monetize the archives to their fullest. Right now they
seem like a throw away, but I believe that if the archives are mobilized
you can see tremendous benefit and revenue. They are golden. They are
amazing. "THEN" can be the awareness vehicle.
--"BOOK BROWSER": Your distribution is a godsend for record companies as a way to promote their heritage artist CDs. But also, book publishers! You are a natural for the big publishers to stuff samplers of upcoming titles in the Sunday (or other days) paper. You have one big thing going--You reach people who READ. Imagine a sneak preview of the new Stephen King book ONLY in the Trib. Those should be easy to pitch-you have READers, distribution and people are lazy. Instead of going to Borders to browse, it comes to your doorstep. Plus-older luddites are not about to go online. Newspapers are their Internet.