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Chicago is still a two-newspaper town. That distinction was in doubt until a group of investors bought the struggling Chicago Sun-Times last week. The move kept the parent company of the Chicago Tribune from taking over the Sun-Times. The new owners include local labor unions, which raises questions about whether the Sun-Times will begin to lean further left. Here's NPR's David Schaper.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: With so many of us getting our news these days on smartphones, tablets and other devices, it's easy to forget that there's a daily meeting at newspaper offices...
MIRIAM: This is Miriam.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Miriam?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hey, Miriam.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's us.
SCHAPER: ...To decide which stories go on what page in print.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Page two tomorrow will probably be Mary's violence column.
SCHAPER: This is the late afternoon editorial meeting at the Chicago Sun-Times, the city's oldest daily newspaper, having been around since the 1840s. Favored by commuters historically with shorter articles and a smaller, easier-to-read size, the Sun-Times has been considered more of a newspaper for working men and women compared to the bigger, deeper-pocketed and more conservative Chicago Tribune. And the scrappy Sun-Times has been fighting for survival in a rapidly changing media environment. But editor and publisher Jim Kirk says there's still a large audience in Chicago hungry for the kind of reporting the Sun-Times does.
JIM KIRK: I think still in cities, news is local. People want to know what's going on in city hall. They want to know what's going on in Springfield. They want to know what's going on the neighborhoods, in crime, in education issues. Those are the most important things. And that's what we cover.
SCHAPER: Nonetheless, the newspaper's future seemed grim and Tronc, the parent company of rival Tribune, tried to purchase the Sun-Times in May. But the Justice Department stepped in, raising antitrust concerns, and put the Tribune deal on hold to seek other potential buyers. In came a group of investors almost as diverse as the city itself that includes lawyers, a developer, a retired TV anchor and the Chicago Federation of Labor. They bought the Sun-Times last week for a dollar, but are also committing more than $11 million to cover the paper's operating costs over the next couple years. The group is led by a businessman and former city alderman, Edwin Eisendrath.
EDWIN EISENDRATH: The newspaper industry's gone through a horrible decade from a business perspective. But the news business is more interesting than ever.
SCHAPER: With the Trump administration in Washington and always a lot of political intrigue in Chicago, Eisendrath says it's vitally important to keep a second newspaper strong to counterbalance the conservative Tribune with a different perspective.
EISENDRATH: And that is one that has the backs of everyday working men and women in Chicago.
SCHAPER: But with local unions that represent some 500,000 people in Chicago's labor force as part of the financial weight behind the paper, does that mean the newspaper will be pushed to the left politically? Eisendrath says no.
EISENDRATH: We are going to maintain a firewall between the editorial side and the ownership side.
SUSY SCHULTZ: I think it's great news for Chicago.
SCHAPER: Former Sun Times reporter and editor Susy Schultz now teaches and trains community journalists for the nonprofit Public Narrative. She says Chicago has a thriving broadcast and digital journalism scene that goes far beyond the newspapers.
SCHULTZ: But the two papers are also a standard bearer. When you have two papers that are competing against each other, you get better news, you get better stories because you have competition.
SCHAPER: Schultz says Sun-Times journalists themselves will need to push back against any bias if the unions or any of the other new owners try to influence coverage. But she and others are optimistic that a once-dark future for journalism in Chicago is now much brighter. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
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