February 9, 2017 Last Updated 3:03 pm

When the east coast media cats are away, the midwest mice will play – thinking about media in flyover country

Chicago used to be home to many of the leading B2B magazine companies, as well as a competitive newspaper industry, today some major news organizations are rethinking their staffing in light of the last election, feeling they may be losing touch with the rest of America

The only thing that rivals a three-day weekend is a major east coast storm. Suddenly the phones stop ringing and the emails slow to a crawl. If there is any better evidence of how skewed east our media world is in the US, it is when the east coast gets shutdown.

There has been some talk that major media companies are thinking about how they are failing to cover flyover country and rethinking the idea of midwest bureaus. It should be easy to set them up, all those small offices they used to rent a decade or so ago when they had bureaus are still unrented.

Chicago used to be a great media town. For years there were three daily newspapers, though admittedly it has been a long time since the Daily News closed down (1978).


Photo: Chicago by Mariano Mantel used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

When I was recruited from the west coast to publishing a national magazine headquartered in Chicagoland there were still plenty of B2B media companies here. Cahners, later Reed, had two offices here – one in Des Plaines, one in Oak Brook. McGraw-Hill was here, as were a number of other B2Bs, many were either headquartered here, or had a large percentage of their staff in Chicago.

The reason was obvious, from Chicago O’Hare you can go in any direction easily, and fairly affordably. If you need to call on Caterpillar you could drive to Peoria, or fly to Minneapolis (where their paving division was/is). Many large construction equipment companies are in midwestern towns, some quite small like Ida Grove, Iowa, home to a concrete paving equipment company.

But I don’t really see publishers heading back. For one thing, private equity companies have destroyed the B2B media business in this country, so there are simply fewer companies left that can return. Additionally, we live at a time where the person in the CEO chair is seen as the prime mover of any media company. That person is likely to be from NYC and will want to stay there – everyone else, sadly, is seen as interchangeable and expendable.

Still, it is a big mistake to be so east coast-centric. For one thing, it makes the connections to the west coast that much more tenuous. East coasters really don’t get the west coast, after all – if they did, the head of Hearst (many years ago) wouldn’t have tried to turn their newspaper in LA into a tabloid so as to make it easier for LAers riding the nonexistent subway to read it. (I still have a copy or two of Hearst’s tabloid Herald Examiner experiment hidden away in a box somewhere).

Tonight, Chris Hayes will be doing a town hall on Chicago’s crime situation, it may be one of the few times that Chicago gets a fair look from the east coast media. Hayes knows Chicago, loves it, and understands that it is a great city, one getting a bum rap. Who knows, maybe it will lead to some east coast media exec rethinking how they staff.

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