Sun-Times closing suburban newsrooms to 'shed inefficiencies,' says editor Kirk
Photo: Joel Lerner
Six suburban newsrooms will be closed early next year under a plan to consolidate newsgathering and production of all Sun-Times Media properties under one roof.
In addition to saving millions of dollars, the plan would hasten the transformation of the Sun-Times and its network of seven suburban dailies and 32 Pioneer Press weeklies to a fully integrated “digital first” media company.
Jim Kirk, editor-in-chief of Sun-Times Media, informed staffers Thursday that he had proposed the sweeping changes to Tim Knight, CEO of parent company Wrapports LLC. “I wouldn’t have put it out if I didn’t feel comfortable I would get approval,” Kirk told me.
Kirk said he made the announcement now because he felt obligated to notify the Chicago Newspaper Guild of the proposed changes as soon as possible. The company is currently negotiating with the union on a new contract covering editorial employees.
Offices in Aurora, Glenview, Gurnee, Joliet, Tinley Park and Merrillville, Indiana, will be closed, Kirk said, with “about 60 to 70” editors and production personnel to be moved from the suburbs to Sun-Times headquarters at 350 North Orleans Street. Under the arrangement, editing and production would operate as separate units companywide.
Suburban reporters, equipped with laptops, iPads, smartphones or other devices, would remain in their communities untethered to any office. “Part of the goal is to get them out into the field more and be mobile reporters who are able to file from anywhere,” Kirk said.
While Kirk stressed that no reporters would lose their jobs, the restructuring and consolidation could lead to the elimination of “redundant positions” on the production side.
Asked how employees reacted to the plan, Kirk said he was “cautiously optimistic so far,” adding: “I heard from a couple of people who were concerned about making the commute downtown, but overwhelmingly I’ve had pretty good buy-in to the whole idea of ‘digital first’ and the need to consolidate and use resources more efficiently.”
Kirk acknowledged that achieving his goal in the first quarter of 2013 was ambitious, considering the massive build-out and renovation that will be required at the Sun-Times. “We have a lot of work to do here to get ready for everybody,” he said.
In a lengthy memo outlining the changes, Kirk told staffers the suburban newsroom closings would not alter the local focus of their respective publications. “In fact, we should be better positioned to do even more significant reporting on our beats,” he wrote.
More from Kirk’s memo:
“We are, by far, the best news resource in the area, but we continue to operate as a print-first newspaper company. We are lean, and mean, but we’re not built to be nimble to work across multiple platforms. A lot of our challenges are rooted in how we are structured physically. We are too small to continue to function as completely separate entities, especially as our resources have been sharply reduced over the past few years.
“We can no longer be passive in how we produce digital content. Our intention is to create a newsroom environment which literally focuses on a content hub geared toward the digital spectrum — Web, apps, social media and any emerging technologies and techniques.
“We have to shed inefficiencies — duplicated efforts in production, miscommunication between titles and missed story opportunities. Having everyone able to make news calls in the same environment will help us to become more nimble on the reporting front. Making calls more quickly will enable us to make better use of our limited resource pool. Producing less duplicate work will allow designers to concentrate more on different disciplines and craft.
“Simply, we need to become a fully digital news organization. Content needs to be concerted, discussed, created and produced with digital formats as the highest priority. Print is still an important part of our business, but cannot continue to be the main focus.
“We also need to eliminate inefficiencies to make sure we make the most of our resources and talent. Replication of work and outdated tasks can't continue. Communication and coordination of assignments must be a high priority and will be more easily accomplished with proximity.
“This will allow us to continue to transition — aggressively — to digital, digital, digital. Mobile, Web and apps and how to produce smart, essential content for them will be our renewed mission.”