The SouthtownStar newspaper office in Tinley Park will be closed under a new plan to "eliminate inefficiencies" in Sun-Times Media.
The company has become "too small" to continue doing business as it has been, according to Jim Kirk, its editor-in-chief, who wants to move the newspaper's editors to the Chicago Sun-Times newsroom downtown and consolidate all editing and production there.
Just last year, the SouthtownStar moved to a small leased office in a business park along 183rd Street after selling its large building at the corner of 159th Street and Harlem Avenue to Menards, which intends to expand into the space.
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. 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. As an industry, we’ve watched year-after-year declines in traditional ad revenue with no reversal of that trend on the immediate horizon."
Kirk pitched 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 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 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, and Wrapports has taken a hard-line stance with the union.
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. Sun-Times Media currently charges a fee for access to the company's online content.
The plan would have suburban reporters working remotely, filing their stories to downtown editors. Kirk would like his staff to share more coverage among its papers and deliver news throughout the day, according to his memo. He 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."
The SouthtownStar was formed in 2007 with the merger of the Daily Southtown and the twice-weekly Star Newspapers, both of which were headquartered in Tinley Park in the former Gately's department store.
The newspaper traces its lineage back to 1901 with the founding of Star Newspapers in Chicago Heights and 1904 through the old Englewood Economist, a weekly that became the Southtown Economist and then the Daily Southtown in 1978. The papers were purchased by the Sun-Times in 1986.
Sun-Times Media also includes The Beacon News in Aurora, Naperville Sun, The Courier News in Elgin, The Herald News in Joliet, the Pioneer Press in Glenview, the Lake County News-Sun and the Post-Tribune in Merrillville, IN.