MEDIA PROFILE: The Sun-Times business section loses its grittytabloid tag

Once the neglected media child of a busy city, the Chicago

Sun-Times has undergone a rebirth. The paper has redefined itself as a

local paper, and is now taking business seriously. John Frank

reports.



Nick Kalm, an EVP with Edelman, remembers that a few years ago,

Chicago-based clients often had one major media goal: getting covered in

the business section of the Chicago Tribune, the city's largest daily

paper.



Grabbing some ink in the Chicago Sun-Times, the city's then gritty

tabloid, was seen as nice, but not necessary. Another Chicago PR pro,

asking for anonymity, is even more blunt, recalling, "I had a CEO who

said the only people who read the Sun-Times are truck drivers and

sanitation workers."



But times, and the Sun-Times' business coverage, have changed. Since

hiring long-time Chicago journalist Dan Miller as business editor two

years ago, the Sun-Times has taken on a new, more focused approach to

covering local business. "We've made the business section a

destination," says Miller.



Miller's roots in Chicago journalism go back nearly 40 years to his days

as a young business reporter for the now-defunct Chicago Daily News.

Miller made his mark as founding editor of Crain's Chicago Business, a

position he held for 10 years, until 1988, when he became a VP and

publisher of another Crain's publication. A rarity among journalists,

Miller has also served in state government, chairing the Illinois

Commerce Commission from '94-'98.



Miller was working for the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think

tank, in 1999 when the Sun-Times called. He jumped at the chance to be

an editor again. "I love business news," he says. That love of business

news is starting to translate into an improved Sun-Times business

section.



"I really think the Sun-Times business section has gotten much, much

stronger," says Kalm.



In addition to Miller's efforts, Sun-Times reporter Howard Wolinsky also

garners kudos from local PR people for writing about small, privately

held local technology companies long before the rival Tribune did. He's

been spotlighting such companies in the Sun-Times for two years.



"Howard has been a proponent of emerging technology companies. He's a

great listener, and very amenable to pitches," says Howard Solomon,

managing director with Ruder Finn's Chicago office.



Indeed, PR people give Sun-Times business staffers credit for listening

to PR pitches rather than shunning PR people, as reporters at the

Tribune are known to do.



"The Sun-Times is leaner and meaner, but in a lot of cases, has been

easier to work with," says long-time Chicago PR man Larry Mathias.



Responds Miller, "I know that we need the PR professional to do our

job.



All of my people know that." Miller isn't averse to answering his phone

to speak with a PR person pitching a story.



He does have some pet peeves about PR, though. Chief among them is

getting mail addressed to people who no longer work at the paper, or

getting mail directed to the wrong reporter. "PR people have got to know

who covers what here," he says. Miller also wants exclusives or, at

worst, information released to him at the same time as the Tribune and

Crain's get it.



Miller knows his job of transforming perceptions about the Sun-Times'

business coverage is far from over. After all, he still runs across

people who think Rupert Murdoch owns the paper (it was sold to Hollinger

International several years ago).



"It's a daily struggle against perception," Miller says. He's responded

by focusing the Sun-Times tightly on local business news, while the

Tribune business section covers national stories, such as the recent

collapse of Enron.



"We're the local newspaper of Chicago," says Miller. "We're militantly

parochial."



Miller works with a full-time staff of only six reporters, compared to

scores of Tribune business writers. He uses a stable of columnists to

fill coverage gaps in such areas as mutual funds or personal finance,

and relies primarily on Bloomberg for national news.



"The paper is always undermanned, understaffed, and under-resourced,"

Miller says. Indeed, the Sun-Times, with a daily circulation of 480,920

(compared to the Tribune's 621,305), is facing a possible reporters'

strike.



Miller frets about what impact that could have on his rebuilding

efforts, but he's not letting that slow him down. His advice to Chicago

PR people: "Give us another look if your clients are reluctant about

getting in the Sun-Times."



CONTACT LIST

Chicago Sun-Times

Address: 401 N. Wabash Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611

Tel/Fax: (312) 321-2841/321-3027

E-mail: stbiz@suntimes.com (Note: Don't send large files or graphic

attachments)

Web: www.suntimes.com

Business editor: Dan Miller (ext. 2525)

Deputy business editor: Mike Gillis (ext. 2140)

Ad/marketing: Lew Lazare (ext. 2819)

Financial services: Tammy Williamson (ext. 2892)

Information tech: Howard Wolinsky (ext. 2564)



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