When I last reported on the hilarious musings of the Tribune Company's new chief innovation officer, Lee Abrams, little did I realize that he would provide us with a continuous comedy act of major proportions. His previous observations wandered from looking upon newspapers as the "new rock 'n' roll" to the need for soul all interspersed with quotations from everybody from John Cleese to Carl Jung. Yes, he was good for some bellylaughs but now he has exceeded himself in the inadvertent humor department with a memo to the Tribune staffers that rivals the best of comedy skits. Appropriately, Abrams announces that his job starts on April Fools Day:
...I start April 1st but I've been pretty engaged from afar. Thought I'd share some observations on TV, web and print. Small stuff, "think pieces" more than anything...not end alls, but when we re-think and maximize hundreds of little pieces within the framework of bigger pieces and it could be part of the blueprint for something very powerful:
Among the "little pieces within the framework of bigger pieces" is to get past the Easter Bunny in order to appeal to Catholic readers:
CATHOLICS: There are a LOT of Catholics in Chicago. 2.9 million in Cook and Lake County. Easter is a big deal. I'd think a high profile Easter"celebration" would be in order. Easter Bunny stuff is fine...but there's a more serious side to it that isn't being captured. A devout Catholic, I would imagine, would feel very good about this. The same thing with Black History Month and African Americans. The coverage is there, but we're not using a 2x4 to drive it home.
From the Easter Bunny we go to Abrams' "original" idea of running spoofs on April 1:
SPOOF: Probably too late for this year, but it might be cool for RedEye to do a special front page on April 1. Or complete edition. Oniony spoof. Could create a buzz and they could probably get away with it.
It's not too late, Lee, to run an April 1 spoof. How about if you just publish your own memos such as this one? However, Lee finally does touch on one subject with which I do have some familiarity:
ONLINE COMICS: Might be way too cost prohibitive, but imagine Online animated versions of major comics that run in print. An evolution of the print comic. Maybe if they ran in hundreds of websites it could work economically...especially if Tribune syndicated them.
Sorry, Lee, but animating comics that were meant to be static doesn't seem to work well as you can see in the animated cartoon experiment of my hometown Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. Either you begin with animated comics in mind or you come up with better comics than what we now see in the newspapers. Abrams continues on musing about star reporters:
STAR REPORTERS: I may have mentioned this before, but picturereporters doing a short online video "Story behind the Story" where they tell the story via video of writing a given piece. A video intro that:
a) Puts a face to the writer. Humanizes the story. An electronic byline.
b) Added "reason" to go to the website. An added dimension in story coverage
c) Interesting stuff.
Interesting stuff? Yeah, it's ever so exciting to see a reporter banging away at a keyboard. It ranks right up there with watching water evaporate. And I'm sure your seasoned reporters are going to be quite thrilled to have some young yuppie kid following them around with a camera. Lee gets rolling with another idea that has never been done before ... except at maybe a few dozen newspapers:
"THEN": A daily page that is "Today in Tribune History". Long-time fans would love to look back. Today in 1944, Patton...Today in 1977, a huge storm... Reprint the page out of history. The key: Use this page to drive what I think is an enormous revenue opportunity that hasn't been tapped--THE ONLINE ARCHIVES! These are amazing! Yet, a mystery...hidden.
THE ONLINE ARCHIVES!!! The mystery is that you thought this shtick was original. However, since I am having a bit too much fun at your expense I will pass along an archive idea that you seem to have overlooked: the photo morgue. Hundreds of thousands of local photos just sitting there in dark files doing nothing. So why not set up online high school class years and include the numerous sports photos? That would encourage the graduates of each year from the different schools to visit those sites where they could have their own forums. The nostalgia of viewing those high school sports photos would drive them to the site. You can use that idea, Lee, and claim it as your own. It's my gift to you for giving me lots of chuckles.
Oh, and one final suggestion, Lee. Could you please get rid of the "Dulling Columnists" at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel? They call themselves "Dueling Columnists" but would you call two separate columns on the same topic a duel? No more than if Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone were swordfighting with each other from separate rooms. To make it easy on their termination, I suggest that Abrams send them their pink slips on the day he begins working as a Chief Innovation Officer. April 1. The Dulling Columnists will think it's just an April Fools Day joke. Ha! Ha! The joke is on them because they next day they will find out they can no longer torture the Sun-Sentinel readers with their tedium.