It’s hard to be surprised by any news these days.
But the email from alumni of the Chicago Reporter that I received Sunday afternoon threw me for a loop.
The Chicago Reporter, an important voice and resource for the anti-racist fight in our city, has been shut down for who knows how long?
Maybe for good.
Published under the auspices of the Chicago Community Renewal Society, the Chicago Reporter has been around for almost 50 years with full editorial and journalistic independence.
Those who I’ve talked to say the journalistic and editorial independence ended with new leadership at the Community Renewal Society.
On a personal note, The Chicago Reporter was always a go-to place for guests for our radio show and podcast, Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers. Our guests with ties to the Chicago Reporter included reporter Curtis Black, Jackie Serrato (now editor-in-chief at South Side Weekly, Adeshina Emmanuel (now editor of Injustice Watch) and Chicago Reporter editor Fernando Diaz.
Diaz was fired September 17th by the Society’s executive Director, Rev. Dr. Waltrina Middleton who was hired about a year ago.
Those who I talked to tell me that the issue had little to do with money as the Society provided little more than overhead and that Diaz had been a successful fund raiser for the publication. Instead the issue seems to be about control.
It’s really too bad.
Here’s the letter from Chicago Reporter Alumni:
To: Rev. Dr. Waltrina N. Middleton and Members of the Board of the Community Renewal Society
From: Alumni of The Chicago Reporter
We are writing to you about The Chicago Reporter, where every one of us who has signed below worked at one point during the past five decades. We are very concerned about its future as a journalistic agent of change through its fact- and data-based reporting. We are distressed by reports that the Community Renewal Society has put the Reporter on “hiatus” and has removed its editor and publisher with no public announcement or explanation – and without any word about what will happen next.
There has never been a more important time for The Chicago Reporter to be actively engaged in the work it does best as activists and citizens raise issues of racial and economic disparities and police shootings of Black men and women. Movements depend on the facts dug up and revealed by journalists about illegal, unfair and immoral acts of government and other institutions, and succeed in forcing change through the spotlight of publications such as the Reporter.
John A McDermott came to that conclusion as a well-respected activist who led the Catholic Interracial Council during the civil rights movement, hosting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at his office for strategy sessions during King’s 1965 open housing drive in Chicago. After stepping down from the council, McDermott traveled the country to learn what it would take to get people to obey the new civil rights laws passed in the 1960s, and determined that the best way would be to give people the dispassionate hard facts.
McDermott brought the idea of The Chicago Reporter to the Community Renewal Society, whose executive director, Donald Benedict, welcomed him, believing CRS had room for activism, community building, chorale groups and The Chicago Reporter.
The Reporter has exceeded its promise. As one of the earliest not-for-profit investigative publications and among the few to early on focus on data, the Reporter continually breaks new ground with stories that prompt change.
Chicago’s need for improvement does not stop with the many reforms instituted after Reporter investigations on policing, emergency medical care, education, housing, hiring, contracting, banking and more. And as a group, the Reporter has been critical to us, not only giving us journalistic training and development but also a firm grounding in issues of racial, ethnic and economic justice, making us better reporters, editors, journalists and writers.
The Reporter’s success depends on its independent editorial control and its freedom to conduct its investigations and reporting without interference as it holds institutions and leaders accountable on issues of race, ethnicity, poverty and justice.
We ask you to explain why you have put The Chicago Reporter on hiatus and removed its editor and publisher. We request that you create a transparent process for the future of the Reporter. And we insist the editor and publisher must have independent editorial control.
These steps, we believe, will help reassure the community that The Chicago Reporter will continue to fulfill the role that John A. McDermott intended as a legacy of Dr. King’s campaign for racial justice in Chicago.