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SouthtownStar Office to Close as Sun-Times Targets 'Inefficiencies'

Editing staff would leave Tinley Park for downtown Chicago under a new plan to restructure news operations and consolidate suburban newsrooms.

The SouthtownStar newspaper office in Tinley Park will be closed under a new plan to "eliminate inefficiencies" in Sun-Times Media.

The company has become "too small" to continue doing business as it has been, according to Jim Kirk, its editor-in-chief, who wants to move the newspaper's editors to the Chicago Sun-Times newsroom downtown and consolidate all editing and production there.

Just last year, the SouthtownStar moved to a small leased office in a business park along 183rd Street after selling its large building at the corner of 159th Street and Harlem Avenue to Menards, which intends to expand into the space. 

The company, as it downsized, sold all of its suburban newspaper buildings in Joliet, Aurora, Elgin, Glenview and Naperville and moved staff into leased office space. Those north and west suburban news operations also would move downtown under Kirk's plan. 

"We have to change," Kirk wrote in a memo to editorial staff distributed Thursday, copies of which were immediately shared outside the company. "The economic headwinds in our industry are only gaining strength when it comes to ink on paper. Print will be with us for some time, but not forever.

"We cannot wait for change to come without being prepared. Otherwise we’re dead. As an industry, we’ve watched year-after-year declines in traditional ad revenue with no reversal of that trend on the immediate horizon."

Kirk pitched this massive overhaul in operations to Tim Knight, CEO of parent company Wrapports LLC, who has yet to approve the plan.

TimeOut Chicago columnist Robert Feder reported Thursday that Kirk "made the announcement now because he felt obligated to notify the Chicago Newspaper Guild of the proposed changes as soon as possible."

The Sun-Times is a guild newsroom, but the SouthtownStar and some of the other suburban newsrooms are not unionized. The Sun-Times is currently negotiating a new union contract, and Wrapports has taken a hard-line stance with the union.

Kirk told Feder he's "confident" his plan will be approved by his boss.

"We continue to operate as a print-first newspaper company," Kirk wrote in his memo to staff. "We are lean, and mean, but we’re not built to be nimble to work across multiple platforms."

John Morton, a newspaper analyst and president of Morton Research Inc., told the Daily Herald that he sees this as a bad move for the Sun-Times.

"To diminish your presence in the very markets you are trying to serve is not a good move," Morton said. "These are usually the steps taken by a company that's struggling financially."

The company will try to move to a digital-first publishing model, and focus on improving its websites and creating digital apps. Sun-Times Media currently charges a fee for access to the company's online content.

The plan would have suburban reporters working remotely, filing their stories to downtown editors. Kirk would like his staff to share more coverage among its papers and deliver news throughout the day, according to his memo. He said he hopes to complete the overhaul of the company's news operation within the first three months of 2013.

Kirk told staff he does "not anticipate cutting jobs" but acknowledged the "possibility of some job redundancy."

The SouthtownStar was formed in 2007 with the merger of the Daily Southtown and the twice-weekly Star Newspapers, both of which were headquartered in Tinley Park in the former Gately's department store.

The newspaper traces its lineage back to 1901 with the founding of Star Newspapers in Chicago Heights and 1904 through the old Englewood Economist, a weekly that became the Southtown Economist and then the Daily Southtown in 1978. The papers were purchased by the Sun-Times in 1986. 

Sun-Times Media also includes The Beacon News in Aurora, Naperville Sun, The Courier News in Elgin, The Herald News in Joliet, the Pioneer Press in Glenview, the Lake County News-Sun and the Post-Tribune in Merrillville, IN.

Bob December 22, 2012 at 05:04 PM
I believe there is a market for a media source where we can find out what's going on in our local town, village, and school governments. More than a decade ago the local print media covered all school board and village council meetings, and told us the things of which we should be aware before actions were finalized. We could look at the local paper (often a weekly) and know comprehensively what was going on for events and local school sports. Then, some papers like the Southtown got delusions of grandeur and started carrying more regional, national, and international news than local items. They lost their niche. I don't have time to cover all our local government meetings, but if the Patch covered all our local meetings and let us know what our government was planning to do to us in time for us to stop them, I'd be willing to pay for the service, and I'm sure many others would as well. The Southtown now covers mostly stories from the SunTimes news org, with a few "cutesy" stories with "someone you should know" vignettes. I read it now mostly for readers opinions and guest columns, because the editorial board is a shadow of what it once was (props to Dennis!) and Kadner's ignorant, ill-informed BS isn't worth bird cage lining. Blogs like "Patch" are the future of news media. It'll be interesting to see how it develops!
laura December 22, 2012 at 06:06 PM
LOL. Mary, I think that hat just might be a spoof on the movie, "Front Page." Just guessing....
Gina December 22, 2012 at 06:54 PM
Mary - I'm just a regular decent human being is all. You appear to be the town bully.
Dave W. December 23, 2012 at 06:46 PM
I have to agree with a bunch of posters, FergLi and Luther in particular. Modern news writing is absolutely atrocious, no editing, poor grammar, short-attention span theater-type articles...such a letdown from the old SouthTown and Sun-Times writing. Also, to Luther's point, once the SouthTown merged with the Star...ugh. I know of NOBODY that pays for it in the Oak Lawn/Burbank area anymore. It became all far 'Southland' stories, all the time. No Southside city articles or information, no collar-town stories unless it was REALLY big news (robbery, murder, etc...). Instead we got the 'Speak out' garbage which was barely more than a platform for thinly veiled (and not always so thinly) racism or otherwise racist remarks that people in other places or forums could not BELIEVE were being published. (Not to say nobody further north of say, Tinley-Orland isn't racist, but to only say it was never given an outlet in the SouthTown.) Everything is about how many eyes you can attract, to such an extreme that good writing/journalism has given way to pandering and marketing above all else. I remember thinking that when the Daily SouthTown moved off Harlem, that was probably the beginning of the end for it being a true 'Southside' newspaper...I only wish I had been wrong.
Pat F December 23, 2012 at 07:54 PM
I worked for a trucking company that was involved with the Southtown for over 50 years..As the newspaper industry changed the Southtown simply fell apart.. At one time it was one of the "Powerhouses" in the industry and now all it does is run advertising and legal notices with possibly 20% connected to any kind of useful news! When my renewal comes up, it won't happen again.. They have destroyed themselves and pretty much treated their long time employees and associates like crap. What goes around comes around.. The Southtown Economist is no more............. :-(

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