MEDIA PROFILE: Red Streak forms immediate bond with younger Chicagoans

As Chicago's two dailies square off over the 18-34 set, the Sun-Times' Red Streak is riding bolder content to become a must-read for Windy City youngsters and the PR pros who target them.

As Chicago's two dailies square off over the 18-34 set, the Sun-Times' Red Streak is riding bolder content to become a must-read for Windy City youngsters and the PR pros who target them.

Chicago is a town that loves a good newspaper war. The classic movie Front Page, which chronicles how down and dirty US newspaper battles became in the 1920s, was set in Chicago, after all. The Windy City's two remaining dailies are at it again. Last fall, the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times each began publishing new papers aimed at 18- to 34-year-old readers. The Tribune, the larger and more prosperous of the two, spent months doing market research and holding focus groups for its paper, Red Eye. The Sun-Times put together its blueprint for Red Streak in about a month after word of the Tribune's plans leaked out. Red Streak assembled a staff of reporters borrowed from suburban papers owned by the Sun-Times' holding company, Hollinger International. Despite the speed of its birth, Red Streak is getting more kudos from local media watchers than Red Eye. It's doing enterprise stories, rather than just rewriting stories from its parent paper. Also, it says it isn't trying so hard to be trendy. As such, it seems to be reaching younger readers, making it the choice for PR people with clients interested in reaching that coveted demographic. "I think if you put Red Streak and Red Eye side by side, there's no way you could conclude anything but that Red Streak is vastly superior," says Steve Rhodes, media writer for Chicago magazine. "I think Red Streak looks better. It reads quick and young." Sun-Times editor-in-chief Michael Cooke says the Red Streak was started for one purpose. "We did it to piss them off," he says, referring to his rival. Turning more serious, Cooke says the Sun-Times had little choice but to respond. Red Streak's media kit notes that the Sun-Times is read by 32% of Chicagoans ages 18-34, compared to only 17% who read the Tribune. Red Eye was a direct assault on a key reader block for the Sun-Times. "The advertising pie in Chicago is cut 80/20 in the Tribune's favor. They are not happy with that, so they decided to come after our readers," says Cooke. "Our readers are the only ones in play here. For us, Red Streak is a magnificent diversion." Cooke assembled a team of 12 reporters from other Hollinger-owned papers in the Chicago area to work on Red Streak. "We did it in four weeks," he boasts. Deborah Douglas, the Sun-Times' deputy features editor, is overseeing the staff. Like the Sun-Times, Red Streak is a tabloid. But rather than sporting screaming page-one headlines like the Sun-Times does, its front page features modular layouts of four stories a day. Its banner is small and pushed to the top left side so teasers for several inside stories can be placed next to it. Hard news is covered up front, followed by a money page, entertainment news, and sports. The paper also contains a variety of advice columns, and has no problem running headlines like "Can't touch this: Do I have to masturbate?" Rhodes gives Red Streak credit for dealing with sexual topics of interest to young readers. "They run frank, sexual material, and have fun with it," he says. Michael Miner, who writes the Hot Type media column in the weekly Chicago Reader newspaper, agrees. He wrote last November: "Red Streak is like a stripped-down Sun-Times without airs and with more sex. Women staffers can hardly complain; everyone knows 18-to-34s are cool with sex." PR people who have pitched Red Streak have found it open to client information. Natalia Daniels, an account coordinator with Magnet Communications in San Francisco, late last year responded to a Profnet request for pitches she saw from a Red Streak freelancer. The result was mention of her client, MyPleasure.com - a site that sells sexual toys and aids - in a holiday gift-buying story Red Streak ran under the headline: "Have you been naughty?" Jennifer Maguire, who runs a PR firm bearing her name in New York City, also got a mention for Canadian diamonds, a client of hers, in the same story. The piece even listed retailers that sold the diamonds, a rarity for such gift lists, Maguire says. Cooke suggests pitches be e-mailed to Douglas. What he's looking for is "the kind of thing that interests a 27-year-old that is about to lose the word 'assistant' from his title," Cooke says. How long Red Streak will be around depends on how this latest Chicago newspaper war plays out. Cooke vows to keep doing it as long as the Tribune stays with Red Eye. He questions whether young adults, notorious for not reading newspapers at all, want daily publications directed at them. "There is no demand for it," he contends. But that doesn't preclude Cooke from going all out to win this battle. ----- Contact list Red Streak Address 401 N. Wabash Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611 Tel. (312) 321-2404 Web www.chicagoredstreak.com Editor-in-chief Michael Cooke E-mail mcooke@suntimes.com Coordinating editor Deborah Douglas E-mail ddouglas@suntimes.com

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