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Fourteen months ago Wednesday Journal Inc. of Oak Park kept three Chicago neighborhood newspapers alive by picking up the weekly Booster, Skyline, and the News-Star when the Sun-Times Media Group decided it didn't want to operate them any longer.
Then times got tough. And tougher. On Thursday vice president Andy Johnston told me that Wednesday Journal is dropping the Booster and News-Star, which together covered the north side from Lakeview up to Rogers Park, and also the west edition of the Chicago Journal, which covered Bucktown and Wicker Park.
That edition of the Journal will disappear altogether. "Those were communities we could never get a toehold in," Johnston said, "little boutiques that don’t advertise and little restaurants that don’t advertise."
But the Booster and News-Star are being sold for a song -- no, not a song, a couple of bars of music -- to Inside Publications, which publishes Inside, a free weekly covering North Center and Lincoln Square. Publisher Ron Roenigk plans to merge Inside and the Booster, which had been sold by subscription, into a single free paper called the Inside-Booster or possibly the Booster-Inside.
The title doesn't matter to Roenigk. When longtime Chicago publisher Bruce Sagan, a part-owner of the Booster, Skyline, and News-Star, came to Roenigk a few days ago and pitched a sale, what appealed to Roenigk was the chance to inherit the Booster and News-Star's legal notices. "Sadly, the only advertising that's up is foreclosure notices," he says. "That’s become a valuable asset. I've been chasing it for 20 years."
He'll pay for the two titles he's picking up from Wednesday Journal Inc. -- assuming the deal goes through -- by giving it a piece of that revenue through the end of the year. "I'm broke." Roenigk says. "I don’t have any money to buy them." In fact, he recently moved Inside out of Lincoln Square offices into his home in Rogers Park to save $25,000 in rent.
The Booster, my neighborhood paper, acquired a more elegant look when Wednesday Journal took it over from the Sun-Times Media Group's Pioneer chain, and my wife considered it the best newspaper in Chicago.
It'll change now. And so will the News-Star. "I doubt they’ll be anywhere near as thorough as they were with the Wednesday Journal," says Roenigk. "I can only afford to do so much."