Reporting Bob Roberts
CHICAGO (WBBM) – Sun-Times Media Holdings LLC Thursday announced that it will close 11 of its weekly west and southwest suburban newspapers by the end of the year.
The newspapers, in Geneva, Bolingbrook, Homer Glen, Lisle, Glen Ellyn, Plainfield, Wheaton, Downers Grove and Batavia, and the Fox Valley and Lincoln-Way editions of the weekly Sun, will cease operation by the end of the year.
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On one level, Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns said he is astonished.
“I am completely surprised,” Burns said from Las Vegas, Nev., where he was on a business trip. “I had no idea.”
But on another level, Burns said it is not surprising given the ongoing, turbulent changes in the media landscape — the same reason Sun-Times Media CEO Jeremy Halbreich cited.
“This is simply a matter of our evaluating our market coverage and positioning and certainly the profitability of the products in these particular areas,” Halbreich told WBBM.
Halbreich said he expects few, if any, layoffs. He said most of the news in the free, weekly newspapers has been written by stringers or was repurposed copy from the Sun-Times Media-owned daily newspapers in Naperville, Aurora, Elgin and Joliet, all of which will remain and are not being downsized.
Halbreich said that some of the publications may go Web-only, while coverage will be provided for the other communities in the remaining daily newspapers.
Still, Burns said, it won’t be the same.
“The Sun has always had a warm and fuzzy feeling because it arrives on your doorstep on Wednesdays,” he said. “It usually captures the local flavor and flair.”
He said the cities and villages served by the Sun weeklies have depended on them to get community information out to the public that might be missed in the dailies.
Halbreich said the future of the weekly Sun newspapers has been an open question ever since investors led by financier James Tyree bought the newspaper assets out of bankruptcy last year for $5 million, also assuming $22 million in liabilities.
He said prior management initiated the review. He said the free newspapers depended on advertising to make a profit, and that ad lineage dropped substantially, in part because of competition from new Web and mobile products and in part because of the sharp economic downturn.
Sun-Times Media Holdings will continue to publish the Chicago Sun-Times, seven other daily newspapers and the 39 weekly newspapers remaining in the Pioneer Press chain.
Pioneer Press earlier this month laid off most of its full-time sports staff.