Reader staffer’s shot at tronc bosses comes and goes

Chicago Reader

A Chicago Reader story that harshly criticized the proposed sale of the alternative weekly to Chicago Tribune parent company tronc suddenly disappeared Thursday after one day on the Reader’s website.

Under the headline “Can the Reader survive a second helping of Michael Ferro?” the story by social media editor Ryan Smith took personal aim at tronc chairman Ferro, who previously owned Wrapports, parent company of the Reader and the Chicago Sun-Times.

Michael Ferro

Ferro, Smith wrote, “has a history of whimsically splurging on Chicago media properties the way other wealthy middle-aged men might splurge on expensive sports cars. But wisely managing and staying committed to his toys? That's another story.”

(A cached version of the original post appears here.)

The disappearance of the story quickly drew attention on social media, including from Ray Pride, film critic for Newcity, and Michael Lansu, digital editor at WBEZ FM 91.5. Digital strategist Scott Smith tweeted: “So about that rigorous competition the Tribune editorial was hailing yesterday . . ."

Jake Malooley, editor of the Reader, said he made the decision to withdraw the story temporarily until a more carefully edited version could be posted.

“The published post first came to my attention last night when a commenter noted an error in matter of fact,” Malooley told me late Thursday. “I went into the piece to address it, and as I was reading through noticed a few other factual errors and sourcing issues that made me realize it wasn't up to the caliber of journalism — commentary or otherwise — we aspire to publish at the Reader.

“I called the writer and we decided the best course of action was to take the post offline while we repaired it, sought comment from Wrapports and tronc, and added more information and sourcing to more clearly draw out a very worthwhile theme: to give Reader readers a digest of what Michael Ferro's moves have been over his last six years in Chicago media and how that track record speaks to what could be become of the Reader if it were under his ownership.

“Our intention was always to republish a version marked ‘updated’ with an editor's note appended, and I intend to do that momentarily.”

(Update: Here is the link to the revised version.)

Smith’s story marked the second shot this week by a Reader employee at the proposed sale to tronc. On Monday, retiring media critic Michael Miner noted that the Sun-Times had been given assurances that it would continue as an independent news source under tronc, but “no similar commitment to preserve the Reader was mentioned, and Reader staffers were unable to get intramural assurances their paper would go on.”

It’s all playing out against a backdrop of union strife at the Reader, where writers, editors and designers represented by the Chicago News Guild voted to authorize a strike in their long-running bid for increases in salary and benefits. Now under federal mediation, talks have been dragging on for 16 months.