The Herald News newspaper office in Joliet will be closed under a new plan to "eliminate inefficiencies" in Sun-Times Media.
The company has become "too small" to continue to operate as it is now, according to Jim Kirk, its editor-in-chief, who is proposing to move the newspaper's editors to the Chicago Sun-Times newsroom downtown and consolidate all editing and production there.
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. The Herald News is currently located at 2175 Oneida. 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."
Kirk proposed 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 evening 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 company is currently negotiating with the union on a new contract covering editorial employees."
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.
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. Suburban reporters will work remotely, filing their stories to downtown editors. Kirk would like his staff to deliver news throughout the day, according to his memo, and 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."