Chicago Tribune - United StatesMichigan State University's American Studies program is preparing the material for online use. The oral histories will be posted alongside transcriptions ...
Nonetheless I was surprised to see the Chicago Tribune had picked up a story about Lansing, Michigan. There is a suburb of Chicago called Lansing; you'd expect a story in the Trib to be about that Lansing. Even though the Michigan Lansing is a state capital, it usually receives about as much national coverage as, say, that other famous capital, Pierre, South Dakota.
So I followed some links at the Tribune site and discovered something very interesting. They're not just randomly picking up major stories off the wires and publishing them at chicagotribune.com; they also seem to be publishing stories from or about many burgs across the land.
To test this theory, I searched the Trib site for "Sacramento" and found this:
Section 1) contains ads relevant to Sacramento, California. Section 2) offers links to related topics about Sacramento. Section 3) presents news stories about Sacramento.
Could this really be true? Could the Chicago Tribune really publish this much stuff about faraway Sacramento on a random Sunday in March?
The answer is no. The Chicago Tribune isn't publishing all things Sacramento -- not in its print edition. Instead, they are using robots and wire services to concoct online "local" pseudo-sections for places all around the country.
Poking around a bit further, I found confirmation of this theory:
Item 1) makes it explicit:
Item 2) shows an actual, relevant news story -- ironically about the financial struggles of the Sacramento Bee, in trouble just as the Tribune Company is.
Item 3) shows how a newsbot can fail; it's a completely irrelevant Chicago "Local News" column by Trib columnist Paul Carpenter, whose most recent column casually mentions Sacramento.
Despite that robotic failure, I think what the Tribune is doing is incredibly clever. They're leveraging the news sources they own and subscribe to in order to appear to have a presence in perhaps hundreds of local news markets. People who use news alerts about their home town, or who search Yahoo News or Google News about their locality, may find Tribune-published stories -- perhaps before they find coverage in their own local news sources. The Tribune "section" on their home town also serves ads for businesses local to that town.
Back in the early days of the Web, circa 1994, the Raleigh News and Observer embarked upon a bold, even audacious, experiment -- to transform their local North Carolina paper into a national online newspaper, the NandO Times. I interviewed them for the cable TV show my friend Chuck Severance and I hosted. The NandO folks had a crew of about 5 or 6 people who sifted through wire services and created a national newspaper from their nook in Raleigh.
Within a couple of years, McClathy bought the News and Observer and shut down NandO. Now, 15 years later, a much larger regional paper, itself part of a major news media company, uses robots to do a different trick: to appear to be a local news source for communities throughout the land.
I always want clever folks to succeed, but there is a huge risk: if the Tribune succeeds at this, they could kill local news sources. The Lansing State Journal is a shell of its former self; it's shrunk so much it's almost a tabloid, and it relies on ... wire services for many local stories. If the Chicago Tribune does a better job of packaging Lansing-related wire stories, it could speed the death of the only local daily.