April 16, 2015 Last Updated 7:41 am

Chicago Tribune expanding weekday opinion content in drive to increase premium editorial offerings

Paper also reports it is seeing a significant lift in web traffic as content from its recently acquired suburban papers is being added to the home page of the Chicago Tribune website

The Chicago Tribune today said it would be expanding the number of “Perspective” pages seen in print and digital, beginning on Monday. The move will raise to four the number of opinion pages offered to readers Monday through Friday, and to five on Sunday.

“It represents a doubling of the content of the opinion and commentary since 2011,” Gerry Kern, editor of Chicago Tribune, told TNM. “It’s been an area of continuing investment for us because it supports the mission that we have here in Chicago, at the Chicago Tribune, to be at the center of a community of readers that care about what happens to this city.”


iPad: left, The Tribune’s website; right, the Tribune’s news app

The additional workload will be the responsibility of the editorial board led by Bruce Dold, as well as recently added Commentary Page editor, Marcia Lythcott. Kern said additional content will be solicited and curated from the Chicagoland community.

“This idea of being the opinion leader, being the leading citizen in Chicago is reflected in our new Plan of Chicago opinion campaign which is very much part of this expansion effort,” Kern said.

ChiTrib-Plan“This then also gets expressed in terms of our print edition, as well,” Kern said. “We have added an additional page of commentary on Monday and Tuesday, bringing to four pages our commentary each weekday, and five on Sunday. I might add that this is typically twice the amount of print content that most newspapers offer, and it’s a doubling of what we have provided since 2011.”

The editorial expansion is part of an effort the paper, and others in the Tribune Publishing group, have been undertaking to create more premium content, something the reader will be willing to pay for.

“It is consistent with what the other publishers are doing in terms of investment in premium content,” said Tony Hunter, Publisher of Chicago Tribune and CEO of Chicago Tribune Media Group. “Listening to the readers and digital users in their marketplaces – what’s really interesting to their readers and users – and doubling down and continuing to invest in that kind of content to drive digital subscriptions and cross-channel engagement with our consumers.”

“In 2011, we really started down this path aggressively,” Kern added. “It started first in the print edition where we invested in 44 full pages news that we added back in, mostly local news, investigative reporting, additional commentary.”

“That really set the stage for us to do the same thing digitally, and really engage in that premium content strategy as it relates to gaining digital subscribers. Of course, we advanced that significantly when we launched the new platform for all our media.”

While the Tribune, like most daily metro papers, has struggled to maintain its print circulation levels, it did record solid gains in paid digital circulation in last fall’s publisher statement, recording growth in both digital replica and digital non-replica categories. As of the last statement digital now accounts for over 32 percent of M-F paid circulation (the next statements are due out soon).

The past year has been one of radical change at the Chicago Tribune. In August, The Tribune Company completed the spinoff of its publishing division into Tribune Publishing. The new company includes, in addition to Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, The Baltimore Sun, the Hartford Courant, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), The Morning Call (Allentown, Penn.), and The Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia).

In October, the Chicago Tribune then swung a deal with its weaker rival, the Sun-Times, buying its six daily and 32 weekly suburban newspapers, in exchange for a long-term agreement to continue printing and distributing the Sun-Times. Now the Tribune faces the challenge of bringing those suburban newspapers into the parent company and utilizing their local content.

“Our first step was in 90 days to get them fully integrated into our systems and processes – and we finished that” Hunter told TNM. “We got that job done in 90 days. They are now on our system, now being integrated from an organizational standpoint. We have a suburban bureau that Gerry and his team are managing which we’re finding to be very, very helpful in terms of content.”

Hunter said that they are seeing web traffic lift from the new content that is showing up on the home page of the Tribune’s website.

“That flows to sales in how we go to market to sell those impressions – both nationally, to our national clients programmatically, and to the local advertisers,” Hunter said.

“It’s early in the process, but we are really pleased to see the lift on our digital audience by adding these properties.”

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