Talk with the Editor: The evolving front page

In days gone by, if there was a huge news story in the Chicago area, you could expect to see it on page one of whatever newspaper you picked up.

A comparison of today's front pages illustrates that that's no longer the case.

A freight train derailment near Elgin made life miserable for Milwaukee West line commuters Thursday. We played that story prominently on Page 1 and so did the Chicago Sun-Times.

But it was no where to be found on the front page of Friday's Chicago Tribune. Not even a teaser to the relatively short story on Page 11.

Was it a case of the Tribune editors falling asleep or ignoring an important suburban story? That may happen from time to time, but that's not the case here. This was just a matter of different Page 1 philosophies.

Newspapers are changing in many ways, as print newspaper fans know very well. Some of these changes are troubling; there is hardly a newspaper anywhere in the country that has as many reporters or resources as it did five years ago.

But some of the changes are merely evolutionary.

With the growth of digital, newspapers are adjusting more and more to the needs of different platforms. Someone who reads a print newspaper has a different experience and a different set of needs and expectations than someone who reads the news online. And someone who accesses news and information on a smartphone has an experience that's different still. And of course, then there's the person who relaxes with a tablet.

One of the lessons those differences provide for print newspapers is that we can't simply be yesterday's news today, as we had been for decades. In the digital age, old news is exactly that — old.

Meanwhile, with the increased fragmentation of the audience for news and information, newspapers more and more are understanding an age-old truth: To be valuable, we have to be different. And we have to have our own personality.

So the old days when everyone populated their news pages and especially their front pages with the same old stories are disappearing.

All of us — the Daily Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune — have increased focus these days, a clearer vision of who we are and the personalities we project. And all of us strive to put an emphasis each day on what we have that no one else has.

Getting back to the derailed train and how it was played:

The Chicago Tribune didn't put it on Page 1 because it has developed a philosophy that breaking news is primarily a digital product. Its website is built around breaking news and much of it never even shows up in print. For the most part, it reserves Page 1 of the print edition for Chicago-centered enterprise (newsroom shorthand for staff-produced exclusives and news features).

The Chicago Sun-Times led its cover with a large photo of the derailment. That's a no-brainer, as much as a banner headline it ran related to the CTA. The Sun-Times is a commuter newspaper. It stands to reason that it's going to give attention to big commuter news.

At the Daily Herald, we're the suburbs' paper and we viewed the derailment as a big suburban story that demanded attention. In covering it for print, we tried to be forward looking — To what degree service would be restored today, what the derailment means to the significant suburban debate over the Canadian National's incursion into the Chicago region.

I'm curious to hear what you think of print. How much should it be a record of yesterday's news? How much should it be enterprise? Should there be a balance?

Thanks for reading. And have a good weekend. The autumn colors should still be spectacular.

(Please consider friending me on Facebook by searching John Lampinen Daily Herald and following me on Twitter @DHJohnLampinen)

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