Tracy Baim, whose tenure leading the Chicago Reader has been marked by battles to stabilize the alternative publication and broaden its revenue sources, said Friday she will step down as its president and publisher by the end of the year.
Baim said she wants to turn over the Reader to fresh leadership, do more writing and engage in other work to help Chicago journalism. She said she turns 60 in January.
“So I told my board to start looking, and they will begin that search next week,” Baim tweeted. “I’ve been pushing for more resources for journalism locally and nationally and feel that work has really been paying off.”
The Reader is owned by a newly formed nonprofit, the Reader Institute for Community Journalism, that Baim helped establish. The organization issued a release praising Baim’s accomplishments, saying she has saved and strengthened the 51-year-old publication by securing foundation and donor support.
Baim came to the Reader in 2018 and already had a long record in community journalism that included founding Windy City Times in 1985 and chronicling the history of Chicago’s LGBTQ community. Her arrival at the Reader coincided with its sale by the Sun-Times to real estate investor Elzie Higginbottom and attorney Leonard Goodman, who agreed to cover its financial losses.
Earlier this year, Goodman, angry over attempted editing of a column he wrote for the Reader, blocked Baim’s effort to make the Reader a nonprofit. His objections threatened to shut down the publication. But after a more than four-month dispute, Goodman capitulated. The Reader became a nonprofit in May.
It found a lifeline that other publications, including the Sun-Times, have reached for as traditional advertising sources have dwindled.
Baim said she’s managed to more than double the Reader’s staff to 38 people and that the free publication is now breaking even after losing about $1 million a year.
“I fought one of the owners to make it a nonprofit,” Baim said on Twitter, “and tap-danced my way to dollars during a pandemic that cut off most of our revenue. … I feel I have accomplished everything I have set out to do.”
In a subsequent interview, Baim said the Reader’s travails amounted to “a decade’s worth of battles in four years” but that she’s achieved enough to hand the publication to someone else. “I think I was the right person at the right time. I do think there is another right person for the next phase,” Baim said.
She said more than 35% of its revenue is now from donations, events and other non-advertising sources.
The Reader’s print edition, formerly a weekly but now issued every other week, has been increased to 60,000 copies from 50,000 and its distribution has expanded to more South and West side locations, she said.
Her departure will mean the Reader will have two top roles to fill. Co-publisher and editor Karen Hawkins left the Reader in June.
Baim said she expects a successor for Hawkins will be chosen by the end of September. While Baim is aiming for a year-end departure, she said she will be available as long as needed to help a new editor and publisher.