Obama's Run Wasn't Enough to Help Chicago Papers

Hometown Hero Couldn't Boost Daily Circ Despite Intense Local Interest

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Barack Obama's resounding victory led to a run on newspapers around the country, but especially in Chicago, where giddy readers scrambled to grab keepsake copies of Nov. 5 issues commemorating the election of a native son and first African-American as president.
Get it while it's hot: Chicago Tribune line.
Get it while it's hot: Chicago Tribune line. Credit: Chris Walker

The Chicago Tribune boosted its press run nearly 30%, and the Chicago Sun-Times upped production 50%, and still papers were hard to find on newsstands around town. "Obama is a hometown boy, and the demand for today's edition has been incredible," said a Tribune spokesman.

But the post-election sales surge raises question about why the story of Mr. Obama's run failed to boost newspaper sales in his hometown.

During the six months ended this September, the Tribune saw its weekday circulation decline nearly 8%, to 516,032, while the Sun-Times fell by nearly 4% to 313,176.

Home team advantage
The declines came during a period that included the grueling final months of Mr. Obama's face-off with Hillary Clinton, his clinching of the nomination and a number of key developments around local figures including Rev. Jeremiah Wright, political fixer Tony Rezko and former radical William Ayers.

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The papers' proximity to these events helped them land a number of big stories along the way, and the Sun-Times' chief Obama-watcher, Lynn Sweet, became a cable-news regular. But neither the intense interest in the stories nor the paper's access to them stopped circulation declines.

In their defense, spokesmen for both Chicago papers said web traffic has been robust -- the Tribune's site hit an all-time high in October -- and they note it's difficult to distill the importance of any single story when looking at circulation trends.

Even so, "it doesn't bode well for newspapers if people are buying them for their scrapbooks rather than for their analysis," said veteran media buyer Paula Hambrick at Hambrick & Associates, Orland Park, Ill. "It's not a primary source of information and news for many people anymore."
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