The Chicago Tribune used to call itself ’the World’s Greatest
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
Tribune Entertainment. Develops and syndicates television shows.
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.
A number of publishing companies, including: Educational Publishing
Corporation, Everyday Learning Corporation, the Wright Group.