The Chicago Free Press, one of the city’s major LGBT newspapers, has ceased publication, staff members say.
The Free Press appeared destined for closure last December, when several staff members walked out because they had not been paid. However, at that point, publisher David Costanzo appeared to recommit to the paper, said managing editor Kerrie Kennedy, and the remaining staff continued producing the publication. But Kennedy said Monday that Costanzo was ill and no longer funding the paper. The planned April 29 issue was not published, and there will be no further issues, she added.
“This was not a case of a failing publication,” Kennedy told The Advocate. “We had plenty of money easily coming in to cover our overhead and salaries.” She said the earlier crisis came because Costanzo was “indisposed,” and that was what happened again.
She said the staff was last paid at the end of March. She spoke with Costanzo April 15 and he said he was writing checks for that payroll, but they did not arrive, and she has not been able to contact him since then. “Each day I was unable to reach him, I became more and more concerned,” she said. The Advocate was not able to reach him Monday.
The Free Press was started in 1999 by employees who had left Chicago’s Windy City Times, including Kennedy. In 2000, Windy City Times was sold to Lambda Publications, publisher of Chicago gay paper Outlines, which assumed the Windy City Times name and continues to publish that paper.
In a story on the Windy City Times website Monday, publisher and managing editor Tracy Baim said, “This is not a day to celebrate. All media, gay and mainstream, are facing new and difficult paths to survival. So it is never a good thing when a media outlet closes. We at Windy City Times will continue to strive to cover all parts of our community through every tool at our disposal, from traditional newsprint to iPhones, the Internet, video and podcasting.”
Free Press theater editor Lawrence Bommer, like Kennedy an original staff member, told The Advocate he hoped the Free Press could be revived, possibly by former staffer Louis Weisberg, who is editor and publisher of the Wisconsin Gazette, a gay paper in Milwaukee. “We could have a Phoenix-like rebirth under a different name,” he said.
Weisberg could not be reached for comment immediately, but Kennedy said the Gazette is a relatively new paper and that revival of the Free Press is likely too much to hope for. Instead, she said, this is a time for the staff to focus on the future and be proud of what they accomplished, including the inauguration of the Out at the Ballgame event with the Chicago Cubs, the largest event in the Midwest uniting a gay entity and a major league sports team, and the publication of well-known journalists such as Bommer and columnist Paul Varnell.
The paper reached a circulation of 50,000, she said, adding that the closure is “a loss to the community.”