Friendly. In a Take-the-Money-if-You-Know-What's-Good-for-You Kind of Way./News Bites | Media | Chicago Reader

Friendly. In a Take-the-Money-if-You-Know-What's-Good-for-You Kind of Way./News Bites 

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Friendly. In a Take-the-Money-if-You-Know-What's-Good-for-You Kind of Way.

Once again someone has begged RedEye to cease and desist--and this time it's not a media critic. A Los Angeles attorney says that if RedEye doesn't disappear the Tribune Company will be socked with a trademark-infringement suit.

It's the name that has to go. Something about RedEye as a marketing exercise inspires not merely shock and sadness but the urge to do mischief. Reporter Mark Konkol of the Sun-Times's competing Red Streak was inspired to conduct a Web search, then to call LA's Red Eye Press, a long-established enterprise whose flagship title is The Marijuana Grower's Guide. Konkol wondered how the Tribune Company and Red Eye Press had worked out the obvious trademark issues.

Well, they hadn't. Until Konkol called, president and publisher James Goodwin hadn't heard of the new "edition" of the Tribune that's billing itself as "Comprehensive--in a Know-Just-Enough-To-Be-Dangerous kind of way." Goodwin referred Konkol to attorney Darla Anderson, who provided Konkol with a saber-rattling statement that allowed him to write for the November 8 Red Streak the kind of full-blown, in-depth, four-paragraph expose both Reds specialize in.

Step one will be a cease-and-desist letter, Anderson told Konkol, step two, if necessary, a lawsuit. This past Monday step one was E-mailed to Tribune Company attorney Michael Parks.

"Red Eye Press has used the mark RED EYE PRESS and the stylized RED EYE logo in commerce since 1988," Anderson informed Parks; it registered the mark in 1995 and has owned and used the domain name www.redeyepress.com since 1996. Moreover, its books have been sold across the United States and--translated into German, Dutch, and Danish--"throughout the world." Which is why Anderson found it "hard to believe" the Tribune "was unaware of Red Eye Press before adopting the terms Red Eye for its new publication."

She covered the grounds for confusion that the Tribune Company had sown. "The public may believe that the Red Eye newspaper is somehow authorized by or affiliated with Red Eye Press." (A misimpression as likely to embarrass the press as the Tribune Company.) "Furthermore, the damage caused to Red Eye Press by the use of this term is compounded by the fact that the Chicago Tribune is using the terms Red Eye on a newspaper directed at consumers 18 to 34 years old." Such consumers "comprise a large percentage of those who purchase Red Eye Press books. These consumers are likely to be familiar with Red Eye Press and again connect it with the Chicago Tribune's new edition."

Anderson gave the Tribune Company five days to agree to withdraw its own trademark application for RedEye, drop the name, and pay damages yet to be calculated. "Otherwise my client has directed me to pursue the maximum recovery available to it."

Goodwin says he's amazed the Tribune Company did such a sloppy trademark search it didn't discover he was out there. Now that the Tower knows, what will it do? Driven by its famous sense of propriety, the Tribune might take the high road, concede its mistake, and search for a new name with the same edgy, potty quality that it values so highly. There's one available. Before Goodwin launched Red Eye Press he was toying with calling his company Brown Bag Books. If the Tribune renamed its freebie tabloid the Brown Bag or the Brown Rag, the Sun-Times would have to follow suit and shift to the Brown Streak. Which plays right into the Tribune's hands.

But don't expect the Tribune to knuckle under. Parks wouldn't call me back, but Tribune spokeswoman Patty Wetli says the trademark search actually "confirmed we have no conflict with Red Eye Press," and therefore the Tribune rejects the claim of trademark infringement. Problems such as the one the Tribune might, despite its assertiveness, now be facing can disappear if you throw some money at them. Red Eye Press wasn't the only Red Eye in the land when the Tribune Company did its trademark search, and it definitely spotted the other one. Based in Boston, Red Eye describes itself as a "nonprofit youth-run political hip hop magazine that seeks to provoke critical thought and provide resources for self empowerment."

At one point the people who run it were eager to talk about their Tribune encounter. "The past two months have been extremely demoralizing and draining for us," a founder told me weeks ago, "and there have been moments where we thought we might be losing everything we have worked so hard to build for the past three years." The Red Eye magazine executive board would meet, the founder said, and then there'd be a statement. "We just want to be careful about what we say to the press, in order to ensure accurate representation of a rather tricky situation, and to uphold our end of a contract that we are in the process of signing."

Presumably the contract was signed and now they're upholding their end of it. I'm still waiting for a statement. They wouldn't even make a statement that said don't expect a statement--nobody answered the phone at the Red Eye offices, and nobody returned my phone calls. Finally I cornered the production director at his home. "I'm not authorized to speak," he said over the phone.

Who is then?

"I'm not authorized to speak," he repeated.

Are you still in business?

"I'm not authorized to speak."

I asked Wetli about dealing with Red Eye magazine. "I think it went fairly amicably," she said. I E-mailed that remark to Red Eye's publisher to see if it would get a rise out of him. I heard back from a lawyer.

