Edition by subtraction: Another round of layoffs hits Sun-Times

 The euphoria over the Chicago Sun-Times’ Pulitzer Prize victory last month proved fleeting as another wave of editorial layoffs hit the newspaper and its parent company Wednesday.

Official figures were not released, but sources said most of the estimated 20 or so cutbacks were attributed to consolidation of copy-editing functions and other newsroom operations companywide. At least five veteran Sun-Times staffers were affected — including some with more than 30 years’ experience.

It marked the second time since March that editorial ranks had been thinned at the Sun-Times despite assurances from management that the company was “stable and healthy” after the recent passing of company savior Jim Tyree. “We are in absolutely fine shape,” Sun-Times Media chairman and CEO Jeremy Halbreich told the City Club of Chicago in a speech on May 2. “We are in good shape.” He made no reference to additional layoffs. 

Among those cut Wednesday were Sun-Times writers and copy editors Bill Cunniff, Jeff Johnson, Ralph Greenslade and John Grochowski, and graphic designer Char Searl. Grochowski also wrote the Casino Answer Man gambling column. More than a dozen other positions reportedly have been targeted at four of the company’s suburban dailies — the Northwest Indiana Post-Tribune, the Joliet Herald-News, the Aurora Beacon-News and the SouthtownStar.

They joined at least six Sun-Times writers whose jobs were eliminated March 17, including media and marketing columnist Lewis Lazare, assistant sports editor/prep sports writer Steve Tucker, and reporters Celeste Busk, Misha Davenport, Cheryl Jackson and John Jackson.

The frequency and extent of layoffs remains a source of ongoing anxiety for many Sun-Times staffers, who forfeited longstanding union protection when Tyree and his investment group bought the company out of bankruptcy in 2009 and extracted major contract concessions from the Chicago Newspaper Guild.

Sun-Times editor Don Hayner did not respond to requests for comment on the layoffs.





1. Ralph Greenslade
May 12, 2011 at 12:56 am
After 30 years of helping make the Sun-Times sports section as good as it could be, it’s my time to move on and join an ever-expanding list of journalists tossed to the sidelines. While it’d be nice to think the few remaining sportswriters, columnists, photographers and copy editors will eventually be given the resources to keep producing a quality product, I’d be delusional to believe it.

One of the perks that goes with working the night shift is arriving home shortly after midnight and being able to read a fresh Feder column five days a week. Now that there’s no excuse (like a job) to stay up so late, I’ll just have to check out Robert’s blog in the morning before I peruse the help-wanted ads. Robert, keep up the great work. It was a pleasure working with such a class act at the Bright One.


2. Chicago ain't working
May 12, 2011 at 2:29 am
Chicago needs more Fran Spielmans and less Democrats, less public employee unions, less pensions, less corruption, less taxes and less infantile politicians turning a once-great city into the next Detroit.


3. ChiTownGal
May 12, 2011 at 5:08 am
…And when the battle is over and the dust settles, all that will be left are cockroaches and Michael Sneed…wow, that gal must really have the “goods” on somebody in the S-T higher echelons…


4. Bruce Wolf
May 12, 2011 at 6:55 am
Note the perfect composition of Ralph Greenslade’s comment. I wonder how he managed to focus on Jay Mariotti’s copy while rolling his eyes up in his head. (Hey, Jay, I do Orders of Protection now as an attorney.)

I’m going to hate it when the Sun-Times collapses, which is why I’ve been stockpiling the Friday and Saturday New York Times crossword puzzles the paper runs.

Ralph Greenslade refers to the “Bright One,” a designation I know that I resurrected about 20 years ago on the radio. Nobody knew what I was talking about.

Suggestion: As the Sun-Times moves into its hospice stage, why not drop the “Times” part and simply make it the “Sun-”? I guess we could quibble about whether the hyphen should be in there or not. I just think that since women nowadays have a hyphen attached to their surnames on their birth certificates that it would be altogether fitting and proper to refer to the old girl as the “Sun-” as she crawls into elderly infancy along the circle of life.


5. John Grochowski
May 12, 2011 at 7:03 am
Rob, I knew you would be right on top of this. While being laid off is a shock when it comes, I have been aware that this could happen for some time, and have been expanding my freelance base as best I can. The Sun-Times and other Sun-Times Media papers are continuing to run my casinos column, I continue to do my short tips on the air for WLS-AM, and have a client base of magazines and blogs that I’m looking to expand. Thanks as always for your great work, and for being a friend.


