Chicago News Guild rebuffs attempt at print news monopoly
"No Chicago News Monopoly" Facebook page

CHICAGO—Tronc, formerly known as Tribune Publishing, is looking to expand its media empire in the city of Chicago. It would seem that owning the Chicago Tribune (the paper with the most circulation in the city), and hundreds of other publications across the country, is simply not enough. On May 15, the Chicago Sun-Times (the second biggest news paper by circulation) ran a notice on their front page indicating that their parent company, Wrapports LLC, is up for sale and that Tronc was looking to place a bid.

Wrapports also owns the Chicago Reader, Chicago’s famous alt-weekly, the editorial staff of which has been in negotiations for over two years with Wrapports. News of the potential sale will likely delay those efforts even more.

In a way, the attempt by Tronc to take over the Sun-Times is a kind of homecoming. The current owner of Tronc is Michael Ferro, a millionaire investor who had previously held a controlling share of Wrapports. However,  the Department of Justice will have the final say. In March 2016, the U.S. Justice Department sued Tronc (then Tribune Publishing) to stop it from acquiring two Southern California news papers.

“If this acquisition is allowed to proceed, newspaper competition will be eliminated and readers and advertisers in Orange and Riverside Counties will suffer,” Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer said of the matter.

The Chicago News Guild, the collective bargaining representative of the editorial staffs of the Chicago Sun-Times and Reader, has similarly said that if Tronc is allowed to move forward unchallenged, the sale would result in an effective print news monopoly in the city. In an attempt to bring this issue to the grassroots, the Chicago News Guild has started an online petition to ask the Department of Justice Antitrust Division to slow the sale and allow more time for potential bidders to come forward.

“Each publication serves unique audiences within the city’s diverse communities, and sustaining multiple, independent voices in Chicago journalism should be a greater priority than maximizing returns for investors in Tronc, Wrapports or any other potential owner,” reads part of the preamble of the petition. Supporters of the Chicago News Guild have been circulating the petition on social media using the hashtag #NoNewsMonopoly.

“The Guild wants anybody but Tronc,” said Dave Roeder, consultant for the union, “because of the antitrust concerns, the DOJ will be the arbiter of the sale. We’ve asked them for flexibility and for more time to allow entities to make a strong bid. It seems like they have responded and that Wrapports  has responded as well. We’re taking a strong stance for independence and diversity in journalism.”

Since the publishing of the petition, the deadline for bidders to come forward has been pushed back twice. The initial deadline of May 31 was pushed back to June May 5. As of today, the deadline has been pushed back to June 19.

News Guild members also took physical copies of the online petition to The People’s Summit and the Printer’s Row Literature Fest (a yearly event sponsored by the Chicago Tribune).

According to Robert Feder, a Chicago media reporter, “the only confirmed potential competing bidder is a group led by former Chicago Alderman Edwin Eisendrath, who is working with a coalition of area unions, including the Chicago Federation of Labor.” There may be others, as potential bidders are not required to go public before placing their bids.

“We believe the Eisendrath group will be making a strong bid,” said Roeder, “We don’t know if others will be coming in with separate bids as well, but that’s possible. Our members are strong in their beliefs that both the Sun-Times and the Reader have to be kept out of Tronc’s hands. Tronc will have no incentive to continue operating those titles independently, especially the Sun-Times.

“And the deadlines have been shown to be flexible. If someone like Warren Buffet came to the Department of Justice an hour before the end of the day on Monday, they’d likely push the bid deadline back again.”

Andy Grimm, court reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, told People’s World that the Sun-Times has been through a lot of “shocks and near-death experiences” in the last decade.

“I’m one of the folks who thinks that being sold to your largest competitor wouldn’t be a bad thing in more profitable times,” said Grimm, “but since both papers aren’t facing good times it doesn’t make the sale a good situation.

“We’re a scrappy little paper and everyone wants to see the Sun-Times survive and thrive.”

Grimm and the Guild ultimately wish to see a commitment to “investing and keeping [the Sun-Times] as independent as possible.”

“Whether the owner is Tronc or one of the investor groups that’s out there. We want to continue doing the important work of being a watchdog in a city with no shortage of news,” said Grimm, adding, “It is hard times for the media, the traditional media, but we do important work. People should be concerned about the precedent this sets, certainly if they live in Chicago but also if they live any place with multiple news papers.”

Click here to find the petition being circulated by the Chicago News Guild.


CONTRIBUTOR

Patrick J. Foote
Patrick J. Foote

Patrick Foote is a staff writer at the People's World. At the University of Central Florida, he worked with the Student Labor Action Project organizing around the intersection of student and worker issues. He would go on to work in the labor movement in such organizations as Central Florida Jobs with Justice, AFSCME Council 79, and UFCW Local 21.

He is currently a proud activist with the Chicago News Guild. He's all about weird music, bourbon, and making powerful people uncomfortable.

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