Uptown, tronc you up
The Tribune Company is no more. The former owner of the Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, and other daily newspapers in major American cities has decided to pivot and rebrand itself as tronc. The lack of capitalization is accurate and was done for internety reasons.
tronc unveiled their new media and money making strategy. The responses are either unrepentant mockery or sympathetic mockery. The video is a large mix of internet and tech start-up buzzwords that sound like they were hashed together by middle-aged people asking their nieces and nephews about that Buzzfeed thing. The basic takeaway in the rest of media is that tronc is going to replace long-form print journalism with autoplay videos (so you can’t avoid advertisements) and in the words of Verge, “But what if the article I just wrote doesn’t make sense as a video, you might ask? Congratulations! You’ve just been laid off.”
So tronc did not have the best start to the week and it probably will not get better. Most journalists are treating tronc as bad news for their profession but there is still an underlying problem. We don’t know how to get most people to pay for long-form journalism (especially print journalism) in the 21st century. Newspapers used to earn most of their revenue from advertisements and classifieds. The internet caused most of the local businesses to take their marketing money elsewhere or to shut their doors entirely. This has dried up revenue for papers large and small.
I’ve noted this before but there is a medium-sized cottage industry in mocking the New York Times Sunday Styles Section. I’ve never quite understood this. Articles from the New York Times Sunday Styles section are silly and fluffy but the revenue generated from the silly Styles section does go to fund serious investigative journalism. Journalism that is often discussed on the same blogs that hate read the Styles section.
So people want serious journalism but they don’t want to deal with marketing and advertisements that have always funded papers and tronc feels the need to switch from journalism to becoming a “content curation and monetization engine.”
Good journalism is an expensive and valuable product but it does not seem to be a product that a good chunk of the population wants which is a shame because cities deserve journalists to cover affairs and not third-rate versions of the Huffington Post or Buzzfeed that just cross post articles from other places.
Fluff is easy to produce, you can get people to do it for relatively little money or even take your fluff from other sections of the Internet. A friend from college had a gig as a reporter for a local newspaper. Her stories seemed to cover the first time home owner and young parent beat. This is cheap and easy because it consisted of her just writing up what she did when her water heater broke for the first time or about another friend who has a knack for finding interesting stuff at estate sales to decorate his home. It would be much harder to send her to cover local political meetings because the paper would need to give her travel money and enough money to afford a baby sitter if the meetings/events happened at night.
tronc was mocked by the entire internet this week but the bosses are probably right about where the money in media is stored. After all, do we know Buzzfeed from their in-depth reporting or from “29 Unmistakable Signs You’re Both A ’90s And ’00s Kid?”