6. Dr Wayne
May 12, 2011 at 7:58 am
The newspaper is getting so thin that all we will have is one page ….Front page and back page…


7. angrylady
May 12, 2011 at 8:10 am
Why not lay off Sneed? Her items are old and she is never there anyway. Never saw anyone who got more vacation or time off!!!!


8. Luke
May 12, 2011 at 9:00 am
The Red Eye is thicker than the Sun Times on some days.


9. mediamaven
May 12, 2011 at 9:59 am
Sneed, Stella Foster and Mary Mitchell – now there’s a waste of ink, paper and money!

Robert, you were smart and got out while the gettin’ was good and before the proverbial shit hit the fan. (I loved that lead the other day  )


10. The Mayor of Sauganash
May 12, 2011 at 10:11 am
I’ve met Bill Cunniff and he’s a great guy. I was always worried that his position was viewed as non-essential by the suits. I’m not sure how long he has been there, but it’s decades.


11. goodoldnumbernine
May 12, 2011 at 10:13 am
ChiTownGal, nicely played, nothing like a well placed (and deserved) shiv in the ribcage, And Bruce, you’re the best!


12. Mailer
May 12, 2011 at 10:43 am
The best words to read are “Sneed is taking the day off.”


13. Eric Beato
May 12, 2011 at 10:55 am
I enjoyed the privilege of working with Ralph and John on the sports copy desk a decade ago, when the Sun-Times consistently produced the best sports section in the city. It was the behind-the-scenes professionals like Ralph and John who made the section and the paper so great, and they will truly be missed.

Ralph and John, the Sun-Times — and the newspaper industry — is worse off today without you on the copy desk. Personally, you both made my experience at the Sun-Times memorable and rewarding, and I wish you both the best in your new ventures.


14. Lorenzo Felix
May 12, 2011 at 11:34 am
Now I’m worried about Dave Hoekstra’s future. Before long, there won’t be any staff features writers left.


15. Jack
May 12, 2011 at 11:47 am
The Sun-Times has been on my family’s kitchen table for over 6 decades now. I still subscribe but I don’t know why anymore. There’s nothing there and the writers and columnists that are left are an insult to one’s intelligence. Mary Mitchell has been ‘on assignment’ for over a month now–I hope that assignment had a one-way ticket. It’s time to send Steinberg on one of those too.

You would think that after seeing that no one is buying your product anymore you’d change directions and try to find a course that would attract readership. Hey, Sun-Times, the liberal spiel is only attracting flies and vultures now.


16. Ralph Greenslade
May 12, 2011 at 11:48 am
Thanks so much for the kind words, Eric. While our time together at the Sun-Times was much too short, I also enjoyed working with you. While I won’t miss being an eyewitness to the demise of the newspaper industry, I will miss the wonderful co-workers who made the nightly craziness a bit more tolerable.


17. Jack
May 12, 2011 at 12:26 pm
Today’s paper ran an ad for a free belly fat treatment. The offer was good till April 21st. Didn’t anyone on watch at the Sun-Times know that today is May 12th?


May 12, 2011 at 12:42 pm
I’m sorry to see people lose their jobs, but I can’t say I’m surprised. I look at the Sun-Times now and then. There isn’t anything to it. While at the library yesterday, I read a copy of the Courier-News, one of its suburban newspapers. It’s the same story with that publication — there’s little there. I don’t know why anyone would subscribe to it.

I can’t understand how the Sun-TImes continues to publish under these circumstances. BTW, I understand that additional job cuts are expected at the Daily Herald and at the Chicago Tribune.


19. Sinbad
May 12, 2011 at 1:04 pm
In buying an ad in a newspaper there are 2 things to consider; quantitative (basically circulation) and qualitative research. Even in its glory days the Sun Times fell short on qualitative research and was only added to an advertising schedule if there was any cash left over after buying a schedule in the Trib. The Sun Times reader was typically defined as a high school graduate with ability to read and comprehend at the same level as a 3rd grader. Of course, there are millions of readers that fit that profile in metro area and as a result the ST did quite well quantitatively and were able to attract advertisers that were only concerned with tonnage (impressions). Now with the ST having a small circulation and the same qualitative, they cannot attract any advertisers on a consistent basis. And ST can forget about making inroads on a digital basis…far too late.


20. ChiTownGal
May 12, 2011 at 1:49 pm
Sinbad – I can remember once upon a time (the 1970s) when the Sun-Times was THE “happening” paper in Chicagoland. It had columnists who appealed well beyond a “high-school grad with 3rd grade reading skills” clientele. Mike Royko, Roger Simon, Bob Greene (not Oprah’s cook, back when he was actually GOOD!), and a still-green Roger Ebert were the newspaper equivalent of “must-see-TV” back then. Kup ruled late-night TV due to his “clout” with local and national celebs. Wonder what happened and why…”the Internet” is not the appropriate answer here.


