Monday, October 16, 2006

Chicago Tribune - World's Most Boring Newspaper?

If you ever wonder why newspapers are dying, consider this. Chicago is a city which votes overwhelmingly Democratic, but where both dailies hew hard right editorially. (The Tribune has the risible distinction of NEVER endorsing anyone but a Republican for President in its century-plus history.)

I always knew that conservatism was a primary Trib tenant, but until today, I never realized that also being deathly boring was not a failing, but a matter of editorial principal.

In an endless bit of naval-gazing that gets funnier every time I read it, Public Editor (i.e., newspaper ombudsman - and isn't that a concept that's had all value wrung out of it) Timothy J. McNulty practically falls on his knees apologizing to what the paper apparently considers its primary readership - the super-rich.

What caused this orgy of self-flagellation? An October 8th Sunday Magazine issue on mega-mansions rising on Orchard Street in Chicago's Lincoln Park. Although I had my own disagreements with the piece, it was extremely well researched and written by writer Susan Chandler, with a thoughtful commentary from architecture critic Blair Kamin. My own take was that is was, in anything, too serious. What makes the subject interesting to us, after all, is our fascination with foibles of the rich, a factor that the Trib's graphic staffs captured a lot more honestly than the actual stories, with a tabloid-styled cover that screamed, "Attack of the Giant Houses!"

But fear not, delicate, trembling readers of exceptional wealth. Your frail sensibilities have found their protector. McNulty has come to save you - and us. There will be no more "holding the subjects . . . up to ridicule", no "innuendo", no "reverse snobbery", "class superiority." No more Kamin's fueling the fire, or using a psychiatrist to analyze the obsession for bigness, no more covers that look like "horror movie posters." Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. We'll have no more of that.

Lighten up, McNulty. The stories were in the Sunday Magazine, not the front page. Or was the real sin that the articles clashed with all those catnip-for-the-wealthy-ads for the likes of Patek Philippe watches and pricey designer furniture? The Trib has a talent for deadening everything it touches. How did they manage, for example to transform Phil Rosenthal's column, a lively read when he wrote for the Sun-Times, into a dull slog at the Trib?

The Tribune Company is under siege these days, and in its endemic confusion of ponderous self-regard for seriousness, continues to march under the flag of "tastefulness" right towards the grave.

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