Photo of Tracy Baim by GlitterGuts

CHICAGO — The board of directors of the Reader Institute for Community Journalism (RICJ), publishers of the Chicago Reader, has announced that Tracy Baim is stepping down as president and publisher at the end of 2022. Baim was hired in the fall of 2018 to save the legendary Reader newspaper—just two days before it was going to be shut down by its then-owner, the Chicago Sun-Times.

The board of directors of RICJ will hire a national firm to conduct a public search starting this month.

During her tenure, Baim ushered in a new era for the 51-year-old alt paper, stewarding the Reader through the COVID-19 pandemic, leading the 50th anniversary, and establishing the nonprofit Reader Institute for Community Journalism. Baim brought both stability and innovation to the Reader, reviving the paper’s tradition of investigative journalism, expanding the diversity and reach of coverage, and forging new partnerships across Chicago’s media landscape through helping to found the Chicago Independent Media Alliance (CIMA).

“Tracy has been an incredible and tireless steward of RICJ and the Reader and a pillar of local media more generally,” said RICJ board chair Eileen Rhodes. “In addition to her four decades of media experience, her contributions to Chicago’s LBGTQ community are enormous: by the time Tracy joined the Reader in 2018, she’d cofounded the LGBTQ+ newspaper Windy City Times in 1985, founded several other community newspapers, authored or co-authored 12 books on LGBTQ+ history, and led or co-led numerous community initiatives including the 2006 Gay Games and 2013 March on Springfield for Marriage Equality. She has received numerous honors and awards for her journalism, political activism, and community service, including the Studs Terkel Award, induction into Chicago’s LGBT Hall of Fame, the Society of Professional Journalists Chicago Hall of Fame, and the NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists Hall of Fame. We thank her for her leadership, look forward to her continued support of the Reader, and wish her well in her next role.”

“After four intense years, the Reader is stronger and larger than it has been in a decade, and it is time to turn the reins over to a new CEO and publisher. I will continue to help the Reader in any way that I can,” said Baim. “It has been the honor of my life to do this work. I feel the Reader is now strong enough to build to its next phase, with fresh leadership. The years-long journey to non-profit status, including a contest around ownership, has taken a lot out of me, but there is much more to do. As I enter my 38th year in community media I am excited to get back to writing and to uplifting the ecosystem of journalism overall.”

Among the highlights under Baim’s leadership:

  • Stabilizing and increasing the Reader’s annual budget: The Reader was singularly dependent on advertising revenue. Now, more than 35% of funds are from foundations, memberships, donors, events, and other new revenue sources.
  • The Reader’s journalists won dozens of awards from local and national organizations, including the Society of Professional Journalists, the Chicago Journalists Association, and the Association of Alternative Newsmedia.
  • The Reader significantly improved its digital presence through a new website and the launch of digital advertising tools and branded content. Digital downloads average 4,500 per issue and the website reaches more than one million monthly.
  • The 2018 Reader staff of 17 included just one person of color and little other diversity; it is now 38 people, with 38% people of color, 51% LGBTQ+, 54% female-identifying, 30% male, 11% nonbinary (11% chose not to answer on gender, some answers overlapping). 
  • The Reader increased its print run from 50,000 to 60,000 and has diversified its nearly 1,200 delivery locations to more south, southwest, and west side locations.

“As the first woman and first openly gay person to lead this 51-year-old, award-winning newspaper as president, I am very excited about what comes next for RICJ and the Reader. The team that leads the Reader and RICJ is incredible,” Baim said. “I am confident that working in concert with a new leader they will take  the Reader to even greater heights. Like any good relay runner, I am ready with a steady hand to pass the baton to the next-generation CEO and publisher.”