Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Editor: RedEye succeeds by being relevant

RedEye, the Chicago Tribune's free daily, is making money, growing its circulation and adding editions. In its fifth year in business, RedEye is probably the most successful major market free daily in the United States -- and is seen as a model for others to copy. In September, Los Angeles Times Publisher David Hiller said he is considering starting his own version of RedEye.

We asked RedEye Editor Jane Hirt (pictured) the following questions. RedEye appears to be successful at reaching the 18-34 demo. How did you do it?

Jane Hirt: We have been successful, Clyde, and the not-so-secret secret ingredient is relevance. We strive every day with every decision to be super relevant to our target audience: commuting Chicagoans in their 20s and 30s who are time-pressed, socially active and all over the place when it comes to media consumption. In the office, we talk about our readers every day as we make coverage decisions and chose our Page 1 stories/photos/headlines. And readers are considered in business decisions as well, including the types of advertising we pursue and how we distribute the paper. Did you have to "dumb down" straight news to get there?

Hirt: Not at all. Readers tell us that one of the most valuable aspects of RedEye is its concise nature: We get to the point, and for busy readers that's priceless. Shorter, to-the-point, interesting stories aren't dumb, they actually require smarter editing and editorial discipline. As for story selection, RedEye contains traditional headline news tailored to the target RedEye reader who wants to stay plugged in. The paper also contains lots of pop culture coverage, photography, bold color and humor where appropriate. It's a combination of all those things that keeps RedEye bold, lively and -- yes, I'll say it --quite smart. Chicago seems to be a very political city. I haven't seen any editorials in RedEye. How does the paper stay out of politics? Are you being pushed/pulled by politicians to support/propose various proposals?

Hirt: The simple answer is, that as an edition of the Chicago Tribune, RedEye's editorial position is voiced on the Tribune's editorial page. Beyond that, RedEye is not a very political paper as compared to traditional newspapers. When we do cover politics, it tends to be when pop culture and politics collide (as when Oprah endorsed Obama) or from the standpoint of "What does the reader need to know in order to vote."

Beyond that, we don't devote much space to traditional political analysis or the behind-the-scenes "politics" of politics. Our readers haven't asked that of us. But just because we don't have an editorial page, doesn't mean there isn't opinion in RedEye. Besides our columnists, regular readers of RedEye know that RedEye definitely has a voice. It's expressed in our sassy headlines, our bold visuals, and in the humorous quips you'll find sprinkled throughout the paper. A few months ago you added a Saturday edition. Is a Sunday paper on the horizon?

Hirt: In May we launched a Weekend Edition of RedEye to meet demand of weekend readers and pre-print advertisers. It's home delivered for free on Saturdays to anybody who signs up for it, and home delivery is actually the only way to get it at this point. (It's not in the honor boxes.)

The weekend edition has a slightly different editorial feel, as readers have told us they have different needs and desires on the weekend. For example, it's a little less newsy and much more events-oriented than the weekday paper. So far, it's been successful, revenue and readership-wise.

As for the horizon, anything is possible, Clyde. Our opportunities to grow seem endless at this point. I wouldn't rule out anything.