A consistent strategic theme espoused by Ben Eason, the CEO of the Reader’s corporate owners, Creative Loafing, Inc., is that the company’s survival (it’s in bankruptcy) is predicated on its success in converting to itself to a digital-first media company. Not exactly trailblazing, that, but the execution so far, which seems to treat the print products as irritants that have to be shoved out there once a week rather than the core media properties they remain, is bewildering.
First, they launched Chicago Drinks, which, when described to me at an industry conference, sounded like a powerful blend of print and the web, but when launched, was an embarrassing print advertorial, complete with its own editorial product under the heading, “promotional content.” The print component has steadily withered away, and I expect it will soon disappear entirely. The web product, which is here is arguably worse, since it combines all the bad features of the print version, with a disastrously bad search engine for “bars,” which must be feeding from a directory of liquor licenses, based on the preponderance of grocery stores and restaurants on the list. It’s the kind of undifferentiated data-feed garbage that national aggregators constantly try to use for their national “strategies,” and has no place attached to a brand that once epitomized editorial quality, regardless of what you thought of that editorial.
Now, today, Creative Loafing Tampa, the paper in the headquarters city of the Reader’s parent company, launched a web site redesign, which is here. With a bunch of front-page feeds that include a healthy mix of major national news stories (today, the all-safe crash of the USAIR flight in the Hudson River) and a virtually invisible footprint, it seems, for their own content, it’s like a bland version of CNN.com, or Google News or, ironically, a HuffPo with less personality. It’s reasonable to surmise that this might be the future of the Chicago Reader web site.
Needless to say, this couldn’t be further from the web strategy (or print strategy for that matter) that we plan for Newcity. Who’s right? Time will tell. (Brian Hieggelke)