Chicago Reader formally completes transition to nonprofit

CHICAGO — Sale documents were signed May 16, 2022, to transfer ownership of the Chicago Reader to the Reader Institute for Community Journalism, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Elzie Higginbottom and Leonard C. Goodman, who purchased the Reader from the Chicago Sun-Times in 2018 for $1, have sold the archives and other assets of the Reader to RICJ for a token amount. The board of the nonprofit voted to approve the purchase May 13.

“We are excited about this next phase of the Chicago Reader,” said RICJ Board Chair Eileen Rhodes. “The challenge is still steep, but we have a committed group of board and staff who are ready to lead this legendary media outlet into whatever the future holds.”

The Chicago Reader was founded in 1971. It is believed to be the nation’s first free weekly newspaper. It has changed ownership multiple times over the last decade, losing more than $1 million a year when Higginbottom and Goodman stepped in to save it. Tracy Baim, who started her work in Chicago community journalism in 1984, was brought in as publisher in 2018.

“I want to say how grateful I am to both Higginbottom and Goodman,” Baim said. “We would not be here today without their support.”

The Reader has had to weather several large crises since 2018. “First we had to re-build relationships with advertisers,” Baim said. “Next, we launched the campaign to create a nonprofit. Then we were hit with the impact of COVID-19 on our business and the lives of our team. And finally, for the past few months, we have had to push hard for independence. The staff, union employees, and the nonprofit board all worked together to make this transition successful. Through it all, our primary goal has been to save the Chicago Reader.”

With its base in Bronzeville in an office donated by Higginbottom, the award-winning Reader team has doubled in size since 2018. It has also diversified its staff, freelancer base, and vendors. The distribution has expanded deeper into the south, southwest, and west sides, with a print run of 60,000 biweekly to almost 1,200 locations. There is a continued push to diversify both its team and its coverage to better reflect the city of Chicago.

The Reader has multiple ways for the community to support its work. As a free paper in print and online, it never charges for content. Individuals can become monthly members for as little as $5 a month or make a one-time donation. See chicagoreader.com/donate. Businesses and individuals can also advertise in print and online. See chicagoreader.com/ads. A new online self-serve classifieds portal is launching soon.

The Reader is hosting the annual convention of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia July 21-23. See 2022.aan.org.

For more information on the Chicago Reader, see chicagoreader.com.

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