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Weighing the Tribune

A.J. Liebling came to mind Friday when the new Tribune bosses told Phil Rosenthal of plans to cut the size of the news staffs — and the physical heft of their newspapers.

Liebling set the standard for media criticism with his Wayward Press column in the New Yorker from 1945 to 1963 (collected in two books, “The Press” and “The Wayward Pressman”) — and his concerns remain relevant, from concentration of newspaper ownership by chains to extensive coverage of trivia to biases enforced by owners. (“With the word ‘labor,’ the newspaper association…is ‘stubborn.’To Government, ‘wasteful.’ To the poor ‘pampered’ — or malingering or undeserving.”)

He also had great fun at the expense of the eccentric owner of the Chicago Tribune at the time, the legendary Colonel Robert R. McCormick.

Today’s owners might be pleased to find that their methodology for assessing the value of newspapers was pioneered years ago by McCormick’s Tribune, as celebrated by Liebling.  (Though back then the paper seemed to take more pride in its impressive physical dimensions.)

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2007 – Attention, action on toy safety

Chicago Tribune series starting in May and subsequent Congressional hearings brought children’s product safety issues to national attention this year — and when Congress passed a 20 percent increase in the budget for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission this week, it was a huge victory for a small Chicago-based nonprofit which has been hammering away at the issue for years.

“The issue really took off this year,” said Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids In Danger, citing “a number of factors that came together at the same time.”

There was the Tribune series in May on the hazards of magnetic toys (KID had worked with the Trib on that for a couple of years, Cowles said) with extensive follow-up, and Congressional hearings in Chicago and Washington.  There was a giant recall of toys which had lead paint by Fisher-Price this summer, and subsequent testing revealed a vast array of toys with lead paint.

Suddenly the issue was on the media’s radar.  In fact children’s products have been subject to recall at an average rate of about two a week for years, Cowles said; after the lead hazard became known, the rate doubled, she said.  But several years ago KID surveyed Illinois residents and found that in contrast to the actual two-a-week rate, most guessed that only three or four children’s products were recalled each year.

“It used to be a blip in the media at most,” she said.  “Or if a child died, it might get a little more coverage.”

She thinks the lack of attention reflected media and popular attitudes that industry is overregulated.  “People are shocked to find out that children’s products are not regulated at all.”

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  • Telling people’s stories, an ethnic media success September 2, 2015
        By Stephen Franklin Community Media Workshop   A 3-year-old child died on a plane from Chicago to Poland. This, Magdalena Pantelis instantly knew, was a story her readers would care about. But she needed more detail to write about it for the Polish Daily News, the nation’s oldest daily newspaper in Polish, founded Jan. […]
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