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I hope so. They were all one family, if a little dysfunctional. The picture here shows Stiefel and financier James Tyree in October of 2009 when they appeared on Chicago Tonight after a group of investors led by Tyree bought Sun-Times Media and saved it from extinction. Stiefel was president of the Chicago Newspaper Guild, which made all sorts of concessions to permit the sale to go through. "The requests on our part just stunned the union, and if I were in their shoes I would be, too," Tyree told me then.
It was either the company's rebirth or a stay of execution. A year and a half later the Sun-Times Media still exists, but there has been one layoff after another, and Tyree himself died unexpectedly two months ago. Now Stiefel is also gone. Last week she left Pioneer Press, where she'd worked 18 years, to become communications director for Glenview, the village she'd covered.
"I don't think my position will be filled," says Stiefel. She's seen other reporters resign from Pioneer and their beats were turned over to freelancers. Times are hard. But it's not as if she finally said good riddance, and not as if management doesn't value what it's losing. As she says, she thinks they bought the cake.
"I wasn't looking to leave," Stiefel tells me. "I was approached with a job offer I couldn't refuse. But I'm not fleeing. It's a new challenge — I'm looking forward to learning new things. I wasn't sitting there putting out my resume to places — though I think people should. It's a pretty terrific village. I've covered it, I know it. I have a pretty healthy respect for it. And municipalities and villages are really picking up some of the slack when the industry is dying. Not dying — going away."
The industry she speaks of is traditional journalism, and the difference between dying and going away is elusive. The difference might be that measured by one yardstick, Glenview and other suburbs enjoy more local journalism than ever. Glenview still has its Pioneer Press weekly, the Glenview Announcements, and now there's a TribLocal website/weekly paper providing Glenview (and Northbrook and Golf) with a smattering of coverage, much of it reader generated. Plus AOL's online Glenview Patch, and the online/biweekly Glenview Journal.
But by another yardstick, measuring depth and quality, Stiefel thinks changing times oblige places like Glenview to do a better job of covering themselves. The village already has a website and a newsletter, she tells me. But — "Glenview's not on social media. Which they will be. It's one of my first priorities. We'll have a Facebook page and we'll do Twitter reports." Let's say construction is going to jam up traffic on certain streets and the word has to get out. "You post it everywhere," she says. "There are so many platforms today you can get the word out a lot."
She's giving up her Newspaper Guild post reluctantly. "I'm really — I don't want to say I'm heartbroken —" says Stiefel, "but I didn't want to leave the Guild. It was really a wrenching decision for me. I explored as to whether I could stay on as a general press member. Meaning I'm not employed by one of the Guild units but I'm a freelancer or working in the industry other than at one of the units."
But covering Glenview for Glenview is — when you get down to it — PR!
"But yeah, well, kind of — I think it is PR. But it's a little different when you're working for a government. But it would have been a conflict of interest. I couldn't do it."
President of the Guild for two and a half years, she presided over her last executive board meeting on May 11. Vice president David Pollard, also a Pioneer Press reporter, will run the Guild until a special election for a new president can be held. Stiefel assumes someone will step forward who wants the job. Someone always does.