Chicago Reader records
Scope and Content of the Collection
Original copy of articles and some columns; legal files pertaining to articles which involved litigation of some kind; miscellaneous administrative materials, including files of editor Nancy Banks, letters to the editor, and letters to the Straight Dope column; layout and paste-up spreads; and unsolicited manuscripts.
- Creation: 1971-2000
- Chicago Reader (Organization)
Materials are in English.
Conditions Governing Access
The Chicago Reader records are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).
Ownership and Literary Rights
The Chicago Reader records are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections at firstname.lastname@example.org.
History of Chicago Reader
Alternative weekly newspaper founded in Chicago in 1971.
The Chicago Reader was founded in 1971 by a group of friends who met at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Unlike the underground press of the 1960s, alternative weeklies like the Reader were less political and more commercial in their orientation, published by and for the baby boomers who were then emerging from college.
The brainchild of Robert A. Roth, who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, the Reader ignored the news and concentrated instead on the texture of life in the city: rather than add to the plentiful coverage of politics, crime, and celebrities supplied by the city’s four dailies, it offered features about everyday life and ordinary people. It also offered extensive listings of arts and cultural events-- especially live music, film, and theater--and prominently featured the writing of young critics. The paper is often credited with nurturing Chicago’s nascent theater scene, giving early coverage to storied companies such as the St. Nicholas, Organic, and Steppenwolf.
The paper also distinguished itself by giving free classifieds to individual readers and by distributing the paper for free, a practice that was virtually unheard of at the time for publications with journalistic ambitions. Eventually, free circulation lost its stigma and became the standard for city weeklies.
The Reader is perhaps best known for its deep, immersive style of literary journalism. An oft-cited example is a 19,000-word article on beekeeping by editor Michael Lenehan. Steve Bogira's 1988 article “A Fire in the Family” used an apartment-building fire as the starting point for a 15,000-word chronicle of life among the underclass. And Lee Sandlin’s two-part piece on World War II ranged close to 34,000 words. (A 13-minute version of it was aired on the This American Life program on National Public Radio.)
As the paper prospered, investigative and political reporting became another important part of the mix. Reader articles by David Moberg are credited with helping to elect Chicago’s first black mayor, the late Harold Washington. John Conroy wrote extensively over a period of more than 17 years on police torture in Chicago; his reporting was instrumental in the ouster and prosecution of the alleged leader of a police torture ring and in the release of several wrongly convicted prisoners from death row. And in more recent years, extensive coverage of tax increment financing (TIFs) by Ben Joravsky and articles on government transparency by Joravsky and political editor Mick Dumke have had a major impact on Chicagoans’ understanding of city politics.
In 2006, one of the paper’s founders, Tom Rehwaldt, filed suit against his partners, accusing them of mismanagement. Not long afterward, in July 2007, the Reader was sold to Ben Eason and Creative Loafing, Inc. In 2008, Creative Loafing filed for bankruptcy and was later acquired by its chief creditor, Atalaya Capital Management.
Despite staff cutbacks necessitated by these ownership changes, and by environmental factors leading to drops in advertising revenues, key figures remained on staff in January 2010, including editor Alison True, managing editor Kiki Yablon, media critic Michael Miner, film critic J.R. Jones, food writer Mike Sula, arts reporter Deanna Isaacs, theater critic Albert Williams, and music writers Peter Margasak and Miles Raymer. In June 2010 Creative Loafing laid off Alison True. Managing editor Kiki Yablon was installed as editor and Geoff Dougherty was brought in as associate publisher to assist new publisher Alison Draper.
The Chicago Reader continues to be acknowledged as a leader of the alternative press, among the top three or four papers in the country in terms of page count, advertising revenue, and reputation for editorial excellence. - Reader staff
33 Linear Feet (77 boxes and 1 oversize box)
Original copy of articles, legal files, miscellaneous administrative files, and unsolicited manuscripts of the Chicago Reader alternative weekly newspaper.
Papers are organized in the following series:
- Series 1: Manuscripts, 1972-1995
- Boxes 1-58
- Series 2: Legal Files, 1982-1994
- Boxes 59-66
- Series 3: Miscellaneous Materials, 1971-2000
- Boxes 67-78
Collection Stack Location
1 10 6-7, 1 11 1-7, 1 12 1, 1 16 3
Other Finding Aids
See also the Chicago Reader photographs: Performance collection (Midwest MS Chicago Reader PP), the Chicago Reader artwork collection (Midwest MS Chicago Reader A), and the Chicago Reader photographs: News collection (Midwest MS Chicago Reader PN).
Gift of the Chicago Reader, 1994.
Lisa Janssen and Alison Hinderliter, 2008-2009.
This inventory was created with the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this inventory do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Genre / Form
- Inventory of the Chicago Reader records, 1971-2000
- Lisa Janssen
- Language of description
- Script of description