New Sun-Times/Reader owner: ‘We have the right voice’ to grow
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The new owners of the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Reader publicly introduced themselves Thursday, pledging the newly acquired newspapers would remain editorially independent and offering hope for their futures.
Speaking at an office space in the West Loop, the investment group divulged few details on the sale process, but offered a relatively bright outlook on the fates of the papers.
“Print [media] is having a tough time,” said former Chicago Ald. Edwin Eisendrath, the leader of the investment group and the CEO of ST Acquisition Holdings LLC. “But we have the right voice, the right skill set, the right investor group to grow even the print subscriptions in Chicago by growing our share of the market. We really think we can do that.”
The investment group, which also includes a coalition of labor unions, acquired the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Reader on Wednesday, staving off a competing bid for the papers by the owner of the Chicago Tribune.
“Getting to today was an enormous undertaking,” Eisendrath said.
The Sun-Times, Reader and the alt-weekly’s syndicated “Straight Dope” column will fold into the same company as Answers Media, “a fully integrated production studio specializing in creative content for broadcast and the web,” according to the company’s website.
Answers Media has done work for companies and organizations that include Toyota, the Chicago History Museum and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Answers Media is housed at 30 N. Racine, the setting of Thursday’s press conference.
Eisendrath hinted that Answers’ digital resources would be made available to the investment group’s new properties.
“In the coming months, as we work to relaunch the Sun-Times, we’ll launch it across a variety of media platforms, and there’s terrific capability here to do that,” Eisendrath said.
The Sun-Times and Reader will also move to 30 N. Racine when the newspapers’ lease expires in November. The Sun-Times has been based at 350 N. Orleans since 2004. The Reader moved in in 2012 after it was acquired by Wrapports.
Addressing the investor group’s overall inexperience working in media, Eisendrath said that other media owners have shown the new owners of the Reader and Sun-Times what not to do.
“We have the benefit of learning from enormous mistakes others have made,” Eisendrath said. “We have to run it as a business. We have to make it sustainable. And we intend to do so.”
Several reporters questioned what, if any, influence the traditionally left-leaning unions, which now own a stake in the Sun-Times, will have on the tone of the paper.
Mike Flannery, a reporter for WFLD-TV, asked new board chairman and head of the Chicago Federation of Labor Jorge Ramirez if the union group’s political endorsements will be “mirrored” in the Sun-Times’ editorial pages.
Ramirez replied, “No” before Sun-Times Publisher and Editor in Chief Jim Kirk explained to Flannery the process by which editorial boards endorse candidates.
“Our interest was not to get involved in the editorial content or the news reporting content,” Ramirez said. “We intend to maintain that and have that wall in between those two entities.”
Among the investors is Sidney “Skip” Herman, a friend of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
In a statement Thursday, Emanuel said: “It’s important to be a two-paper town. We’re a vibrant city. And it’s always important to have a diversity of opinions, interests and perspectives on the news in that effort.”
The new owners wouldn’t discuss the terms of the acquisition Thursday, but a source involved in the transaction said the purchase price of Sun-Times parent Wrapports LLC totaled only $1, the cost of a single copy of the paper.
ST Acquisition Holdings LLC won over the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division — which is responsible for investigating newspaper mergers and oversaw the sale — by securing more than $11.2 million in operating funds to bankroll the company for an undisclosed period.
The Eisendrath group edged out Tronc Inc., which owns the Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and several other newspapers across the country.
Tronc Chairman Michael Ferro — the principal owner in Wrapports before he assumed a controlling interest in Tronc and donated his Wrapports shares to a charitable trust — had long expressed an interest in single ownership of both the Tribune and Sun-Times. Tronc, short for Tribune online content, had announced its intent to buy the Sun-Times in May, setting forward the process overseen by the Justice Department by which others could bid.