‘Chicago Defender’ Say It’s Profitable for First Time in Two Decades

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

Despite a tumultuous year in which an editor quit after just two months, the newsroom operated without a general assignment reporter for a brief period, the daily cut its frequency from five days a week to four, and an African American activist group declared a boycott of the black-owned paper, the Chicago Defender cleared a profit in 2005, Executive Editor Roland S. Martin says.

“We had a very good 2005,” he said in an interview. “Frankly, it’s the first time the Chicago Defender has shown a profit since 1984.” Martin did not offer any specific financial results for the black-oriented paper, which is owned by the privately held firm Real Times LLC.

Martin made the remarks a day after announcing the hiring of two new general assignment reporters, a gain of one position for the skeleton newsroom crew producing the tabloid.

Martin said that the paper’s budget projects hiring one more full-time journalist, and a part-time newsroom employee at the end of the first quarter of this year. “As we build revenue, we will add a city editor by June,” he added.

“It’s been a long and difficult year,” Martin said. “But finally we’re almost there in crossing over that hump. … I keep preaching patience.”

Since Martin arrived as executive editor in the summer of 2004, he has insisted that the once-powerful Defender would bounce back from its parlous state — but it would be one by first getting out of debt and cutting expenses to turn profits. “You’ve got to be a smart steward of your resources,” he said.

The cutting came at a cost in 2005. In a recruiting coup last January, the paper named Pearl Stewart — the first African American woman to head the newsroom of a metro daily — as its editor.

But barely two months later, Stewart quit.

This summer, the paper eliminated its Tuesday edition, which it said was a consistent money loser.

And last month, the paper announced it was moving out of its landmark office building on the South Side to a downtown office building. “This move to a new location is critical, primarily because, frankly, we will be in a 21st century location,” Martin said.

The paper will move to the high-rise in Chicago’s Loop next Tuesday.

Martin said the location is helping with recruiting. “We are now getting applications from people for jobs at the Defender that I would say we would not get in prior times,” he said. “When I sent out queries for positions we had available, frankly, we would not get top-notch people. Now people with significant experience want to be part of this new Chicago Defender.”

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