Chicago Reader poised to become nonprofit after co-owner gives up fight

Chicago Reader employees protest outside home of Leonard C. Goodman (Photo: WTTW)

The next time some rich guy offers to rescue your newspaper, run the other way.

That's one of the lessons from the fiasco that nearly destroyed the Chicago Reader after 50 years as the city's premier alternative publication. It also could have cost the jobs of 35 employees.

On Tuesday Leonard C. Goodman finally ended a monthslong hissy fit over a column he wrote questioning whether children should be vaccinated for COVID-19. In resigning from the board of the Reader (along with three like-minded members), he allowed the paper to move to nonprofit status — its only path to survival.

Leonard C. Goodman

“We are now at the end of the road," Goodman said in a statement. "We cannot continue the fight without destroying the Reader. I am stepping aside. I will sign off on the sale so that the Reader can transition immediately to NFP [not-for-profit] status. I wish it every success. It was an honor to be part of the Chicago Reader.”

It was a road the Chicago attorney made infinitely rockier through petulance and vanity when he conflated legitimate editorial oversight into a phony crusade about free speech rights and censorship.

Until the latest episode, Goodman had been lauded as a hero along with fellow investor Elzie Higginbottom, who bought the Reader from the Sun-Times for $1 in 2018 and sank a reported $1 million apiece of their own money to keep it afloat.

Now Goodman is more likely to be remembered for bringing the Reader to the brink of extinction before a protest staged outside his home and mounting pressure forced him to concede. That puts him in league with Joe Ricketts, Sam Zell, Michael Ferro and Conrad Black — rich men who seemed to know or care little about journalism but fancied themselves media moguls.

Tracy Baim

With no time to spare, shell-shocked survivors of the Reader were happy to put the ordeal behind them and get back to their vital work.

"I am so thankful to both of the owners of the Chicago Reader, Elzie Higginbottom and Leonard C. Goodman, for their support of the Reader since the fall of 2018," co-publisher Tracy Baim told me.

"While these past few months have been very difficult and exhausting, I am very happy that we now appear to have a resolution. The challenges ahead will continue to be difficult, but we are one step closer to independence and a stronger future for the Reader Institute for Community Journalism."

Board members who resigned along with Goodman Tuesday were Dorothy Leavell, Sladjana Vuckovic and Carol Bell.

Tuesday's comment of the day: David Fell: That bit about the lost [Bill] Jackson tape has me excited. Looking forward to it, Rick Klein!