Published on Thursday, 23 August 2012 17:26
It is "good news; bad news" time for Sun-Times Media's suburban newspapers. The good news is that the 32 weekly Pioneer Press newspapers just underwent a bold new redesign and added new features to the newspaper and websites. The bad news is that a great many of the newspapers editors and writers all quit together over the last couple of weeks to protest changes to structures and positions happening behind the scenes.
First the good news...
On July 31st, Chris Krug, the Publisher for the Pioneer Press newspapers and Vice President for the Chicago Sun-Times, held a private party at a restaurant in Northbrook, unveiling the new look of Pioneer Press collection of suburban newspapers. Today, the new design was finally unveiled to the public, as the weekly editions of the periodicals were released.
The changes are a result of a six-month crowdsourcing campaign led by the Krug, based on extensive research and feedback from Pioneer Press readers and the residents of the communities the newspapers serve.
The improved layout showcases a new logo, more color, more photographs, and a more modern design.
In addition to new colors and layouts, the Pioneer Press newspapers premiered many new features and columns. Among the new additions is "The Inside Guide" and "Go." "The Inside Guide" is a method of color-coding the newspapers' sections, making it quick and easy for readers to find what the content they wish to see. "Go" is a new section that is designed to be a pullout guide to local events such as festivals, concerts, plays, and movies, which will be taking place in the days and weeks ahead. Based on reader feedback, "Go" also includes a simple calendar of events for ease of finding what to do and when.
In a statement today aimed at the Pioneer Press subscribers and readers, Chris Krug said: "For the past six months - through focus groups, hundreds of street interviews and direct contact with our readers - we have been in an open dialogue with our readers in an attempt to create the best possible local news experience for you. The format and design that we unveiled today is born of those conversations, and intended to better reflect the vibrancy of your hometown."
The changes to the design of the Pioneer Press newspapers is said to be just the first phase of an initiative to connect, or in some cases, reconnect readers with the Sun-Times Media local brands. In the coming weeks, Sun-Times Media plans to relaunch Pioneer Press websites and mobile apps for each of its 32 suburban publications.
That is the good news coming out from the Sun-Times Media and Pioneer Press offices today. There is some news that isn't as good, however. While the Pioneer Press newspapers may be bright and colorful on the outside now, behind the scenes at the newspapers, the tones were much darker and not as cheery for a short while.
Numerous editors, reporters, writers, and staffers quit the newspaper this month. According to insiders, disagreements about the new redesign did not really play a part in the mass exit. The bigger issue was Sun-Times Media telling many veteran staffers that their roles and pay structures within the company were changing. Some of the staffers saw these changes as pay cuts and/or demotions and were upset by it, thus triggering the exits. Sun-Times Media on the other hand disagrees with how these staffers viewed the changes. All of the staffers were able and encouraged to apply for the new roles being created, replacing the old roles. In some cases, the new roles represented a smaller paycheck, but in others, an increase in pay. New roles were introduced, and it was up to the individual to apply for it or not. Some did, while others simply exited instead.
Many of the of the managing editors of the news & sports sections, most of whom worked at Pioneer Press since the 1970s and 1980s, resigned since the start of this month instead accepting the new roles. Among the major names now gone are Gary Taylor, Rick Hibbert, Mike Martinez, David Sweet, Marc Alberts, Liza Roche, and Jennifer Clark.
Late today, Chris Krug did issue this statement regarding the mass exits: "As our business undergoes a rapid transformation, Pioneer Press is committed to a digital-first approach to meet the changing needs of our readers, which has dictated a restructuring of our news operation. New roles and skill sets are necessary to align with the modern news cycle, as our goal is to provide the most relevant and timely content to our local communities. The newly introduced roles represented pay increases for many professionals that were interested in developing new skills. Our staff grew in size through this process as well. Not everyone chose to make the transition with us."
Sun-Times Media has not released the names of any of the Pioneer Press staffers that left the newspaper this month or the amount of staffers who chose to exit. As the company has added many new employees recently, the exit of the veteran staffers does not represent a net loss of employees for the company.
The Pioneer Press chain of weekly newspapers are made up of 32 hyperlocal publications, targeting 85% of the most affluent zip codes in the Chicagoland market.