Edwin Eisendrath, the former Chicago alderman who led the investment group that bought the Chicago Sun-Times last year, has resigned after 16 months as chief executive officer of the struggling newspaper’s parent company.
Along with his departure, effective immediately, the company announced the appointment Wednesday of Nykia Wright as interim CEO. Wright joined Sun-Times Media Group as chief operating officer last October after working as a financial analyst and consultant for companies in Chicago, Atlanta and London.
“Now that path ahead is a clear, it is time for me to move on,” Eisendrath said in a statement. He said he had been “largely successful” at saving and maintaining the Sun-Times as an independent voice, and he predicted that by early next year “the company will be cash flow positive for the first time in recent memory.”
Beyond the statement he released, Eisendrath declined further comment.
Sources said Eisendrath had lost the confidence of the Sun-Times board, and that the paper was still losing money. Its path to profitability by no means assured, Eisendrath predicted earlier this year that the Sun-Times had no better than a “60 percent chance” of surviving for two years.
In addition, growing tensions between Eisendrath and Sun-Times editor-in-chief Chris Fusco had come to the board’s attention, according to insiders. Fusco’s predecessor as top editor, Jim Kirk, stepped down just weeks after Eisendrath took over. Eisendrath also raised eyebrows when he hired his wife, Jennifer Schulze, as executive producer – new media, reporting to her former colleague, Carol Fowler, senior vice president of digital news products.
With tacit encouragement from the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division, Eisendrath was instrumental in forming a coalition of Chicago labor unions and other investors to acquire the Sun-Times and thwarting a takeover by the parent company of the Chicago Tribune in July 2017.
Jorge Ramirez, the former president of the Chicago Federation of Labor who serves as board chairman of Sun-Times Media, thanked Eisendrath for his “leadership and passion.”
“When Edwin and I came together looking to save the Sun-Times, it was with a mutual passion and love for the news and our city,” Ramirez said in a statement. “Edwin helped us accomplish three goals collectively: bring people together; raise money; and get the deal done. Since then, he’s worked every day not only to save the paper but deliver on the promise of building a news organization that has the backs of working women and men.
“Today’s Chicago Sun-Times is in much better shape on nearly every measure - financially, organizationally, and journalistically. Thank you for your leadership and passion. We could not have gotten here without you."
A native Chicagoan with a Harvard education, Eisendrath, 60, represented the 43rd Ward in the Chicago City Council from 1987 to 1993. As a rookie alderman, he unsuccessfully challenged Sidney Yates for U.S. Congress. Years later he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for governor against incumbent Rod Blagojevich. Before acquiring the Sun-Times he was managing partner of StrateSphere Global Initiatives.
Here is the text of Eisendrath’s statement:
In a difficult time for journalism and our democracy, my life changed when there was an effort to destroy the independent voice of the Sun-Times by merging it into the Tribune. I determined right then to do what I could to save the paper, threw myself into the fight, and have worked tirelessly ever since to save the business.
We have been largely successful. Not only did we stop the merger, we successfully relocated, rebranded, restructured. We erased more than $8 million of dollars in annual structural losses while spending more on journalists. We built technology partnership that will deliver better tools for reporters and a better experience for readers.
By early next year, the company will be cash flow positive for the first time in recent memory.
At the same time, the Reader has a new, independent and a strong future.
Now that path ahead is a clear, it is time for me to move on. I tendered my resignation at our recent board meeting. We agreed to hold the news so I could tell you myself. I will, of course, help with the transition.
There are too many people for me to thank individually. The investors who came together to save the company knew it was a going to be a rough ride. They put the democracy, before their pocket books and made an investment in local journalism when higher returns could be found almost anywhere else. My heroic leadership team guided the company through very difficult times. There are not too many companies that, for example, took an offshore call center, brought it home, and saved money as a result. The fabulous people of Chicago supported our efforts, cheered us on, and in many cases gave brave and wise counsel. .
And of course, the journalists. What a privilege for me to have been part of your effort to tell stories honestly and bravely.
I have loved this work. I am more grateful than I can say. And I am eager to see what comes next, for you and for me.