Friday, June 15, 2012

I can bite the Tribune, but what about the hand that feeds me?

Posted By on 06.15.12 at 03:29 PM

The distant past
  • The distant past
Here's my problem—and it might also be yours.

In this week's column I come down pretty hard on the Tribune, not an unusual thing for me to be doing. Sometimes I wonder if I have a lifelong animus against the Tribune that goes back to the days when I was a dashing young reporter at the Sun-Times and we were certain we had it all over the fusty old Tribune when it came to street smarts, imagination, panache, and getting high on the pure adrenaline rush of knocking your socks off with a story.

Today I work for the Reader. The problem is that the Reader was recently sold to Sun-Times Media, which means, if we don't split hairs, that I'm working for the Sun-Times again. So when I slam the Tribune it's no longer as a neutral observer. I'm now on the payroll of the Tribune's opposition.

If you tell me this doesn't look good, I can't disagree. If the Tribune protests, I've got no haughty comeback. I can't even insist that time will show I remain as willing to dish it out to one side as the other—because I'm not sure time will. Over the last many months, I'm pretty sure I've written at greater length, and more critically, about the Tribune than I have the Sun-Times, and I expect this pattern to continue. The reason is that the Tribune is simply—and by far—the more serious and substantive of the two papers, and I read it much more closely. Moreover, I see the Tribune doubling down on substance, raising its bet on what is to my mind serious journalism. And, because more serious, more provocative. I often want to talk back to John Kass—and I do. But, really, I don't have anything to say to the Sun-Times's Daily Splash.

Here are some questions, and my answers:

Am I as willing to slam the Sun-Times as the Tribune? Yes.

Do I deserve the benefit of the doubt? I won't turn it down, but you don't owe it to me.

Do appearances matter? Not as much as conduct, but they matter.

Will my editor pressure me to lighten up on the Sun-Times and Sun-Times Media? I'm sure she won't.

Will her bosses pressure her to get me to lighten up? I don't know. We'll see.

Can you now count on me for choice inside information about the doings at Sun-Times Media? No. Sorting out what a reporter learns as a reporter from what he hears as a hired hand is a miserable task. No one enjoys covering his own shop or does it well.

The sale of the Reader to Sun-Times Media could turn out to be the best thing that's happened to this newspaper since print journalism capsized a decade ago. But as someone writing about media, I'm in a perplexing position. The scorekeeper shouldn't be sitting on one team's bench.

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