CAMPAIGN INTERNATIONAL: MEDIA OWNER PROFILE - Tribune concentrates on TV but retains news philosophy/Tribune’s newspaper heritage is guiding its expansion into new media and TV. By Alasdair Reid

The Chicago Tribune used to call itself ’the World’s Greatest Newspaper’.

The Chicago Tribune used to call itself ’the World’s Greatest

Newspaper’.



Unfortunately, it also used to be synonymous with the most embarrassing

’punt’ in media history. On election night in November 1948, with

deadlines looming and early results giving a pretty clear indication of

which way the presidential poll was going, its editors decided to run

with the front-page headline ’Dewey Defeats Truman’. Alas, President

Dewey was not to be and Truman squeezed home for a second term.



Since then, the Tribune has become slightly more circumspect, if no less

modest - the WGN call sign used by many of its radio and television

stations still stands for World’s Greatest Newspaper.



It was one of the first US newspapers to diversify into other media.



It was there at the start of commercial radio in 1924 with a Chicago

station (called, unsurprisingly, WGN) which also pioneered the coverage

of sporting events such as the World Series. The Tribune group’s

dedication to sport is still seen in the fact that it owns the Chicago

Cubs baseball team.



When commercial television took off in the US it was right at the

forefront too, launching WGN TV in 1948. In recent years the main thrust

of its expansion has continued to be in TV - including the acquisition

of Renaissance Communications last year - and it is now seeking to be

one of the dominant players in online news and information services.



While the Tribune group continues to explore new avenues, traditional

print media have started to decline in importance and in the last decade

it has sold or closed several of its metropolitan newspapers. The most

notable of these was the New York Daily News, which it sold to Robert

Maxwell in 1991 after a protracted strike, but it has also disposed of

several titles in California.



Newspaper publishing continues to deliver a healthy cash-flow and John

Madigan, the Tribune group’s chairman, president and chief executive

officer, reiterates the company’s commitment to local newsgathering -

but these days that commitment is pursued with new-media opportunities

very much in mind. Outlining strategy in December, he commented:

’Newspapers are the front door to the Internet and we lead the field

with our ongoing development of exciting online content.’



Last year, the company signed a deal with America Online to become a

partner in Digital City, an online information service which will take

local news from Tribune’s newspapers and television stations. The deal

was one of several such initiatives. In May, it invested in iVillage, an

online content supplier that aims to become ’America’s front porch’ by

creating interactive communities focused on family issues.



Computer technology is fundamental to another investment, Mercury Mail,

which produces newsletters tailored to the requirements of individual

subscribers. The group also put dollars 20 million into Lightspan, a

company that develops and markets multimedia education products to

schools.



Education is an important part of group activities - last year, in

addition to its Lightspan investment, it acquired Janson Publications, a

publisher and distributor of school textbooks. It joins a stable that

includes NTC Contemporary Publishing, the Educational Publishing

Corporation and the Wright Group.



But broadcasting and the Renaissance purchase made the biggest news last

year. At dollars 1.6 billion, it was the group’s biggest acquisition and

made Tribune the country’s second largest operator of television

stations (in the US, although local stations affiliate themselves to

networks such as NBC, they are often owned independently of those

networks).



Tribune already owned ten stations (most of which are affiliated to the

Warner Brothers network, the country’s fifth largest) in some of

America’s most important markets - New York, Los Angeles, San Diego,

Houston, Denver, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta and New Orleans.

The Renaissance deal adds six stations: Dallas and Miami, which are also

WB network stations; and Sacramento, Hartford, Harrisburg and

Indianapolis, which affiliate to the Fox network. The group’s TV

stations are now available over terrestrial airwaves in 33 per cent of

US households. When cable distribution, especially of the WGN

’superstation’, is also factored in, the combined reach is 70 per

cent.



One measure of the importance of the deal is that it attracted the

interest of the US media regulatory body, the Federal Communications

Commission, which monitors ownership issues. The FCC was concerned about

the situation in Florida, where the company owns two newspapers as well

as its recently acquired Miami TV station. A ruling is expected this

summer.



The Renaissance deal means Tribune is now present in eight of the

biggest 11 local TV markets, and 14 out of the top 30. The company’s

avowed goal is now to increase its presence in the top 30 markets and

analysts believe it would sacrifice more of its newspaper interests to

achieve this.



It is already a major television programme producer through Tribune

Entertainment, which produces syndicated entertainment shows for the US

networks. But it won’t forget its news heritage: the Internet is

important to future strategy and the Tribune TV stations - unlike many

in the US - put a big emphasis on local newsgathering.



TRIBUNE AT A GLANCE



Total revenues



in the year to 29 December 1996: dollars 2.4 billion, up 7 per cent on

the previous year. Of this total, dollars 1.3 billion came from

newspaper publishing, dollars 878 million from broadcasting and

entertainment, dollars 192 million from education.



Television



Sixteen wholly owned stations across the US. A 12.5 per cent stake (with

options to go to 25 per cent next year) in the Warner Brothers

Television Network. Shareholding in Qwest Broadcasting, which owns

stations in Atlanta and New Orleans.



CLTV, a Chicago cable news channel.



Shareholding in the TV Food Network.



Programme production



Tribune Entertainment. Develops and syndicates television shows.



Radio



Five stations.



Daily Newspapers



Chicago Tribune, Sun-Sentinel, the Orlando Sentinel, Daily Press.



Other news services



Tribune Media Services; a national US syndication service. Voice News

Network is the country’s leading radio syndication provider. An

electronic publishing division creates Web versions of all four Tribune

papers and provides material for Digital City and America Online.



Education



A number of publishing companies, including: Educational Publishing

Corporation, Everyday Learning Corporation, the Wright Group.



Topics