In this week’s cover story titled Save The Sun-Times: How I’d Keep Chicago A Two-Newspaper Town, Brian Hieggelke forcefully argues that the city needs a better, smarter, stronger competitor to the Chicago Tribune.
Hieggelke, who’s been a civic treasure since he founded Newcity with his wife Jan in 1986, is no amateur when it comes to critiquing Chicago media. For years he wrote an insightful and influential column on the press under the pseudonym of Hildy Johnson, borrowed from the classic Chicago newspaper film “The Front Page.”
Over lunch more than a year ago, Hieggelke told me he’d been thinking a lot about how to rejuvenate the Sun-Times, which was struggling to survive under principal owner Ferro. What finally prompted Hieggelke to write the 2,800-word piece was the stunning news last week that Ferro had become the largest shareholder of Tribune Publishing and assumed the role of non-executive chairman. While keeping his financial interest in the Sun-Times, Ferro was stepping down as chairman of parent company Wrapports. “A seismic shift roiled the quicksand of local media,” Hieggelke says.
First and foremost among Hieggelke’s recommendations is to eliminate the inherent conflict of an owner whose loyalty is now with the Tribune. Unless Ferro is pushed out of the Sun-Times entirely, which Hieggelke acknowledges is easier said than done, “the paper is likely doomed in its current ownership structure.”
Once that happens, his plan calls for killing the Sun-Times Network (which he correctly labels a "monstrous embarrassment"), fixing the website, dropping the Sunday paper in favor of a bigger Saturday “weekend edition,” jettisoning Splash (or selling it to the Tribune) and merging the Chicago Reader with the Sun-Times. The new and improved Sun-Times, as he sees it, would be more liberal, more urban and more enterprising.
I won’t give away any more of Hieggelke’s bold proposals (some of which I doubt even he thinks are realistic), but I recommend you read the piece for yourself.
“I know I’ve ruffled some feathers with many of these ideas,” he concludes, “but I’ve done so in the spirit that I think many of us share: that a one-newspaper town is not a future we should enter without a fight.”