Independent Media is More Important Than Ever, and We Need To Act Now.

By Matt Perius – Photo by Neven Divkovic

The way we interact with the news has changed astronomically in the past ten years. While we used to follow our local news and local stories on television, the world has become more connected, and in the process, we have lost sight of how important our local news media outlets are. The Chicago Music Guide recently sat down for a zoom conversation with Tracy Baim, Publisher at the Chicago Reader. We discussed how we can protect local media in Chicago in the coming years and how COVID-19 has fast tracked the efforts to keep local media alive.

While it may be easy to log onto Facebook or Twitter and consume random national news stories that are being talked about all over the internet, the easy way always comes with consequences. In the context of local news media, the consequences are severe. According to Tracy Baim at the Chicago Reader, “Almost everything that percolates up to a national news story, and I use flint Michigan as an example, starts local.

So Flint Michigan, the local news reported on that first and then it became a national story. For the recent smoke stack situation that happened in Chicago in the Latino community, that became a national story but it was first covered by local news by South Side Weekly. You have to have folks on the ground in communities to get authentic stories”

The national news outlets are essentially the trending list of local stories that have gained traction. Without local news, we don’t have national stories. While this has been an increasing issue over the past few years, COVID-19 has accelerated their demise. According to, “The average audience (defined as the average number of TVs tuned to a program throughout a time period) for the morning news time slot decreased 10% in 2018”, and that was way before the global pandemic.

With a decrease in local news consumption comes a decrease in those outlets’ ability to fund local stories, and in effect, leads to huge issues in those communities. Tracy stated, “it’s shown in communities around the country that have lost their local news outlets, that there is more corruption that happens because nobody’s watching. Tens of thousands of journalists just lost their jobs around the country and the impact is going to be profound. We have a chance in Chicago because we have such a wide variety of media, to at least save most of them if we come together”.

How can you help? The Chicago Media Alliance is a project of the Chicago Reader. Its focus is on keeping independent news media in Chicago alive, not only during a pandemic, but in the coming years. Tracy said, [Project Director Yazmin Dominguez] has brought together more than 60 outlets, so far. There’s no fees, it’s all opt in and 43 of those have decided to join together for this fundraiser.

Some are non profit, some are for profit some are medium size some are very tiny one or two person operations. They range from print newspapers that are 80 years old to new podcasts that are two years old. It is quite a range and to bring everyone together is not easy because we definitely only have a few common denominators.”

In the coming months, local independent media is going to need help to stay afloat during these difficult times. This fundraiser is an attempt to keep a large diverse catalogue of independent media outlets in Chicago alive today, and in the coming years.

For more information on the fundraiser, visit

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The CIMA 2020 Campaign

The Chicago Reader launched the Chicago Independent Media Alliance in 2019 to help bring together a wide range of local media for editorial and business partnerships. The COVID-19 outbreak has caused a sudden and devastating decline in income for many CIMA members, especially those reliant on advertising as a core source of their revenue.

Now, more than 40 of the 60 CIMA members have come together for this first-ever joint local independent media fundraiser. We know people are being stretched in this difficult time. But we also know we need local, authentic media outlets to survive to tell the stories from and for their communities: African American, Latinx, Asian, LGBTQ, geographic and special-topic media, and alt weeklies like the Chicago Reader.

This month-long campaign ends June 5, 2020. Each of the 43 media outlets will promote it across all of their channels. They will receive your contributions directly, not filtered through any agency. Contributions are not tax deductible. Whatever you give will also in part be matched by local foundations. The Crossroads Fund will host the match. If you are interested in finding out more about contributing to the larger match fund, contact me at

I have worked in Chicago community media since 1984. I know how important the voices of these newspapers, websites, newsletters, podcasts, documentary makers, and radio programs are to keeping our communities informed and our culture amplified. Any amount you can give will help us make it through together.

— Tracy Baim, publisher, Chicago Reader


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