After months of drama that threatened its future, the Chicago Reader said Tuesday that its sale to a new nonprofit organization is complete.
The Reader said the sale documents were signed Monday. Outgoing owners Elzie Higginbottom and Leonard Goodman sold the Reader, a survivor from the heyday of alternative or “underground” newspapers, to the Reader Institute for Community Journalism.
Goodman had blocked the long-planned sale to RICJ for months. Angry over the Reader’s attempted fact-checking of a column he wrote for it dealing with COVID-19 vaccinations, Goodman made various demands that could have killed the sale and forced the Reader to close.
The dispute put about 35 jobs at stake, including those of 18 writers and editors in the Chicago News Guild labor union. The staffers took part in a public campaign that drew attention to Goodman and the Reader’s predicament.
Last month, Goodman abruptly dropped his demands, acknowledging, “We cannot continue the fight without destroying the Reader.” As part of a nonprofit, the free biweekly can now seek foundation support and other donations.
Publisher and President Tracy Baim said the sale was for a token $100, an amount set for accounting reasons. Higginbottom and Goodman purchased the Reader in 2018 from the Chicago Sun-Times for $1. At the time, the Reader’s losses were up to $1 million a year, she said.
“I want to say how grateful I am to both Higginbottom and Goodman,” Baim said. “We would not be here today without their support.”
Baim said the Reader, founded in 1971, has diversified its staff and freelancer base and expanded distribution on the city’s South, Southwest and West sides, with a press run of 60,000 copies. It has an office in Bronzeville donated by Higginbottom, a real estate investor.
“We are excited about this next phase of the Chicago Reader,” said Eileen Rhodes, chair of RICJ. “The challenge is still steep, but we have a committed group of board [members] and staff who are ready to lead this legendary media outlet into whatever the future holds.”
Rhodes is president at Higginbottom’s real estate firm, East Lake Management.
RICJ’s board will operate without three appointees aligned with Goodman. They resigned last month in protest over the handling of the column.
Goodman, a criminal defense lawyer, had written about the ethics of having his six-year-old daughter vaccinated. After it was published in November, questions were raised about assertions in it, and the Reader hired an outside fact-checker, a step Goodman likened to censorship. Baim said it was a legitimate editorial response to criticism of a published piece.
No changes were made in the column and it remains available on the Reader’s website.