Chicago Reader owners, board, step down to ward off probable death of 50-year-old all-weekly

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CHICAGO – One of the country’s longest-running alternative weekly newspapers appears to have averted economic collapse after a debate over censorship and misinformation about vaccines threatened to derail the transition to nonprofit status.

Chicago Reader co-owner Leonard Goodman said Tuesday he would step down from the newspaper, which had essentially run out of money, and allow a newly formed nonprofit organization to take control in hopes of keeping it afloat.

“We can not continue the fight without destroying the Reader,” Goodman said in a statement first released by the Chicago Tribune. Goodman, its owner since 2018, had stopped the newspaper’s transition after a staff backlash into a column he published that raised skepticism about children’s coronavirus vaccines.

The reader’s other owner, Chicago developer Elzie Higginbottom, and Bob Reiter Jr., a member of Reader’s nonprofit board, told The Washington Post that they both received notice Tuesday that Goodman had approved the newspaper’s transfer. Goodman did not immediately respond to inquiries from The Post.

“It’s been so much anger and anxiety and frustration,” said Philip Montoro, a longtime Reader editor. “People have been really worried about their livelihoods and their health – and it has been lifted from them.”

Tuesday’s news ends a bitter, months-long dispute that began with Goodman’s column in November.

A fight over a vaccine column could kill one of the oldest all-week magazines

“We have been kept in the dark about the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness by our government and its partners in Big Pharma,” he wrote. “As a parent, I will demand more answers before I just take their word for it.”

But Goodman also cited several dubious sources who raised red flags for Reader employees. In response, publisher Tracy Baim hired an external fact-checker who marked more than a dozen of Goodman’s claims as misleading or false. Goodman resisted any change, Baim said, and in the end, his column remained untouched with no corrections or clarifications.

Still, Goodman’s allies in the newspaper’s board called it an attempt at censorship and raised concerns about freedom of speech and governance at the newspaper. They insisted on changes at Reader related to censorship that delayed the weekly magazine’s transition to a nonprofit organization. The dispute culminated last week with Reader employees and supporters starting a protest rally in front of Goodman’s home.

Goodman, a prominent Chicago lawyer, and Higginbottom bought Reader in 2018 from the Chicago Sun-Times for a nominal $ 1 with the goal of saving the newspaper from closure. Higginbottom sided with the staff in their fight against Goodman. A statement from his office on Tuesday said Higginbottom “greatly appreciates everything Len Goodman has done to save The Reader over the last many years and looks forward to what the nonprofit will deliver.”

Three board members in line with Goodman also said they would resign, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The nonprofit arm of Reader could resume fundraising efforts and the search for grants, Baim said. She said she expected the reader’s transition to a nonprofit to be completed within the next week.

Readers, meanwhile, spent the day preparing for the next print edition – halting plans to hold another protest in front of Goodman’s home.

“We are not going to be burned here,” Montoro said, sounding almost disbelieving. “It’s really over. We really won.”

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