CHICAGO — The Chicago Reader, the city’s famed alt-weekly, is expected to become a nonprofit this month after the sale was nearly derailed over a co-owner’s column opposing COVID-19 vaccine requirements for children.
The publication was on track to be sold to the new nonprofit last year until the November printing of defense attorney Leonard Goodman’s column headlined “Vaxxing our kids” prompted allegations of misinformation and censorship.
Goodman agreed to step aside in late April, allowing the sale to go through. Still, the standoff among the alt-weekly’s managers left staff members in limbo for months, wondering if the Reader would be shut down after surviving multiple previous sales and the coronavirus pandemic.
In the column, Goodman wrote that “feverish hype by government officials, mainstream media outlets, and Big Pharma” made him question whether his 6-year-old daughter should be vaccinated.
Critics including former and current Reader staff quickly blasted his take, arguing that Goodman relied on sources repeatedly fact-checked by media and infectious-disease experts.
Publisher Tracy Baim said editors asked to hire an independent fact-checker to vet the column. Baim said she and her co-publisher then met with Goodman and discussed options, but “it was very clear he didn’t like any” of their proposals.
Goodman said the Reader should have stood by him once the piece was published, regardless of his argument.
“This is an opinion piece,” he said. “It’s not writing as a scientist.”
Hoping to keep the peace, Baim said she told editors they would leave the column as written until the sale closed. But then two board members accused Baim and Reader staff of censorship and demanded several changes to the sale agreement — stalling the transition.
Sladjana Vuckovic, one of the members who backed Goodman, said she wouldn’t have objected to the Reader publishing another writer’s column favoring vaccination for kids but thought Goodman’s perspective “was of great interest” and didn’t require a rewrite.
The Reader’s staff union led protests outside Goodman’s home last month, bringing renewed attention to their demand that Goodman and his backers “free the Reader.” Many in the city’s arts, music and performing arts communities backed the push, sharing stories of the Reader’s influence on Chicago.
The alt-weekly first published in 1971, with editions assembled in some of its young founders’ apartments. In an issue celebrating the publication’s 50th anniversary, one founder recalled breaking even for the first time three years later.
By the 1980s, ad revenue was in the …….