June 7, 2016

I have been following the news that Tribune Publishing, owner of the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, along with other properties, will be renamed as “Tronc.” That name was coined as a combination of Tribune, Online and Content.

A branding strategy has been to lowercase the name, the opposite of the uppercase POLITICO. For my tastes, the lowercase is too modest for a media company, and the all-caps too self-important.

The new name has invited enough snark and mockery (snarkery?) to fill Wrigley Field, including my favorite tweet on the subject: “junk in the Tronc.”

As traditional news organizations make way for the new, they will shed lots of once valuable assets: forms of advertising, boots on the ground, landmark buildings. They should think long and hard before they shed their names, especially those names that trumpet an organization’s essential mission and purpose.

A quick survey of newspapers across the United States, from Alabama through Massachusetts, reveals that their names quickly get redundant. There are quirky ones to be sure, such as the Daily Breeze in Torrance, California. But the common ones were repeated again and again in every corner of the country. Here’s the list of dailies in Alabama:

  • Reporter
  • Outlook
  • Star
  • Courier
  • Advance
  • News
  • Times
  • Standard
  • Advertiser
  • Daily
  • Eagle
  • Ledger
  • Press
  • Register
  • Sentinel
  • Journal
  • Home
  • Messenger

Only one of the names, The Montgomery Advertiser (where I published some of my first stories, by the way) identifies itself by its, as we say in Memphis, “commercial appeal.”

Most of the others signify the newspaper’s role in a democracy. It records things (Press, Register, Ledger, Journal, Reporter); it comes to you (Messenger, Courier, Home); it does this in a timely way (Daily, Times, News, Advance); it has standards (Standard, Star, Outlook); it pays attention, keeps watch, stands on the parapet looking for the barbarians at the gate (Sentinel, Eagle).

So what is a “tribune?” This is from the American Heritage Dictionary:

1. An officer of ancient Rome elected by the plebeians to protect their rights from arbitrary acts of the patrician magistrates. 2. A protector or champion of the people.”

To be sure, the “Tribune” name will remain in place at the company’s Chicago newspaper. But where in “Tronc” is the sense of the watchdog, the protector or champion of the people?

Outside of Alabama, I found these names:

  • Patriot
  • Sun
  • Post
  • Bee
  • Record
  • Examiner
  • Telegram
  • Gazette
  • Enterprise
  • Searchlight
  • Signal
  • Wave
  • Hour
  • As a reporter or editor, I would be happy to devote my craft in support of any of these names. I could float like a Searchlight or sting like a Bee. I’d be happy to include those names on my resume. Will Tronc, like Google or Twitter, ascend as a standard for the digital age?

    The Tampa Bay Times Publishing Company, owned by Poynter, recently purchased and shut down another Tribune — the one in Tampa. The disappearance of the name Tribune may not matter if Tronc performs in the spirit of that name, as a watcher in the public interest. We’ll be watching.

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    Roy Peter Clark has taught writing at Poynter to students of all ages since 1979. He has served the Institute as its first full-time faculty…
    Roy Peter Clark

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