Freedom Of The Press, Chicago Style

The controversial cartoon cover.

The newspaper world has changed. It definitely is not what it used to be. The owners of major press have change. Newspaper people don’t run it anymore.

There is a real difference between the alternative press and mainstream press. Digital has been a game changer for all newspapers. Newspaper stories, digital content, should they be the same or should they be different?

There are generational differences in readership. The economy of newspapers has changed. The advertising in newspapers has changed. It is hell to be an independent voice, particularly if mainstream owns you.

The Chicago Reader started as an independent voice with $16,000; the publisher was Robert Roth. It was founded by a group of friends from Carleton College and was a pioneer among alternative weeklies.

The first issue was published October 1, 1971. The Reader had a targeted demographic – they wanted to be the voice of the young and the paper of “now.” It was truly an independent paper, covering politics and entertainment and citizen type stories.

They made lots of money with listings and real estate advertising. They wrote the most interesting stories and a lot of journalists cut their teeth at the paper.

The issues in this city are far too serious to try to squash the press for insight and perspective on the reality of racial politics as they are being played.

The Reader was bought by Wrapports, the owners of the Chicago Sun-Times, in 2012. Would the Reader change, was the question in the journalistic community. Undoubtedly it would. The stories would be more mainstream, many predicted.

In July 2017, a group called ST Acquisition Holdings bought the Chicago Sun-Times, which still owned the Reader. The new company was headed by former Chicago alderman Edwin Eisendrath and several private investors, with the main money backer being the Chicago Federation of Labor union.

So, does that mean with the new ownership, the Sun-Times becomes a union paper? Does that mean we have choice with candidates, as the Chicago Tribune usually supports Republicans?

As the billionaire candidates run for office of Illinois governor and spend millions on mainstream media advertising, do they try to control the message, the editorial and even the cartoons of the media they are advertising with?

Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and 2018 gubernatorial candidate JB Pritzker had some interesting conversations about Black politicians.

The Pritzker Campaign
Well, look at what just happened with the JB Pritzker campaign with a front-page cartoon in the Chicago Reader, under new editorial leadership. Pulitzer Prize winner, former writer for the Chicago Sun-Times and DNA Info Mark Konkol was fired after a very short 10 days at the Reader.

He ran a not so flattering cartoon on the front page under the headline, “JB Pritzker’s African-American Thing.” Konkol was fired by the Sun-Times owners. To me, the cartoon was not so bad. Instead, I think the articles hit too hard.

Article one by freelance writer Adeshina Emmanuel, formerly of DNA Info and the Chicago Reporter, hits hard the now infamous conversation 10 years ago between then Governor Rod Blagojevich and Pritzker as they discuss the “quality” and “political upside” of “African-American politicians” being appointed to the United States Senate Seat vacated by Barack Obama. It is a candid race discussion.

Journalist Adeshina Emmanuel questioned from a Black millennial perspective.

Article two is by Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg titled, “JB Pritzker is (not) a bigot.” This was a balanced viewpoint, point/counterpoint discussion appearing on facing pages.

The third article is also by Adeshina Emmanuel, called, “Black pols stuck in the Democratic machine’s spin cycle explain themselves.” The article looks at the politicians that stood by Pritzker’s side when he apologized for his remarks. It’s critical. And then the editor himself, Mark Konkol, conducts a Q&A with Pritzker on his remarks and other key things. Pritzker has full opportunity to defend himself.

Nice editorial. Controversial editorial. Honest discussion, a non-mainstream take on race. It was the Reader of old that is definitely going to be talked about at the cocktail party. A conversation much needed, but which put people on the carpet, for real.

It was not the usual modern Reader content; you could tell there was a new editor aboard. It was content that should have been in a Black newspaper; content that the white mainstream newspapers wouldn’t dare approach.

When I read the articles, I told some of my journalists friends that either the Reader was coming out and would challenge Black media to step it up, or some heads would roll at the Reader.

Before my journalist friends could find the Reader, heads did roll, over the weekend. The cartoon didn’t get Konkol fired, but the content did…fired by the union-owned Chicago Sun-Times, a union that also backs gubernatorial candidate JB Pritzker.

Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Konkol got fired as new Reader editor after less than a couple of weeks on the job.

Freedom Of The Press
This brings me to the real point. How “free” is Chicago journalism? Will the rich backers, members of the billionaires club, try to control the content to favor candidates, or can the real story be told?

I wrote a column on what I considered Pritzker’s insult, and was told through the grapevine that I would probably not get advertising from the campaign. So be it. I write freely and let the chips, or ads, fall where they may.

The Chicagoland public deserves a free media, with content that explains and critiques the candidates. The Democrats take the Black vote for granted and the Republicans ignore the Black vote repeatedly.

We are considered pawns, or “black things,” which really means “niggers.” Parts of the Black community look like war zones under Democratic leadership. Why? The Black community receives political crumbs. We need to play a much smarter political game and not merely a party game.

Newspapers have a role to play. The play is freedom – freedom of expression, with interviews, perspectives and insights. The new ownership has injured itself because just as the Democrats are challenged with democracy, the Reader has now been challenged with “freedom of the press.”

The issues in this city, this political city, are far too serious to try to squash the press for insight and perspective commentary on the reality of racial politics as they are being played.

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