Editor’s note: There are two factual errors in Mr. Nyberg’s One View.
The Chicago Independent Media Alliance (CIMA) has 69 members representing 85 outlets. Forty-three of those members, the number cited by Nyberg, took part in the organization’s most recent fundraiser. The Chicago Sun-Times is a member of CIMA though it is not currently active in the organization. CIMA represents a mix of nonprofit and for profit newsrooms. Growing Community Media is among CIMA’s active members.
I’m going to argue that Chicago Public Media (WBEZ) merging with Chicago Sun-Times is bad for the Chicago media landscape.
The primary problem is that the most vibrant part of the Chicago media landscape is now nonprofit outlets. Wednesday Journal newspapers (Growing Community Media) are part of Chicago Independent Media Alliance, which includes 43 different nonprofits. Some of these are names that go back decades, e.g. Polish Daily News, the Reader, Streetwise, Windy City Times, etc. Others are much newer to the scene, e.g. Block Club Chicago, City Bureau Chicago, Injustice Watch, etc.
WBEZ and the Sun-Times are big fish in the pond. And when it comes to chasing foundation money, big fish have many advantages. They have larger development staffs (full-time fundraisers) and giving money to recognizable name brands is easier to explain than smaller outlets.
The Sun-Times is failing for reasons that apply to many newspapers. But it’s also failing for reasons that apply to the Sun-Times specifically. It has made bad financial decisions. It’s not a very efficient organization. That is, it spends a huge amount of money for the amount of news/journalism/content it produces. And it long ago lost touch with its audience.
The Sun-Times is largely a megaphone for the rich people who install Chicago’s mayors. From Feb. 24, 2015 until April 7, 2015, the front page of the Sun-Times issued one attack on Chuy Garcia after another, fed to the Sun-Times by the Rahm Emanuel campaign. And there are plenty more examples.
The Sun-Times will be a money pit for the foreseeable future. The risk to the 43 nonprofits that are part of Chicago Independent Media Alliance and future media nonprofits is that the Sun-Times will absorb millions of dollars every year that would be better spent on smaller, more efficient outlets doing higher quality journalism.
If the merger between WBEZ & CST is going forward, the nonprofit media outlets should band together and play hardball.
1. All Chicago Sun-Times investors are wiped out, including the unions.
2. All parties that loaned to Chicago Sun-Times should be paid off by money raised as part of the merger deal. No carrying debt that continues to draw down money available for journalism.
3. All deferred executive compensation goes away or is taken care of as part of the merger deal.
4. The new nonprofit should be limited to renewing grants Chicago Public Media had in 2020. The new nonprofit should not be applying for grants that could be going to other nonprofit media in Chicago.
5. Also, Chicago Sun-Times should be required to retire enough columnists so the average age of CST columnists comes down to the average age of the intended audience.
6. Executive salaries at the new Chicago Public Media should be capped. If they can’t afford mortgages on the North Shore, maybe they shouldn’t live on the North Shore.
The issue of Baby Boomer columnists blocking out younger columnists of more diverse ideologies coming online for 30 years now is a long discussion. But the donors who are bailing out the Sun-Times are the very people who want to limit the political discourse to Clinton Democrats, Bush Republicans, Rauner Republicans and Trump Republicans. There are no options that aren’t pro-cop, pro-developer, pro-racism, pro-war, pro-imperialism and pro-bank.
Taking the position that the Sun-Times should go under is not going to be easy. The people working for nonprofit media outlets have friends at the Sun-Times. But …
The nonprofit sector is fighting over a pie of money. And a unified nonprofit of WBEZ (Chicago Public Media) and Chicago Sun-Times will outcompete smaller nonprofits for foundation money. It’s not realistic for smaller nonprofits to have someone whose full-time job is building relationships with the people who sit on grant committees. And that’s what nonprofit fundraising is. It’s schmoozing the people who get on the committees that recommend which grants to fund.
Carl Nyberg is a Chicago resident who grew up in Oak Park.