Chicago Tribune Redesign: Will Desperation Breed Success?

mojo-photo-papers.jpgThings are tough all over for newspapers, as Mother Jones has covered here, here, and just below. But could the prospect of, well, abject and total failure potentially spark some creative breakthroughs? It was reported this week that the Chicago Tribune is set to lay off up to 10% of its workforce, with COO Randy Michaels creepily announcing executives are “evaluating the productivity of individual journalists.” Erp. But the Chicago Reader sees a possible silver lining amidst the despair:

Some 30 Tribune editorial employees have been appointed to the various committees that now meet daily to reimagine their paper. These committees take seriously the idea of giving quality some room to breathe, and they’re looking hard at Britain’s Guardian for inspiration. “If we can be anything like the Guardian,” my source wrote in an e-mail, “I’d be over the moon.”

Not only is the Guardian the UK’s bastion of progressive journalism and left-leaning editorial pages, but it also looks really cool, in that “hey why haven’t we thought of this yet” way lots of stuff does in Europe. Streamlined and sleek without being cartoonish like, say, USA Today, the paper’s design seems to incorporate the quick-glance convenience of the web with actual depth and real reporting. Could the good old USA be close to getting its own Guardian?

Don’t count on it. If Randy Michaels’ name seems familiar, it’s because he’s the former CEO of Clear Channel, the radio company infamous for slapdash cookie-cutter formats and automated stations (full disclosure: your ridiculously-named writer is a former employee of Clear Channel competitor CBS Radio, which was bad, but never that bad). Their major initiative is reconfiguring the paper to a news-advertising ratio of 50-50 (from the traditional 60-40), and the Reader‘s source says the redesign seems to be ignoring integration with the paper’s web site, which seems kind of dumb. With the new Trib set to debut in September, it remains to be seen whether it will revitalize the flailing industry or just slice off another chunk of its soul.