Sun-Times Media is shuttering seven publications in the Pioneer Press chain of suburban newspapers. The group includes the Oak Park Oak Leaves and River Forest Leaves, but this latest round of cuts doesn't include the two local weeklies. The Pioneer Press publisher says the two tabloids are on solid footing.
Employees got the word last week that the seven newspapers would put out their final edition on Dec. 23. Four of the seven cover Lake County — the Grayslake Review, Gurnee Review, Antioch Review and Lake Villa Review — said Pioneer Press Publisher John Barron. The other three are the Elmhurst Doings, Edison-Norwood Times-Review and Proviso Herald. The latter is produced out of Pioneer Press' Oak Park office at 1010 Lake.
Barron, an Oak Park resident, could not say yet how many jobs might be lost as a result of the closures. That decision will be made some time in January. None of their four offices will close, and he expects that resources will be diverted from some of the seven papers to help focus on areas that have stiff competition, such as Oak Park.
"While it's sad to see these papers close for, clearly, some business reasons, the remainder of Pioneer is very strong, and this is hopefully going to make it a little bit stronger," Barron said. "This, we hope, is going to allow us to refocus some of our resources on some of our papers in what are our traditional, strong, core markets where we have some competition right now, long-term competition. I would put Oak Park in that category, as a Pioneer town that is one of our cores."
Those extra bodies could be diverted not just to producing the newspaper, Barron said, but also in the advertising and circulation departments.
Sun-Times CEO Jeremy Halbreich estimated the total circulation of the seven closing newspapers at about 12,000. Many of the titles were in isolated areas, and Halbreich said some of the Lake County coverage will be picked up in the company's Lake County News-Sun daily newspaper.
Despite rumors, Barron said the two Leaves papers are here to stay.
"It's where I live, so it's not going anywhere," he said. "I'm a big fan of Oak Leaves and pay a lot of attention to it, and it's definitely one of the flagships."
In addition to the closures, The Doings Weekly — which covers Burr Ridge, Willowbrook and Darien — will now cover only Burr Ridge, according to Barron. Altogether Sun-Times Media has about 420 employees, about 100 of which are dedicated to Pioneer Press.
The Sun-Times announced last month that it was closing 11 Sun weekly newspapers, and they closed 12 other Pioneer Press papers last year. The move will leave Pioneer with 32 papers, according to Barron.
In another cost-cutting move, Pioneer Press laid off eight sports reporters last month, including Tim Stablein, an Oak Leaves sports reporter who had been with the company for more than 20 years. Barron declined to comment specifically on Stablein but said the company is shifting to covering high school sports using freelancers.