Robservations: Chicago Reader to go nonprofit route

Chicago Reader (November 14, 2019)

Robservations on the media beat:

Tracy Baim

After nearly 50 years as the city's premier alternative weekly, the Chicago Reader is about to move to a nonprofit business model. Owners Elzie Higginbottom and Leonard Goodman, who rescued the Reader from Sun-Times mismanagement in 2018, have made a deal to sell the newspaper to a newly created nonprofit, the Reader Institute for Community Journalism, in early January. The Reader hasn't turned a profit in ages, although revenue is said to be up almost 50 percent this year. As an official nonprofit, the door will be open to additional revenue sources, including foundation grants and other donations. “I am so excited about the opportunities this new move will have for the Reader,” said Tracy Baim, who's staying on as publisher along with most of the current staff. “More media companies are turning nonprofit to expand their support networks. The Reader has a very loyal readership. We believe community-supported journalism is an important part of the future for most independent media, and certainly for the Reader.”

Michael Ferro

What could be worse than having despised tycoon Michael Ferro as the leading shareholder of Tribune Publishing? Employees of the Chicago Tribune are about to find out. Ferro just sold all 9 million of his shares — or 25 percent of the company — to the New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital. That's the same slash-and-burn outfit that wrecked the Denver Post and other newsrooms across the country. The Tribune's future now appears as uncertain as that of CEO and president Tim Knight. The union representing editorial employees is already sounding the alarm. "Deeply concerned" about the deal, a Chicago Tribune Guild statement said: "Alden has a well-established history of harming media institutions and journalists. Still, no matter who owns these shares, we promise to fight as hard as we can to protect our members, improve our company and serve our readers. We believe in journalism as a public good — a voice for the community and a safeguard against corruption. We know the value of our work, and we will defend it fiercely." Tweeted Tribune culture writer Steve Johnson: "A final bird flip to Chicago journalism from Michael Ferro, citizen of self interest.”

Lori Lightfoot

In an extraordinary collaboration, seven local news organizations are joining forces to examine the first year of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's administration. Managed by the Institute for Nonprofit News, the "Lens on Lightfoot" project includes the Better Government Association, Block Club Chicago, Chalkbeat Chicago, The Chicago Reporter, The Daily Line, La Raza and The TRiiBE. Each participating newsroom will bring its own editorial focus to the initiative, starting today with The Daily Line, which examined the impact of Lightfoot’s elimination of “aldermanic prerogative” — the power of alderman to control permits and licensing in their wards — by Heather Cherone. (Here is the link.) The series of articles will culminate May 20, 2020 — one year after Lightfoot took office.

Carol Marin

Recommended listening: The latest edition of Carol Marin's excellent podcast series, "So You Want to be a Reporter," features interviews with four of the media professionals on my 2019 list of The Most Powerful Women in Chicago Journalism. (Here is the link.) Sharing insights on the business and their careers are Jennifer Lyons, news director of Nexstar Media WGN-Channel 9 and CLTV; Maudlyne Ihejirika, columnist for the Sun-Times; Fran Spielman, City Hall reporter for the Sun-Times; and Tracy Baim, publisher of the Chicago Reader. Marin, who also made the Power 25 list, moderated a town hall last month with 20 of the honorees, sponsored by DePaul University and its Center for Journalism Integrity and Excellence.

Perry Sook

Perry Sook, chairman, president and CEO of Texas-based Nexstar Media Group, paid his first visit Tuesday to WGN 720-AM since his company acquired the heritage news/talk station in its takeover of Tribune Media. In a pep talk to the staff, according to multiple sources, Sook expressed his admiration for the 95-year legacy of WGN and gave no indication that Nexstar might sell off the lone radio station in its portfolio, as has been rumored.

Barry Cronin

Former Sun-Times sportswriter Barry Cronin has been named editor of Chicago District Golfer Magazine. He'll continue to serve as media director for the John Deere Classic and the Chicago Golf Show. "It’s a real honor for me to be able to contribute whatever knowledge and insight I’ve accumulated over the years to help take an already top-quality publication to the next level and continue to serve the needs and interests of Chicago area golfers," Cronin wrote in an email to friends. After 13 years at the Sun-Times, Cronin left in 1995 to become a publicist and launch Cronin Communications, based in Park Ridge.

Tuesday’s comment of the day: Marc Davis: Joe Aaron was the heart and soul of the Chicago Jewish News. I would always turn to the back pages and read his column first. He was he voice of reason in a sea of insanity. I hope that someone will step up and take over his editorial responsibilities, since the CJN is the last weekly Jewish newspaper to be published in Chicago.