On stronger footing, the Chicago Reader hires a CEO and publisher

The nonprofit organization that owns the publication has hired Solomon Lieberman to succeed Tracy Baim, who said last summer she wanted to step down.

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Tracy Baim with Solomon Lieberman, who replaces her as publisher and CEO of the Chicago Reader.

Tracy Baim with Solomon Lieberman, who replaces her as publisher and CEO of the Chicago Reader.

Sarah Joyce

The board that runs the Chicago Reader said Wednesday it has hired a CEO and publisher to succeed Tracy Baim, who despite a brush with disaster led the stalwart of the old alternative press era into a period of growth and financial stability.

The Reader Institute for Community Journalism said it hired Solomon Lieberman to lead the 51-year-old publication. Baim, who took over at the Reader in 2018, decided last summer that she wanted to quit this year after 39 years as a community journalist.

“We are very excited about the media savvy, passion and business-development acumen that Solomon brings to this job,” RICJ board chair Eileen Rhodes said. “He has worked in nonprofit Chicago journalism and built a successful nonpartisan organization with national reach.”

Lieberman was founding executive director of the Institute for Political Innovation, a think tank for nonpartisan election reform. He previously worked for Chicago’s Better Government Association, most recently as vice president of strategy and civic engagement.

“I keep pinching myself,” Lieberman said in the Reader’s media release. “I get to follow Tracy Baim’s lead, serve a beautiful, interdependent community of makers, members, readers, leaders, business owners and donors, and support community journalism at its finest.”

He will start the job around the middle of this month.

Baim, co-founder of Windy City Times, took over the Reader in 2018 when it became independent of the Sun-Times. She led a conversion to nonprofit ownership in 2022, allowing the free publication to seek grants and other contributions. The Sun-Times also followed that strategy to deal with declines in traditional revenue sources for news media.

In the Reader’s case, the conversion was complicated by the refusal of a former owner, attorney Leonard Goodman, to authorize the switch. Goodman was angry about attempted editing of a column he wrote for the Reader about vaccines.

He held up the transfer for more than four months while the Reader was running low on cash but then relented after staffers arranged protests. Reader editorial workers, like those at the Sun-Times, belong to the Chicago News Guild labor union.

Baim said she has strengthened the Reader’s business operations, tripling its revenue, more than doubling its number of employees and expanding print and online readership.

In announcing her plans to step aside, Baim told the Sun-Times last August, “I fought one of the owners to make it a nonprofit 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.”

The RICJ said it hired Lieberman after a nationwide search by Morten Group, a Chicago-based executive search firm.

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