By: Mark Fitzgerald
Is the Chicago Defender — the nation’s only paid black-oriented daily — about to go weekly or twice-weekly?
That’s long been the rumor at the paper owned by a Detroit-based investment group. But recently, the Defender’s new executive editor, Lou Ransom, has told individual staffers that a change in frequency to once or twice weekly is on its way, according to people familiar with the situation. Ransom, who did not return a phone message seeking comment, has not indicated when the paper may cease publishing daily, these people add.
“From what I’ve heard from various people higher up in Real Times, it probably won’t stay daily,” said Demetrius Patterson, whose departure last week was one of several recent changes at the historic black daily.
Former Defender Executive Editor Roland S. Martin, who left the paper earlier this year, said that a change in frequency has long been the plan of executive of its owner, Real Times Inc. One reason for the growing friction between the former executive editor and his bosses was his refusal to go along with the plan to change frequency, Martin said.
“There was no doubt that was going on, and they really wanted me to be the person who was going to lead that whole deal,” said Martin, who is the morning host of a talk show on black-owned WVON-AM in Chicago and a special contributor for CNN.
The renewed talk of going non-daily comes among a flurry of other changes at the newspaper.
In a memo to staffers obtained by E&P Wednesday, Ransom lays out new work hours for a number of editorial and production staffers starting June 12 that has their day ending at 6 p.m.
“An earlier work day will enable the newspaper to reach the printer earlier, and guarantee that it reaches newsstands earlier, resulting in much improved sales,” Ransom wrote. “The current schedule almost guarantees late hours, and being late to the printer, and does not allow time for special projects.”
Ransom added that the earlier hours will require “stepped up deadlines” for editorial and advertising.
It’s unclear from the memo if news that breaks after 6 p.m. would be too late for the next morning’s paper. That would include, presumably, nearly all professional sports results, but long-time Sports Editor Larry Gross is not included in the names of editorial people who will begin working the 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. shift.
The Defender now publishes Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays. Under the new schedule, Ransom wrote, “Friday we will put together the Monday paper with provisions made to account for late-breaking weekend news. “
Last week, the paper fired Demetrius Patterson, who had been its only general assignment reporter. In an interview, Patterson said that Ransom could not give him a good explanation of why he was being dismissed. Since then, he?s received many offers of support and opportunities, Patterson said.
“It seems like anyone Roland Martin had a hand in bringing to the Defender is no longer welcome,” Patterson said.
The sore feelings between Martin and the Defender spilled out into the airwaves last week on his show, carried on what is widely regarded as the most influential talk radio station in Chicago’s African American community.
Inspired by a Sunday sermon on “negative people,” Martin told listeners that he’d discovered that Ransom had decided not to enter any Defender stories written during Martin’s time at the paper to the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s Messenger Awards, which comes with a cash award to the winning journalist and money donated in the news organization’s name to a local non-profit.
“I thought that was childish,” Martin said. “It’s not a question of, oh, that makes Roland look good. Winning this award allows the paper to provide about a $1,000 award to a non-profit. So by not submitting anything, the paper doesn’t get rewarded for excellence, the reporter doesn’t get rewarded for good work — and the community doesn’t get rewarded for supporting the newspaper.”