CHICAGO – An investment group led by a former Chicago alderman and a coalition of labor unions are the new owners of the Chicago Sun-Times, officials announced Thursday in an unusual deal that revived questions about media ownership and influence over coverage.
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Officials with ST Acquisition Holdings LLC, including former City Council member Edwin Eisendrath and representatives from the Chicago Federation of Labor, detailed the agreement at a news conference, billing themselves a "unique alliance" to preserve a newspaper that's faced financial troubles over the years.
"We believe in protecting the institution of journalism itself as well amplifying the diversity of voices and perspectives of Chicago stories, both locally and nationally," said CFL President Jorge Ramirez, who will serve as chairman of the newspaper and who noted the city's strong union roots. "We're turning this paper back over to its people."
Eisendrath, who left the City Council in 1993 when he was appointed to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development post, submitted a bid last month after Sun-Times owner Wrapports LLC announced it would enter into discussions with Tronc Inc., which owns the rival Chicago Tribune, to acquire the paper.
He said he was concerned that if Tronc took over the newspaper, the sale would lead to the Sun-Times' demise, even though Tronc promised to run two separate papers. Tronc also owns the Los Angeles Times and other major newspapers.
Experts called the deal rare, particularly with labor union involvement, something that would be heightened even further in union-friendly Chicago.
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In leading up to the sale, the federation characterized the newspaper as "progressive but not elite," which fit with the "the strong vision we have for the future of this paper." CFL is made up of more than 300 affiliated unions in the city and Cook County from plumbers to teachers, representing roughly 500,000 members.
"To what degree do they chose to exert influence over the paper?" said Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst at the Poynter Institute. "They may be hands off and leave it in the hands of a professional publisher and editor and that's not necessarily the case."
The question of an owner's influence has come up before, especially when wealthy business owners are involved in newspaper ownership. For example, concerns about independent coverage have lingered since 2015 when billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson bought the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Sun-Times Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Jim Kirk vowed that deal would make the newspaper viable long into the future and said the publication would remain committed to "independent and unbiased coverage of all topics, entities and individuals."
Ramirez said he planned to stay out of coverage decisions, including editorial coverage and political endorsements.
ST Acquisition didn't disclose details of the deal, including the complete list of investors. Along with the Sun-Times, ST Acquisition Holdings will own the alternative weekly Chicago Reader, a website and a production studio. Eisendrath has previously said the investor group had raised about $15 million.
Employees of the Sun-Times and the Reader will move from their prominent downtown offices along the Chicago River to the production studio just west of downtown, officials said. The studio, digital communications company Answers Media, was purchased separately.
Wrapports announced in mid-May that it had agreed to enter into discussions with Tronc after failing to attract interest from other media companies. The U.S. Department of Justice subsequently asked Wrapports to extend a bidding process for other potential buyers to come forward. Chicago-based Wrapports didn't return a message seeking comment Thursday.
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