The Chicago Reader, the city’s alt-weekly founded in 1971, will be moving to a nonprofit model in 2020. The nation’s first free weekly newspaper joins dozens of newsrooms around the country in pursuing nonprofit status as a stabilizing force for the future of the industry.
A new nonprofit, the Reader Institute for Community Journalism, will be launched in January and purchase the Reader from Elzie Higginbottom and Leonard Goodman, the two owners who saved the newspaper in 2018. Both owners have given extensive support to the Reader and have committed to continue their support into 2020.
The revenues for the newspaper have grown almost 50 percent since the new leadership took over in late 2018. In addition, more than 2,500 people donated more than $130,000 in a membership campaign.
This new model will help the Reader continue its literary and award-winning journalism by opening up more revenue opportunities. The Reader has been swift to criticize those who put profit above public good. Becoming a nonprofit brings the paper fully in line with its values.
“Turning to our diverse reader base for support allows us to remain independent in the truest sense of the word, writing fearlessly about Chicago and speaking truth to power,” said board secretary Jessica Stites. “While the Reader is growing and thriving, we recognize that media is a precarious industry and fortunes can turn quickly. Diversifying revenue streams is proving the way forward for independent media to survive whatever storms may come. Nonprofit status will allow us to fully tap into the enthusiastic support for the Reader throughout Chicago and make it sustainable for decades to come.”
The board of the Reader Institute for Community Journalism will include a mix of former and new Reader board members, and the company’s leadership will remain in place, including publisher Tracy Baim and editors in chief Karen Hawkins and Sujay Kumar. The new board will be announced in early 2020.
The Reader has been working to build a collaborative media environment in the city, trying to work together to lift all boats in independent, community, and ethnic media. These partnerships will continue with a network of papers formed out of the Reader’s work, the Chicago Independent Media Alliance, which will seek to work on editorial and fundraising projects in the coming months and years.
“I am so excited about the opportunities this new move will have for the Reader,” said publisher Tracy Baim. “More media companies are turning nonprofit to expand their support networks. The Reader has a very loyal readership. We believe community-supported journalism is an important part of the future for most independent media, and certainly for the Reader.”
More details on the transition plan will be announced soon.