"Interesting that the Tribune has spoken with the Chicago Reader despite the confidentiality proviso," she remarked. But not so interesting that she said anything else.

What really is interesting, in an all-ethics-are-situational-anyway kind of way, is a newspaper paying hush money to make a problem vanish so totally that nobody will ever know there was a problem. Hiding facts isn't the business the Tribune is in. But I suppose it's possible to live with the incongruity by focusing on smaller virtues, such as saying no to complimentary coffee mugs and calendars.

News Bites

Meanwhile, back at the grown-ups' paper, the Tribune demonstrated last Sunday why it's worth learning how to read more than 200 words in a row. On page one, Hugh Dellios and Kirsten Scharnberg began their two-part, 7,400-word account of the border-smuggling operations that led to the deaths of 11 illegal immigrants--whose shriveled bodies were found inside a hopper car in an Iowa rail yard last month, almost four months after they were locked inside the car in Texas. And back in the paper, Charles Madigan's Perspective section offered an imaginatively quirky smorgasbord of Middle East essays; here was a place to play with such ideas as a "softwar" against Saddam Hussein by seizing his TV stations, and as the Bible being scripture that holds its own with the Koran in its willingness to goad the pious to butcher the infidels on behalf of a wrathful god.

Oddly, as I read these exceptional pieces I found myself feeling sorry for those RedEye readers who will never see them and won't know what they're missing. RedEye's caught a bad break--it's breathing the wrong air. It's an adjunct of a newspaper staffed by people raised to value journalism that goes out into the world and witnesses, that looks behind headlines and deeply into the human imagination. Maybe RedEye can flourish anyway despite the alien culture, but it won't be easy.

I heard from a Tribune reader who opened that paper's "Election 2002" section of Thursday, November 7, to the Illinois House results and looked for the race he cared about, the one in the 14th District. The results he found, as published by the Tribune:

Harry Osterman (D) 17,023.

Fannie Kazi-Taylor (R) 2,150.

But this reader wasn't interested in Osterman or Kazi-Taylor. He wanted to know what happened to Jason Farbman, the Green Party candidate who'd run a legal gauntlet to reach the ballot in that district. The Tribune didn't say. The reader had to scratch around for the news that mattered to him, and what he eventually found out was that Farbman did almost as well as Kazi-Taylor. (If he'd read the Sun-Times he'd have learned that from its Wednesday edition.) The last time I checked, 2,208 votes, or slightly more than 10 percent of all the votes cast in the race, went to Kazi-Taylor and 2,067, or slightly less than 10 percent, to Farbman.

When serious newspaper readers don't find information they're entitled to, they often attribute the lapse to something besides slipshod reporting. In this case the reader assumed the Tribune had concealed the Green candidate's vote total because it was big enough to embarrass the Tribune's favorite party.

A similar judgment was made by Evanston's Jeff Balch when he read his letter to the editor as it appeared in the November 14 Tribune. "Now there's little to slow this administration," Balch had thundered. "They'll get their shameful war with Iraq. They'll get their intemperate federal judges with lifetime appointments. They'll increase their control over a compliant corporate media. They'll keep ignoring threats to the global environment. They'll keep shifting more wealth to the wealthy. We'll feel the effects of this election for a long time."

One of these sentences didn't survive the Tribune's editing. If you guess the fourth, two cheers for your perspicacity. Was it cut for space? Balch thinks not.

Yet another diligent Tribune reader alerted me to the changes made in the New York Times's account of the sensation stirred by the trial of Princess Diana's butler. Warren Hoge wrote in the Times of November 11: "Today's batch of headlines included claims that Charles, the Prince of Wales, hushed up the rape of a manservant by one of his closest aides, that courtiers regularly brought male prostitutes into royal palaces and that Paul Burrell, the former butler to Diana, had once taken a male lover of his own on a tour of the queen's private apartment."

In the Tribune's recasting, the Prince of Wales became simply Prince Charles. Fair enough. But the prostitutes and the butler's lover lost their manhood. Therefore Hoge's bittersweet coda also had to go and so Tribune readers didn't learn that "In The Mail on Sunday, Mr. Burrell's wife of 18 years, Maria, and the mother of his two sons, responded: 'What's in the past is in the past. I went into this marriage with my eyes wide open. We have already confronted these issues together.'"

Chicago magazine, owned by the Tribune Company since midsummer, is still a pop-up ad on the Sun-Times Web site.

The letters-to-Santa program Jeff Zaslow used to run through his column in the Sun-Times--until that paper decided to save a buck by firing him last year--helped bring Christmas to as many as 47,000 needy kids. Zaslow kept a vestige of the program going last Christmas and used Chicago magazine to publicize it, but now he's a Wall Street Journal columnist and no longer involved.

That doesn't mean the program's dead. Two scaled-down versions of it are still working with schools (and coordinating with each other), and they're looking for people and companies to play Santa. One's run by the Sun-Times, which has brought in a consultant and a VISTA volunteer to oversee it. Details are on-line at www.suntimes.com; click "Season of Sharing." The other's managed by someone who asked Zaslow to pass his torch to her. Michelle DiGiacomo can be reached at www.directeffectcharities.org.

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