Unionized editorial workers at the Chicago Reader are intensifying their campaign to convince management that higher wages and strategic investments will keep the publication viable. The campaign, using the slogan “Save the Reader,” is expanding to include advertising and a public rally.
The employees, members of the Chicago News Guild, are asking that supporters of the Reader gather at noon October 6 in front of 350 N. Orleans, the building that contains the paper’s offices. Also, the guild has begun an ad campaign on CTA trains and buses starting this week. The ads ask people to relay to management their support of the Reader, its tradition of investigative and long-form journalism, and its incisive coverage of music, arts, and culture.
Guild members have documented a pattern of disinvestment by the Reader’s owners, Wrapports LLC. Since buying the Reader in May 2012, Wrapports has reduced the paper’s staff by about a third and cut the publication’s pages nearly 40 percent.
The staff reductions primarily have affected operations such as advertising sales and distribution. Most editorial workers, meanwhile, have not had a raise in nearly a decade.
“The media business is tough, but downsizing and paying people substandard wages aren’t paths to success,” said Craig Rosenbaum, executive director of the guild. “We want a contract that will compensate people for excellence and increased workloads. We also want management to pay attention to this valuable asset.”
The October 6 rally is being planned with the support of the Chicago Federation of Labor and other unions. “This is a fight for fair treatment of our members, but it’s also about preserving a voice for progressive journalism at a time when a progressive voice must be heard,” Rosenbaum said.
The Reader has been published since 1971 and is one of the nation’s premier alternative newspapers. It is circulated for free, but much of its content now appears only online at chicagoreader.com.
In an online article explaining the Reader’s plight, award-winning political writer Ben Joravsky said the paper’s survival is at issue. “The Reader’s story during the Wrapports years has two recurring themes: editorial achievement and a baffling pullback of business operations. We need investment so the Reader doesn’t die of malnourishment,” Joravsky wrote.
The employees already have collected more than 5,000 signatures on a petition to support the Reader and have spread the message at public events throughout the summer. Despite negotiations lasting more than a year and a half, the workers have yet to see the Reader’s owners offer anything in improved wages or benefits.
The petition is accessible via the “Save the Chicago Reader” page on Facebook or at actionnetwork.org/petitions/save-the-chicago-reader. Supporters also are invited to contact Bruce Sagan, the Wrapports board member who is overseeing the Reader, by calling 312-321-3127 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wrapports previously was led by Michael Ferro Jr., who in early 2016 donated his stake to a charitable foundation and purchased a controlling interest in the parent company of the Chicago Tribune.
The CTA ad brings the “Save the Reader” message to Red Line trains and to buses with north-side routes.