Chicago is a city that trumpets its past as it tears it down. Across the city, brick and mortar stalwarts that gave the city it's broad shoulders and blue collar ethos are being replaced by glass-lined indoctrinations of what should be. What started with the Sun-Times building being torn down to make room for the Trump Tower monstrosity and the corporate takeover of both it and the Times' competition, the Chicago Tribune appears to finally be on the doorstop of another local journalistic insitiution: The Chicago Reader.
Chicago used to be a four newspaper city. In his legendary career, Mike Royko bounced between three of them: the Sun-Times, Tribune and Chicago Daily News. Today, much of the newsrooms in town have had consistent closed-door policies towards new hires, choosing instead to try retaining established talent evaporating due to increasing cuts. As the Sun-Times has become the 'Sun-Times Network' with little local reporting and the Tribune Company morphs into 'TRONC' one has to wonder where Chicagoans are to turn for a trustworthy, unbiased reporting of the news. The Daily News has been gone since 1978, and today only DNAInfo comes close as a reliable alternative choice to the longstanding Chicago institutions. The Reader, with a younger readership and progressive voice focusing on both the arts and City Hall, has emerged as an important voice in the cavernous emptiness of worthwhile Chicago journalism. Utilizing thoughtful voices with well-worn agency, the weekly tabloid has served as a central voice for a rising young class of thinkers, activists, entrepreneurs and more.
In 2008 we entered the biggest financial collapse since the Great Depression. Crowned 'The Recession,' much of the ripples of the phenomenon have been well-documented: skyrocketing mortgage rates, dwindling savings and overnight losses in the hundreds of thousands. In the years since, we've clawed back to respectability much on the backs of not paying Millenials for work and today stand as almost fully-healed from the gaping wound of insolvency we faced almost a decade ago. A lesser-known effect of that economic downturn was the impact it had on the world of Journalism.
Since about that time, more than fifteen major U.S. newspapers have been shuttered, many soon after being acquired by a larger corporation. In Chicago, the city's two biggest reporting entities: the Tribune and Sun-Times, have been pimped by the bulging pockets of the powers that be. In 2007, as the economy began to dip, local businessman and successful elf Sam Zell bought the Tribune company for $8.2 billion. Nine years later, after many failed attempts to add by subtraction. By 2008, the paper was effectively insolvent, sold off Newsday which would soon stop print publication and filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy before falling into the hand of the Ricketts family, who ironically bought the Cubs away from the Tribune in 2008 for $845 million. Meanwhile, the Sun-Times, run by Wrapports LLC, has essentially run itself into the ground amidst bad decision-making from the top and a lack of foresight for the future. Michael Ferro, the fledgling multi-millionaire who first took on the Sun-Times, transforming it into a shell of its former self while laying off almost all of its photographers and opting for a digitally-based 'network' which diluted local content. Ferro has since left that institution to tear apart the Tribune, which he has transformed into 'Tronc'. If you're not familiar, we'll let John Oliver unpack that bag for you.
Outside of the Sun-Times & Tribune, each of which respectively published the Reader & RedEye, the only truly credible news outlet in town is DNAInfo, itself also run by part of the uber-rich Ricketts family. They apparently weren't enough to keep the Tribune running though, as it was announced last week that Tribune Tower, which has housed the paper since 1929, will be sold, the last of a stripping down process that has left the fourth estate in the Second City bare & naked for all to pimp to their personal proclivities.
The shutting of the Reader, should it happen, will serve as a furtherance of the brain drain that has occurred systematically as objectivity was beaten down by Fox News and clickbait confused what the role of a fact was for millions of Americans. Today, people explain a fact as something they believe in and vote for Donald Trump. In Chicago at least, The Reader has long served as a home for fringe politics and happenings in the city, a print-based gather place for thinkers and culture appreciation outside of River North or the Gold Coast. Without it, our artists, creatives, activists and the rest filling national headlines will have nowhere to celebrate their first cover story, nothing to pin to the walls or refrigerators, no easily-identifiable central hub for the culture they are creating.
In a country where we find ourselves in an increasingly growing separation between haves and have nots, in a country where multimillionaires run for president bragging of utilizing tax loopholes, in a country where citizens are killed by the police and military with little to no consequence, it is more important than ever to establish a true independent voice, a voice of the people. For many decades, the Reader has been just that, and is as in need of a bailout as badly as the banks that received tax dollars almost ten years ago. While corporations bought up publications and used them to their fancy, tossing them aside when they are no longer solvent or lucrative. The Reader needs a bailout, the people need a bailout. Whether or not either will find one remains to be seen.