Interview with one of the co-founders of the Chicago Reader, Robert Roth, followed by an interview with then-editor, Michael Miner, in the office of the Reader.
00:00Copy video clip URL Tom Weinberg sets up interview with Robert A. Roth, co-founder of the Chicago Reader. He talks about starting the Reader out of a private apartment in Kenwood. He says they started in Fall, 1971, got an office in Spring 1974.
01:52Copy video clip URL Weinberg asks about the start of the paper. Roth says the original idea for the Reader was very similar to other weeklies, but he saw a need in Chicago. “At the very beginning, it was entirely motivated by this crazy notion that it was going to be fun.” He talks about comparing the paper to the Chicago Maroon, the student newspaper of the University of Chicago.
04:35Copy video clip URL Weinberg asks about the trajectory of the paper, how it got so big. Roth says, “There isn’t any single reason, that’s for sure.” He suggests it was the personalities of the founders.
06:30Copy video clip URL Weinberg asks about the style of the paper. Roth talks about the history of failure in his type of publication, and says he is surprised by the success. Roth says that the way they planned readers was completely innovative: “Our decision early on that we were going to distinguish the editorial goals of the paper from the commercial goals of the paper.” He talks about the reader theory: “When you use your editorial copy as the arm of the marketing effort, you don’t satisfy anyone.” He says that by making the publication free, they didn’t have to worry about buyers at all. He talks about how the Reader caters both to people who read the articles, and to people who don’t read the articles.
12:34Copy video clip URL Roth talks about what the paper offers to non-article readers. Roth says it’s very hard to isolate anything in particular that sells a publication to non-readers. Though, he says, if it’s anything, “You should get it anyway because it’s free.” He goes on to mention service functions for non-readers, but says that the Reader somehow developed a cache that made it fashionable.
16:35Copy video clip URL Roth estimates that the press run is 116,000 and says that it’s higher now than it’s ever been. He says he’s been trying to prevent it from getting larger.
17:41Copy video clip URL Tracking weirdness at tape change. Roth gives another explanation for the Reader’s success: “The Reader is well-positioned…We’re in a niche where nobody else competes with us very effectively.” He says if they raised the circulation, it would bump them into a new category in which they couldn’t compete. “We’d be priced out of the market for the small advertiser.”
20:43Copy video clip URL Weinberg asks about the paper becoming too unmanageably packed with advertisements. Roth says that the solution is to vary the advertisements. “We have…got a notoriously low cost-per-thousand (advertisements) compared to papers like ours across the country.”
25:00Copy video clip URL Weinberg asks about the hierarchy of the company over the years. He says that the Reader was the one dream of his that came to pass. He seems mostly to think that the success of the Reader was due to initial luck and loyalty.
30:50Copy video clip URL Roth talks about the importance of selling papers in non-geographically linear places, following audiences.
35:40Copy video clip URL Tracking weirdness at tape change. Roth talks about the LA Reader. He says it has grown much faster than the Chicago Reader. Weinberg asks why he’s chosen to start up a paper in LA. Roth says he tries to resist expansionism, and he thinks LA is a city where that hope of expansion wouldn’t come into play. He says that the Reader is naturally very small-scale. Roth talks about liking bringing a small paper to new cities, and about his plans to take the Reader to Washington DC, as well.
43:15Copy video clip URL Weinberg suggests that the format of the magazine largely passes through Roth and another co-founder. Roth says the labor is more spread out, but is still a small-scale venture. Roth talks about saving on costs, but not on quality.
45:12Copy video clip URL Shot of CDs and boxes of packages on the floor.
45:30Copy video clip URL Shot of messiness in Roth’s office, while Roth sits at his desk on the phone.
47:12Copy video clip URL Shot of another very messy office in the Reader offices. Editor Michael Miner talks about his work on the paper. Weinberg asks him why the Reader works. He says, “because the right people get it and the wrong people don’t get it.” He says that it works because it caters to people who like any sort of article. He talks about the writing and editing process at the Reader.
53:14Copy video clip URL END