We get gentle ribbing these days over word that Wednesday Journal has purchased three more weekly newspapers, and that, lo and behold, that takes our total up to nine weeklies-six in the city and three in the near west ‘burbs. We also publish a monthly magazine called Chicago Parent. And then all the weeklies and the monthlies have a passel of sibling pubs like community guides and baby books and home books. And every one of them has a website.
It is enough to make me woozy just thinking about it. It’s a lot of deadlines, a lot of paychecks, a lot of story ideas-a lot of everything that makes a newspaper happen. Twenty years ago, Wednesday Journal was about eight years old and we bought our first newspaper, the Forest Park Review. On total adrenaline, we published our first bright, shiny edition of the Review and standing at the plywood paste-up board at 4 a.m., I had a brief triumphant moment of glee, followed instantly by the head-snapping reality that we now had to do that same thing every week until we died.
I had pretty much the same ecstasy/agony thing going three weeks ago when we loosed our first editions of the Skyline, Booster and News-Star into the city, stretching from Lincoln Park to Rogers Park.
These are weeklies with great traditions. News-Star, the Rogers Park/Uptown version, goes back over a hundred years. All of them were owned for decades by the Lerner family, a legendary name in Chicago community newspapers. Deaths, demographics, mass exodus to the suburbs, loss of help wanted ads for third shift die cutters-take your pick, they all ganged up on Lerner to bring it low. From dozens of titles and circulation in the hundreds of thousands, we now proudly own the last three flags.
There are a lot of challenges we face with these three new papers, and there are the challenges of the new papers that redound to the old ones. Mainly this: Our goal, our singular purpose, is to publish neighborhood papers that feel like they belong to, belong in, each community. The paper we publish in Riverside, the Landmark, needs to have a genuine connection to the town Frederick Law Olmsted famously created more than a century ago. The Austin Weekly needs to talk to an African-American community on the West Side. Skyline, as its name reflects, hits home up and down in the fancy towers that line Lake Shore Drive. And Wednesday Journal publishes in two towns that have been our home for nearly three decades, where the owners of the paper live, where people expect to walk into the publisher’s office and have their say.
We are imperfectly figuring out how to achieve that goal in the new neighborhoods while not losing our knack in the places we know well. As any management guru would tell you, the way to get there is to hire smart, engaged people who grasp the fundamental idea.
And then working like hell doesn’t hurt.