21. Sinbad
May 12, 2011 at 2:41 pm
ChiTownGirl, I agree that the columnist you mentioned were quite enjoyable and had a wide and diverse readership but they were not very challenging to comprhend. Why do you think Royoko or Bob Green’s Bag Boy (or whatever his fictional character was named that worked at Treasure island) were so appealing? Was it because thier escapdes resonated with well educated high income people or the everyday man?


22. Mark Jeffries
May 12, 2011 at 2:52 pm
ChiTownGirl: The answer is easy. The Sun-Times started going downhill when Rupert the Sleazy Right-Wing Alien took over the paper and only got worse under golddigger Bob Page and Conrad the Incarcerated Right-Wing Alien.


23. ChiTownGal
May 12, 2011 at 2:56 pm
I think both, on different levels. Which is a characteristic of the best of American “popular culture.”


24. Bob From Berwin
May 12, 2011 at 4:38 pm
What, what? Does Roeper still have a job? Will the answer be published in ‘Sneedlings”?


25. Terry Carnes Sowka
May 12, 2011 at 5:36 pm
John, Jeff, Char, Celeste, and all the others — so sorry to hear. Glad some of you have been making plans. Good luck. Missing all of you from Indy. P.S. Hi, Rob.


26. Rich Harris
May 12, 2011 at 10:34 pm

Almost 7 months ago I was part of the first wave of layoffs after the staff, through our Newspaper Guild one year earlier, agreed to give the Sun-Times the power to cut our wages and lay off staff without regard to senority, in order to survive. My group included sports and feature writer Carol Slezak along with Editorial assistants Roy Smith, Ted White and myself, Rich Harris. We all knew it might be coming and have restructured our lives since but it was stunning with some of us having over 35 years of service and many staff friendships.

The Sun-Times is still excellent as proven by the recent Pulitzers and the quality writers and other talented staff who put out an informative and creative paper that is the voice of Chicago. Comments I read attacking the paper for being unworthy now are just ignorant and irresponsible.

Please support all your local papers while you are fortunate enough to have them. Rob Feder left on his own but is missed for his competence and class. I support Char, Jeff, Ralph, Bill and John, along with previous staff members Michelle Stevens, Mike Gillis and Lloyd Sachs, cut from the Editorial Page over 2 years ago. The current staff deserves our support-they survive and thrive in tough times.


27. Shane Gericke
May 13, 2011 at 4:02 pm
I know all these people from having worked with them at the Sun-Times, and am very saddened by their loss. All of them were highly professional and a delight to hang out with–even the sports guys  They will be missed, because as more and more people are forced out, more and more mistakes will get into the paper–they were the gatekeepers.

As soon as the Guild gave up the seniority system for layoffs, I knew their days were numbered. You get older in this society, you get . . . canned.


28. Nora
May 13, 2011 at 8:58 pm
I have been a Sun-Times reader for decades. Not too long age the subscription price dropped and it has been next to free. I received a letter last week from the Times saying they are raising the price of monthly subscription. The above comments have me wondering why I still read the paper. I do not care for Steinberg, Mitchell or Sneed. The paper is too liberal for me these days. I still have an understanding for the remaining employees and how life changing losing a long held job is. My own husband lost his job after 18 years. It is quite devastating. I am surprised that Rich Harris is so delusional that he thinks corporations actually care about loyalty etc. They don’t, never did and never will, the Sun-Times as well.


29. Mary WIsniewski
May 14, 2011 at 11:25 am
Rich, your comment reminded me of what a sunny, positive person you were around the newsroom — someone I looked forward to seeing every day. Good luck to everyone.


30. Delilah
May 15, 2011 at 11:00 am
The Sun-Times and its daughter papers keep laying off the people who actually do the work and keep its deadwood editors. Why? There’s really nothing left to edit. Still, the fat butt editors sit and their desks all day long surfing Facebook and job ads. Why? Who’d want them? Look what they did for the Sun-Times.


31. Rich Harris

May 15, 2011 at 11:13 am

Nora: I don’t think corporations care about loyalty but the employees I worked with are loyal to each other and survive corporate self-serving decisions.


I may be delusional but that’s mostly about my support for the Cubs.

Mary: I miss you too. We will always be connected to the Sun-Times and each other.


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