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Managing editor Kerrie Kennedy announced Monday that the Chicago Free Press has stopped publishing because publisher David Costanza is ill and therefore is "no longer funding the operation." Kennedy said the April 29 issue did not come out and "it is not expected that any additional issues will be published."
A Free Press staffer who asked not to be named filled out the story. "We haven't been paid since late March," the staffer said. "That for many of us the key factor. We are all pretty pissed, we're just tired of it." While it is correct that Costanza is ill, the staffer said, his failure to pay his staff is a symptom of that illness they no longer wish to put up with. Another symptom, I was told, is that Costanza has become inaccessible, neither coming around the paper or answering the phone. "We all feel kind of fucked over," the staffer went on. "We've had it. I for one wish a new buyer would step in." The paper could probably be purchased for "a song," this staffer told me, though it's almost certainly losing money. "The ad count is way down."
(But Kennedy tells me the Free Press even at the end was making money.)
I haven't been able to reach Costanza for comment.
The collapse of the Free Press wasn't unexpected. For the last few months, Craig Gernhart, publisher of Gay Chicago, has been trying to reposition his entertainment/bar guide as more of a general interest gay paper. Among his hires was Gary Barlow, a former managing editor of the Free Press.
On April 29, this statement from Gernhart was spotted on Facebook:
"Little heads up. I'm doubting Chicago Free Press has anything left worth reading. That's if they even make it out on the street this week. I just hired St. Sukie de la Croix to do a history column, and Gregg Shapiro to cover pop music.
Plus, the addition of Jeff Rossen back in the fold covering cabaret and theatre, I believe rounds out the best glbt entertainment coverage to go along with the strong glbt news reporting of Amy, Matt and Gary. I also just officially partnered last week with the Edge Network www.edgechicago.com, to provide the with Chicago news.
"Gay Chicago Magazine is going strong."
Kennedy's announcement Monday focused on the Free Press's "wonderful history."
"Launched in August 1999, Chicago Free Press has been a major force in Chicago’s gay community for more than a decade. One of the largest GLBT newspapers in the country with a readership of 50,000, Chicago Free Press created and launched 'Out at the Ballgame,' the Midwest’s largest 'out' event in association with a professional major league sports team (the Chicago Cubs). Year after year, the paper’s annual Pride Series recorded where Chicago’s GLBT community was—and where it was going.
"But it was CFP’s staff of talented and award-winning writers who gave people a reason to pick up the paper every week. Many of them—Paul Varnell, Jennifer Vanasco, Larry Bommer and Web Behrens—have been writing for the paper since its inception.
"It has been my good fortune to have known and worked with many of these writers for more than 15 years. The fact that any of us chose to stay during these past few bumpy years is testament not only to the respect we have for each other, but to the dedication we have to serving Chicago’s GLBT community."