LAKEVIEW — The Chicago Reader staff took their fight to save the alt weekly to the doorstep of one of the paper’s owners Thursday as a standoff between the two sides continues.
The future of the Reader, founded in 1971, has been in jeopardy since December because an effort to convert the paper into a nonprofit is being stalled by the paper’s board and co-owner Leonard C. Goodman. The staff expects the Reader to run out of money in coming weeks, the paper’s editorial union said.
Reader Editorial Union organizers were joined by Chicago Federation of Labor, Chicago Teachers Union, Chicago News Guild, in their call for Goodman to “free the Reader.” Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and news leaders and readers also protested outside Goodman’s home.
“This is our home,” said Leor Galil, a senior music reporter at the Reader. “When you set a home on fire you do not show that you care about the people who live there. … We’re here because this is worth saving.”
Tiffany Walden, editor-in-chief of the Triibe, a digital publication dedicated to covering the Black experience in Chicago, said the Reader was where she was able to pitch a story —and get paid for it — for the first time.
“Without the Reader … Chicago just would be a much harder place for diverse voices” to get their shot in media, Walden said.
Ramirez-Rosa said the Reader was a safe place for him as a queer young man as he looked to the publication for events where he could “find his community.” He also credited the alt weekly’s in-depth reporting on tax-increment financing with inspiring his policy pushes.
“I can tell you that I don’t think that I would be standing here today as an alderman, leading some of the fights against TIF if it were not for that column in the Chicago Reader,” Ramirez-Rosa said.
The impasse began in November, when Goodman wrote a column about having reservations over vaccinating his 6-year-old daughter against COVID-19. The column generated controversy and led to a backlash on Twitter.
In response, Reader co-publisher Tracy Baim hired an independent fact-checker to review the piece. The fact-checker found 15 inaccurate or misleading statements in the column, according to Poynter, but Goodman disputed the column contains factual errors.
The fact-checker’s findings set off a tense discussion between Goodman and Baim. Baim suggested revising the column and attaching an editor’s note, but Goodman refused, according to documents obtained by Block Club. The column remains in its original format on the Reader’s website.
Goodman, who is 50-50 owner of the Reader with Elzie Higginbottom, has argued his impasse with Reader management is over censorship and free speech. Reader staffers have said the debate is about misinformation and accountability.
Now the sale won’t move forward until Baim resigns, a review of Baim’s independent fact-checker is completed and Goodman is allowed to appoint more members to the Reader’s nonprofit board, according to two resolutions passed by the Reader’s for-profit board.
But Reader staffers worry the publication doesn’t have enough money to last much longer as a for-profit. If it’s allowed to transition into a non-profit, it can access the donations and grants it needs to stick around, union members said.
In a letter to the editor published Tuesday in the Tribune, Goodman claimed that staffers “anger is misplaced.” He did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
“Instead of protesting outside my house, they should tell their bosses to engage with the board, so that the Reader can transition to the nonprofit model everyone embraces,” Goodman said in the Tribune.
At the protest, Sigcho-Lopez said the Reader’s independent voices are needed in the communities he represents. The Reader has a reputation of covering public meetings “that sometimes the corporate media is never there.”
“We cannot let a legacy of 50 years go away because millionaires and billionaires have their own agendas,” Sigcho-Lopez said.
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