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At a time when local journalism has never mattered more, we’re thankful

The April 23, 2020, cover of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Sun-Times Media

This newspaper, like news organizations across the country, recently received money through the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses.

We welcome this, and we’re grateful for it. But our share, $2.7 million, won’t be nearly enough.

That’s why, we’ve been told, our leading group of investors also has put additional money into Sun-Times Media in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Why? Because delivering quality journalism to our city and our region has never been more important. The record readership we’ve seen in recent weeks at, the Sun-Times e-paper and through thousands of new digital subscribers confirms that you, our readers, are looking to us now more than ever.

As a public service, our newsroom is providing select COVID-19 coverage for free, including stories on where to get tested, a running update of virus-related news developments and a variety of graphics that track cases, deaths and other statistics. Being able to do this work means the world to all 164 of our full- and part-time employees, including not only our journalists but also our teams of sales, marketing, circulation, information-technology and finance professionals.

Pandemic taking toll on media industry

But we can’t ignore that even before the virus became a tipping point in our industry, wreaking havoc on advertising revenues for many media companies, things weren’t exactly going smoothly. Since mid-March, continued advertising and print circulation declines have forced some 33,000 workers at news companies nationwide to be laid off or be furloughed — or see their pay cut, according to The New York Times.

We haven’t had to make emergency cuts like that, and we hope to avoid them. Two of our competitors, the Chicago Tribune and Daily Herald, have. It troubles us that those cuts are hitting at a time like this, and we’re hoping that all three of our organizations can persevere. The more journalism in Chicago, the suburbs and the rest of Illinois, the better.

Just three years ago, the future of our own paper was in deep, deep doubt. In May 2017, Tribune Publishing, then known as Tronc, announced it wanted to add us to its large group of papers, which now includes the Tribune, New York Daily News and Baltimore Sun. A group of labor organizations, philanthropists and businesspeople banded together to keep our voice — Chicago’s second voice — in the hands of a diverse group of Chicagoans. Then, a year ago, additional investors stepped in and provided more funding.

Significant progress

Let’s be clear: The Sun-Times hasn’t turned a profit throughout any of this — and the continued additional funding provided by our lead investor group since the COVID-19 crisis began will be well in excess of the $2.7 million forgivable loan that the federal government has provided.

But we have made significant progress, building a bigger audience, a better digital presentation and winning a series of national journalism honors along the way, including, most recently, a first-place National Headliner Award for photographer Ashlee Rezin Garcia and second-place National Headliner for the work you see on this editorial page. We believe we’re well on our way to reporting, writing, photographing, videoing and podcasting toward the sustainable future our investors and readers envision.

Other media companies also have gotten Paycheck Protection Program money. The Seattle Times told Reuters it has received $9.9 million. The Tampa Bay Times and affiliated publications have gotten $8.5 million. Axios disclosed it is getting just shy of $5 million, saying, “We are in the somewhat unique position of being both a media company, which covers government and business, and a job-creating small business with a national presence. So we wanted to be fully transparent about our thinking.”

Well said. The same applies to us, on a local level.

An imperfect stimulus plan

The initial round of paycheck-protection money enabled small businesses to borrow 2.5 times their average monthly payroll, up to $10 million, for up to eight weeks. The $349 billion program ran dry in 13 days, but Congress replenished it on Thursday with a $320 billion-plus extension praised by President Donald Trump.

We realize the program isn’t perfect. The New York Times reported Thursday that banks administering the loans have tended to favor larger clients — a small business is defined as anything under 500 employees — rather than just mom-and-pop shops. Congress is attempting to address that inequity this time around by setting aside $60 billion for loans to be processed by community banks and smaller financial institutions.

There also are concerns that the next $320 billion-plus in funds is already spoken for because there are so many applications in the pipeline, the Associated Press reported.

Companies with staffs larger than 500 — including many newspapers, TV stations and radio stations owned by large chains — are ineligible for any aid simply because of their size.

Here at the Sun-Times, what matters most to us now is to use every dime of this new money, from all sources, including your subscriptions, to continue to provide the fair, solid and informed journalism that a great city — our city — must have.

Now more than ever.

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