Two of the first Reader covers from 1971

“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.” In these trying times, those words from H.G. Wells are as relevant today as when he wrote them in 1945.

The Chicago Reader has had to do some pretty heavy adaptation since the founders sold it to Creative Loafing 13 years ago. It changed hands several times, ending up paired with the Chicago Sun-Times until 2018, when Elzie Higginbottom and Leonard Goodman purchased it for $1 two years ago this week. The duo have done the heavy lift of underwriting its expenses, and supporting our vision.

Now, the Reader, believed to be the first free weekly in the U.S., is in a marathon race to make it to our 50th anniversary in October 2021. We have an amazing team of longtime staff paired with newer people, all of them working hard to keep this legacy paper thriving. But we knew we also needed to make some big changes for the long haul.

The cover of this week’s Reader, Volume 50, Issue 1

Several months ago, before COVID-19 caused the shutdown of much of the economy, including our advertisers, the Reader applied to the IRS for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, through a newly created Reader Institute for Community Journalism (RICJ). In September, the IRS awarded nonprofit status to RICJ. By early 2021, we will make the full transition to nonprofit.

What does this mean? For our readers, we hope it won’t even be noticeable. We will continue providing in-depth journalism covering all parts of the Chicago area. For our advertisers, it should also be seamless. What will change is our ability to get increasing support from a wider range of people and foundations, those who want to support nonprofit journalism for all that it does to make a city better and its government more accountable.

The transition will take a few months. But we are excited about the future, and we are also very grateful to the owners, Elzie and Len, for saving the Reader. Adapt or perish, indeed.

For ways to support the Reader, see chicagoreader.com/support.