‘Chicago Sun-Times’ Looks to Redefine Itself as ‘Liberal, Working-Class’ Paper

By: Mark Fitzgerald

The Chicago Sun-Times is turning left.

The tabloid that shifted toward political conservatism under the brief ownership of Rupert Murdoch more than two decades ago now says that it is “rethinking our stance on several issues, including the most pressing issue facing Americans today: Bush’s war in Iraq.”

Under marching orders from Publisher John Cruickshank and Editor in Chief Michael Cooke, new Editorial Page Editor Cheryl L. Reed introduced a new Commentary section Tuesday with a promise to turn the tabloid back into the liberal-leaning paper it was for decades before the Reagan administration.

“We are returning to our liberal, working-class roots, a position that pits us squarely opposite the Chicago Tribune — that Republican, George Bush-touting paper over on moneyed Michigan Avenue,” Reed wrote. “We’re rethinking our stance on several issues, including the most pressing issue facing Americans today: Bush’s war in Iraq.”

Reed, who did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment about the change, is the paper’s former book editor who was asked by Cruickshank and Cooke to, she wrote, “conceive an editorial and opinion section that looked like the future.”

Her instructions: “‘Don’t be conservative,’ Cruickshank urged me. ‘We don’t want you to hold back.'”

Reed said the Sun-Times will be adding seats to the editorial board “so that board members — the paper’s brain trust — reflect the ethnic and social diversity of our city.”

Eventually, she added, the paper will list the board members — and disclose who wrote what editorial. “That way you’ll know who the characters are behind the curtain,” she explained. “No Wizards of Oz here.”

Without being specific, Reed said the paper would be changing its mix of columnists. In recent years, the regular non-staff columnists on the opinion pages have included the conservatives George Will and Mark Steyn, who is an outspoken fan of Conrad Black, the former Hollinger International Chairman many at the paper blame for the Sun-Times’ perilous financial state. It also regularly runs liberal commentators, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Father Andrew Greeley.

One new columnist introduced Tuesday was the paper’s previous editorial page editor, Stephen Huntley. Huntley identified himself as a conservative, though with “a more liberal or libertarian stance” on social issues such as abortion, gay rights, and embryonic stem cell research. His column will appear three times a week.

The Sun-Times was a liberal paper through the 1960s and 1970s, and turned right when it was bought by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. in 1984. “You may wake up one day, and the Chicago Tribune will be the liberal paper in town,” then-Publisher Robert E. Page told a news conference around that time. Though Murdoch soon sold the tabloid to an investment group fronted by Page, the conservative bent remained in the editorial pages.

The editorial-page swing coincides with a new branding strategy that includes the slogan “Let’s get into it.” The editorial page, and the paper’s Web site, is opening up more space for reader contributions, Reed said.

“We’ll be sticking our necks out on issues,” she wrote. “You won’t be scratching your heads trying to figure out where we stand.”


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