Chicago Tribune’s Hyper-Hyper-Local Push

What’s next, URLs by the block?

Sure, “hyper-local,”  as a way of describing the trend in journalism toward coverage centered on ever-smaller geographic areas, has been overused in recent years. But I can’t help but think that the Chicago Tribune, some four years after launching TribLocal to up the media market’s ante in the suburbs, has designs to go hyper-hyper-local.

That’s a simple conclusion to reach on the heels of learning that the company has secured 334 domain names that consist of as many community, neighborhood or otherwise-geographically specific sites–all with “tribune” at the tail end of the name.

From “” to “,” you can learn more about it here at

When I began covering Hinsdale in 1999, at the start of a six-year run as a freelance reporter for the Tribune–I quickly recognized that geography was sometimes a decisive factor in whether I would be able to secure an assignment.

So over time, to broaden my ability to feed extra mouths that came along in the Baron brood, I expanded my reporting domain to cover three communities. (Well, two communities–Oak Brook and Elmhurst–and one larger-than-life journalist’s shooting-fish-in-a-barrel dream for unearthing corruption and incompetence–that would be Cicero, even post-Betty Loren-Maltese.)

With its domain-name shopping spree, the Tribune is likely taking the same course, only on a macro level by leveraging its resources to provide for its hoped-for larger kingdom. Among other rivals, the company is facing a strong push by AOL-backed throughout the Chicago area (a.k.a. “Chicagoland,” a term first coined by the Tribune in 1926).

Regardless of how this plays out, the simple act of securing those URLs reinforces one of my principal pieces of counsel to clients: don’t rely solely on swinging for the fences (major media market coverage).

Hitting home runs is great–and it only makes sense to go for them when you have the chance. But the bulk of your success will flow from getting very good at identifying multiple, smaller markets where you can tell your story over and over again in a way that is relevant to each sub-market.


‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ Flashback: My Chicago Trib Story on Karolyn Grimes, aka ZuZu Bailey

Karolyn Grimes, as a 6-year-old
ZuZu, in Jimmy Stewart’s arms

A P.S. here to my post last week about Community Bank of Oak Park River Forest and It’s A Wonderful Life.

Exactly four years ago, to the day, I had the privilege of writing a story for the Chicago Tribune about Karolyn Grimes, the actress who played ZuZu more than 60 years earlier.

At the time, I was charmed by the entire experience. How cute, I thought, as people young and old lined up for a chance to meet this woman who had played ZuZu so many years earlier.

A recent photo of Grimes

Of course, I had only seen bits and pieces of the movie at that point, so I didn’t really get what all the fuss was about.

In fact, I passed up the opportunity to see the film on the big screen–I was too focused on getting in front of my computer and filing my story. How fortunate to have gotten another chance, this time with my family, earlier this month at the Lake Theater in Oak Park.

One last note: in my recent reading, I was pleased to see that Karolyn remains on the It’s A Wonderful Life circuit, appearing again this past weekend at Hollywood Blvd. Cinema in Woodridge.

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Rahm Emanuel Residency Brouhaha is Latest in Chicago Area’s Storied `Silly Season’ History

Rahm Emanuel, (occasional) Chicago resident

The residency flap over Chicago mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel is just a variation on the “Silly Season” theme in Chicago-area politics.

Six years ago, one of the central characters in the Emanuel controversy, Burt Odelson, was in the midst of a scrum in Cicero that I covered for the Chicago Tribune.

Here is one of the all-too-many stories that I reported in the 2005 Cicero election cycle.

Intriguingly, Larry Dominick was the only person who was not knocked off the ballot in that Silly Season cycle for Cicero. He went on to topple, by a slim margin and to the shock of political observers, Ramiro Gonzalez in the election.

One thing I learned in covering all the technical tussling: the only ones guaranteed to be winners are the attorneys who rack up large hourly billings and, often, the losers are citizens who don’t get legitimate challengers to elect since they are bullied off the ballot.

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Marketing/Journalism Tension Flares at Tribune

If you haven’t noticed lately, the line between journalism and marketing has been getting blurrier.

The latest case in point: the Chicago Tribune’s marketing department apparent soliciting of “subscribers’ opinions on stories before they were published,” according to an Associated Press story.

As the AP reported, “An e-mail signed by 55 reporters and editors, sent Wednesday to Editor Gerould Kern and Managing Editor Jane Hirt and obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, questions why the newspaper was conducting the surveys and what stories were used.”

It will be intriguing to see how this plays out, though it is unrealistic to expect any clarity emerging as to whether subscribers had any effect on news coverage.

The Cyber-News Tension: A Story’s Worth

I had to chuckle this morning when I came across a story online at The Wall Street Journal. It was about the Chicago Tribune’s announcement that next Monday it will soon be offering a tabloid edition (with the same content as its home-delivered version) for newsstand sales

Earlier, I had seen the story, by Phil Rosenthal, on the Trib’s front page (since I am one of the dinosaurs who still gets the print edition delivered to my home). But I had yet to follow the jump inside, distracted as I was by the Obama bobblehead doll reference that also graced Page 1.

So I figured I’d see what the esteemed WSJ had to share about the development.

The Wall Street Journal piece built up a head of steam, captured my interest and then….asked me to fork over some money (“to continue reading, subscribe now”) if I wanted to continue reading the third paragraph, let alone the rest of the story.

I moved on, my credit card safely tucked in my wallet. That moment underscored the tension that newspapers are waging in terms of traditional vs. online content delivery.

I didn’t want to subscribe to the Journal—I simply wanted to finish reading the story.

In a world where access to information is so rampant, what is the worth of any given shred of news? If a single copy of the Trib is 75 cents, how much monetary value can be assigned to a John Kass column –a few pennies, a nickel, eight cents?
Some day, maybe they will devise a system that zeroes in with such laser-like fashion. For now, anyway, I’ll just flip back to the Trib’s print edition and pick up Rosenthal’s story where it left off.

(A John Kass P.S.—mark my words, within six months he will be a household name in America, as the rest of the media world catches up with his no-hold-barred reporting on the “Chicago Way” and its intersection with President-elect Obama.)