July 14, 2017

New union owners of The Chicago Sun-Times have assured its editor-publisher that they will not push their views on politics and policy on the newsroom, he said Friday.

Publisher-Editor Jim Kirk reiterated remarks made on local television Thursday as he emailed, “The union leaders who lead the ownership group have assured me and the staff that there will be no interference in the newsroom.”

“It was one of the first questions raised by reporters at the staff meeting Thursday morning and (CFL president) Jorge Ramirez addressed it head-on.”

Kirk was referencing the head of the Chicago Federation of Labor, which is part of the ownership group led by Edwin Eisendrath, a former politician.

There is scant history of union ownership of newspapers, though there have been employee-owned papers, while the CFL itself for many years owned a Chicago AM radio station. In recent years, the largest ESOP was a result of the 2007 sale of Tribune Company to Chicago real estate mogul Sam Zell and is generally considered a disaster as the company wound up in bankruptcy.

On WTTW, the primary public television outlet in Chicago, Kirk had indicated that “we cover labor unions very aggressively, and you can imagine some of the concerns reporters had about what this would mean.”

He also indicated that the paper would save money by moving this fall to the offices of Answers Media, a TV production company headed by Eisendrath. That company does not have any history in traditional journalism and specializes in business-to-business videos, among other products, including building an app for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Kirk did also concede the entire sale process was “unusual.” He was understating matters. The U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust division scotched an initial sale to Tronc, owner of the Tribune, and forced a re-opening of bidding that resulted in formation of the Eisendrath group.

It paid $1 and raised $11.2 million, per the mandate of the government. The $11.2 million is the estimate of projected losses over the next two and a half years.

The group will presumably have to find substantially more capital to invest in the paper, which Kirk says has to find “a sustainable path” and especially upgrade its digital resources and strategy. Answers Media could assist on the digital side.

The previous owners of the paper preferred a deal with Tronc, which prints and distributes The Sun-Times. But, given the government’s concerns over anti-competitive media concentration, it was ultimately left to decide among three alternatives: potentially fight the government in court, close the paper at a cost of about $8 million or limit its losses by taking the $1 from Eisendrath’s group.

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New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S.…
James Warren

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