Publisher’s note: why the Reader is returning to weekly publishing – Chicago Reader

Soon, late in the evening on the fifth of June, a delivery driver will drop a fresh bundle of our beautiful newspapers at one of 1,100 locations across the city. This will mark our return, after a long four years, to publishing the Chicago Reader on a weekly basis. Hell, yes.

First, because Chicago’s creative, civic, and cultural concerns don’t reproduce on a biweekly basis, nor do they circulate equitably from behind an online paywall. From Portage Park to Pullman, Chicago is a living conversation. For the tens of thousands of people who use our printed paper, that conversation doesn’t pause for two weeks so we can recapitulate it. It’s time for the Reader to get back on beat, back in rhythm with the verses and views, pictures and sounds, tastes and takes that make this the best city in the world.

This return will be critical come November when Chicago heads to the polls. The last few elections came and went without a free, printed copy of the Reader to guide people or help them digest the results. Yes, we have a website that’s open 24/7, and succeeding online will ensure our future, but at present the Web isn’t enough—often it’s too much, particularly the online news ecosystem that can be as regressive and frenetic as it is impersonating.

There is still great joy in picking up a paper. It packages the week in a way that a website can’t. We believe printed words and art remain a worthy public service that still have a role to play in the great American experiment that is diverse democracy.

Second, returning to weekly is a piece of a larger Reader puzzle. As we enter yet another phase of technological evolution, we, like many independent newsrooms, are pushing harder to make sure our online spaces are robust, reliable, and dynamically designed in service of our legacy and sustainability. In parallel we’re building plans to open a live space, Reader Station, in partnership with a core Chicago community—more on that soon. We’re also adding research to our toolbox: our first study looks at how the presence or absence of arts and culture journalism impacts society.

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These complementary efforts serve and inform our broader mission as the Reader Institute for Community Journalism: to produce and protect free, safe, public spaces for conversation and presentation, for difference and demonstration, for the bridge-building power of the arts and the power-checking ferocity of a free press.

Third, there’s more money to be made. By publishing weekly we will become a “paper of record” again, allowing us to accept public notices, a consistent stream of dollars that could alone cover the increased printing costs. Additionally, and as a testament to the legacy and standing of the Reader, several advertising partners—current, lapsed, and new—agree that a weekly cadence, combined with an upgraded digital program, better serves their needs.

No, this will not be a windfall. Advertising should produce about half of our $4.5 million budget—not enough to run the Reader, but it doesn’t have to be. The other half comes from the tax-deductible donations we can now accept as a nonprofit. This is still news to some, but in 2019, my predecessor, the legendary Tracy Baim, made the prescient decision to transition the Reader to a 501(c)(3), which created the novel, hybrid revenue model that empowers our flexibility and growth today.

Fourth, it’s in our blood. Our founders, a bold foursome of iconoclasts, created with the Reader a regular, striking, authentic mirror in which Chicago’s people could find themselves, every Thursday. We aim to protect and revive that practice—to be dependable toll-free bridges of discovery that close the distance between Us and Them—and have a damn good time along the way.

Finally, and most important to many of us, we are going weekly because the people who make the Reader—our designers, our salespeople, our communicators, our editors, and our writers—be they full-time or freelance, deserve the best possible vehicles for their work; the best possible shot at more reach, more impact, more reward, and more time to pass on the Reader torch.

This is what our return to weekly is: A commitment to Chicago, to the arts community we adore, to equitable local journalism, to accessible democracy, to my wonderful colleagues—and to you. We love you, Chicago. You are, along with words like “transparency” and “kindness,” one of our guiding principles. As my friend and colleague, editor in chief Salem Collo-Julin, said when I asked them, yet again, why we are doing this: “Because Chicago is joy.”

Solomon Lieberman is CEO & Publisher of the Reader Institute for Community Journalism

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