The T Dog Media Think Tank: Let’s Get Into It.

The Sun-Times: Let’s Get Into It.

But will anyone get into it?

The paper relaunched last Wednesday to bring the paper out of the 1990s to the 21st Century, and to stem a continued circulation decline at the newspaper.

It has a ton of new features, and it has a new sleek layout and design, and a reemphasis on Chicago.

But it won’t work. Why? The old problems still remain.

The reporting is still amateurish compared to the Tribune, the nightlife section still pales in comparison to the Tribune’s Metromix section, and most of the columnists still stink.

The Sun-Times jumped the shark in 1984 when former owner Rupert Murdoch bought the paper, and made it into a carbon copy of the New York Post, a paper he owns in New York. (He would sell it two years later.) It’s been trying to swim back to shore ever since.

Here are a number of problems with the paper. One, the paper’s image is tarnished by a series of scandals, including one involving circulation, and Conrad Black, the former CEO of Hollinger International, is currently on trial for defrauding the company that owns the paper.

Another problem: The columnists. Most of them stink. While some, like movie critic Roger Ebert and television/radio columnist Robert Feder (who’s one of this blog’s media friends) are respectable and are very good at what they do, others are there to clearly cause controversy and to sell newspapers – much like what the cable news channels do.

One of those “columnists” is Jay Mariotti. The chief sports writer at the Sun-Times is one of the most controversial in the country, and he is nothing more than a bully. Take last Thursday’s column for example, where he blasted Chicago White Sox management for losing the first two games of the season. The first two. Mariotti has a personal feud with the team and management and its fans, and uses the paper’s space to attack them any chance he gets.

Apparently, he forgot the White Sox won the World Series two years ago. He criticizes the organization, while the one that deserves to be slammed, the Chicago Blackhawks (which hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 46 years and only one playoff appearance in the last decade, and has an owner that is the worst in all of sports), barely rates a mention.

Not only that, he has unfairly attacked other Chicago sports teams and athletes, particularly U.S. Gold Medal Winner Shani Davis, in which Mariotti wrote very negative articles about him during the 2006 Winter Olympics that were borderline racist.

But does the Sun-Times care? No. They really don’t care that their paper is used by morons to launch personal attacks.

And that right there is the problem with traditional media. It’s the same reason Fox News has Bill O’Reilly, The View has Rosie O’Donnell, Headline News has Glenn Beck, radio has Don Imus, and the Sun-Times has Mariotti. The more irrational the commentator, the more viewers or listeners they get, and the more papers they sell, and the more money they make. It’s that simple. The traditional media sinks to the lowest common denominator so much, it doesn’t surprise people anymore. That’s why Imus’ latest offensive tirade last week was mostly met with shrugs. When people heard this, they said, “What else is new? It’s radio!” and “This is one of the reasons why the radio industry is a joke.”

You wonder if all of this will get young people to buy newspapers? To watch their shows? To listen to their radio station? Probably not. They see all of this as a desperate attempt to speak to them. Newspapers don’t sell well in this day in age, because they are out of touch with the public, especially the Sun-Times. They knew if they wanted to improve the paper, they should have junked the cheap elements like Mariotti and Mark Brown, and put more substance behind the paper, instead of some stupid redesign and adding even more useless features. Who cares about the 20 most heartbreaking moments in Chicago sports history? What about the best moments in Chicago sports history, like the Bulls’ six titles? Jordan’s winning shot in a playoff game against Cleveland? The White Sox’s World Series title? Even the Wolves’ and Rush’s recent successes? Naw, heartbreak junk sells papers. We all know about the ’69 Cubs already. We don’t need it shoved down our throats everyday. Nobody under 35 cares. Besides, is anyone in St. Louis still whining about the Game 7 debacle in the 1985 World Series? (other than those on the ’85 Cardinals, that is.)

This is exactly what I mean, and young people know this. Gen Y (as well as Gen X) doesn’t like it when they are taken for granted, and think that their opinion doesn’t count. At least the Tribune speaks to this audience with RedEye, a successful, short-form tabloid that is now free. And the columnists speak to them, not down to them like they do in the Sun-Times. That’s why you see many youngsters reading RedEye on the train, not the Sun-Times. Why spend 50 cents on a paper than insults your intelligence?

Mariotti and other big media loyalists don’t seem to understand. They don’t believe that media is changing and young people are absorbing the media they receive in different ways, including blogs (Mariotti hates bloggers too), streaming video (no, video from the AP doesn’t count) and podcasts (even the Chicago Defender has podcasts- audio and video.) The Sun-Times has at least stepped up its content on its website, (including an online P.M. edition), but it has a long way to go to catch up with the Tribune. The New York Times. The Washington Post. The Birmingham News. The Wichita Eagle. Any newspaper in Mexico. (You get the point.)

But clearly, The Sun-Times has a no apology attitude to its paper, because it believes that it is invincible, despite the fact that sales are in the toilet, and will stay there for years to come. The format and layout has changed, but its reputation as a joke newspaper still remains. Speaking of which, young readers probably get more information from The Onion than they do the Sun-Times. Even a newspaper that’s intended as a joke beats out one that truly is one in the pathetic sense.

On page 3 of last Wednesday’s newspaper, the Sun-Times claim in introducing the new format, “If we step on a few toes, so be it.” In other words, they’re saying that “We are a part of big media. We can say what we want and do what we want, right or wrong, and you can’t stop us.” Sounds like they’re stepping on the whole foot.

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