A new day, a new dawn and a sigh of relief has washed over the employees at the Chicago Sun-Times as the sale of the paper bypassed media giant Tronc, Inc. The parent company of the Chicago Tribune, Tronc was the first to make a bid for the paper after it posted a full-page ad in May.
The Chicago Sun-Times has been in existence for 177 years and has survived challenging times as the demand for digital access and lay-offs over the years have added pressure to keep up with the demands of market changes in an industry that is led by followers, video blogs and social media impressions.
The daily is one of the last physical newspapers that delivers hard-hitting news to the thousands of loyal subscribers often targeting less conservative and diverse readership. To witness another great institution fold into the growing monopoly of publications whose voices don’t necessarily reflect the city’s cultural make-up was considered tragic.
So, Former 43rd Ward Alderman Edwin Eisendrath and a group of diverse investors formed ST Acquisition Holdings and purchased the second largest paper in the region. The daily was purchased for $1 but required additional funding valued at $11.2 million. The Chicago Reader is also part of the package deal.
“I think it began like so many people. First off, it wasn’t just my idea. When I ran into the leadership of the Chicago Federation of Labor they were also interested in it and we came together on this,” Eisendrath said. “I can tell you how I came to it, but they may have a different answer on how they came to the decision.
“For me, this was about thinking about our country and our democracy and knowing that we had two big presidential elections since Barack Obama was elected and now Trump. Americans were really voting for change.”
The investor group of ST Acquisition Holdings purchase of Wrapports LLC, the Sun-Times parent company, includes several labor unions along with wealthy business people including attorney Len Goodman and real estate mogul Elzie Higginbottom.
Eyebrows were raised by the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division on Tronc’s bid and promptly closed its investigation when the purchase was finalized by the new investors’ purchase on July 12.
Eisendrath says “the group is not like your normal turnaround team.” He feels it reflects a broad scope of Chicago’s economy.
“It’s a real mix. We all came together because we love this city and we understand this city and we’re committed to it.” In the long tradition of Chicago’s news circuits, it is vital to bring more engagement to stimulate their interests. As he moves forward as the new CEO, he says “building a successful news organization for people who read the news” is essential to their survival and developing a new business model.
The former HUD administrator references the Defender’s history as an example.
“In its heyday, the Defender was all over parts of America; people trusted it to tell stories that no one else was going to tell. They would be true and the stories would be genuine and feel right. That was a really important time for the Defender and it meant a lot in the lives of Americans. It played a huge role in the migration patterns—that’s how powerful trust is in a news organization,” Eisendrath explains.
In bringing together a collective group of individuals representing different interests—it can hopefully maintain the common voice of the working class. This presidential election has demonstrated how real news can be compromised—disrupting the trust of readers.
“You’ve seen since then there’s a whole breakdown, we don’t really trust what they’re telling us about the world or about ourselves. I thought very hard about that. [I thought about] the struggles that everybody goes through every day, the hard work people endure in Chicago, what they go through to get to work in the snow, hot summer days and through the storms in order to get the job done,” said Eisendrath. “They see somebody pay for something their doing, taking credit for their work. They seem forgotten. Nobody notices it. These are the lives that most people lead. When they look at the news, it doesn’t feel genuine to them so there’s nothing to trust.”
He admits with new ownership, there will be changes in order to survive and compete in how people receive and interpret news.
“There’s diversity in our investment group. Mr. Higginbottom is one of our investors. It’s really important and it should be important to Chicago. That’s not happened before at a major paper like this. The chairman of my board, Jorge Ramirez, leads the board and he’s Latino. That hasn’t happened before,” he adds. “We know Chicago and I’m not sure that’s true of all of the news organizations in this city in the same way. We’re passionate about this and we’re really determined. This is our ‘north star’ making sure that our stories are genuine for the people of this city.”