To hear Edwin Eisendrath tell it, he’s probably spent more time in the Sun-Times newsroom than all of the newspaper’s previous owners combined.
In the four weeks since the group he headed took over the paper, the former Chicago alderman has been getting a crash course on the challenges of the media business — with particular interest in the editorial side of the equation.
“I have spent night and day getting to know what there is to know about this organization and spending time with every person who works here,” he told me Wednesday. “I don’t spend a whole lot of time alone in my office. I’m out there talking to people about what they do, how they do it, how they think about their job, and how they think about news in the society we live in.”
Sun-Times insiders say it’s unusual if not unprecedented for an owner to take such a hands-on approach with reporters and editors, but Eisendrath says he respects the independence of the journalists who work for him and he’s careful not to cross the line.
“I’m not overstepping,” he said. “I’m not telling anybody what to report on or how to report. But news decisions and who we are are related — what we decide to cover, what stories we decide to own.
“If you put a Sun-Times story and a Tribune story side by side and read them like a literary scholar, you’ll see a difference in point of view. I love that difference and want to make sure that doesn’t go away. That is an important role for me because the whole brand of who we are is my responsibility. That goes to setting the tone and the context. How everybody carries that out, that’s why they get hired. They know how to do their jobs.”
Eisendrath said he still hasn’t finalized an organizational structure for the company, which includes the Sun-Times, the free alternative weekly Chicago Reader, and the media and digital production firm Answers Media. By November all operations will be consolidated in the West Loop headquarters of Answers Media at 30 North Racine Avenue.
“We have teams in place that are currently working on the integration of Answers Media into all that happens here — from how we improve our editorial product to how we go to market to give more to our advertisers,” he said.
This week Eisendrath began interviewing candidates for the new position of senior vice president of advertising. “One of the most important things we need to do is change our relationship with our advertising partners and bring them all the new tools and techniques that come with our now-combined resources,” he said. “Whether it’s an internal or external hire, we’re going to get somebody who really understands how to use the Answers Media talents to bring more value to our clients not just in print but in digital and across all platforms.”
So after one month on the job as CEO (and as the very public face of the company), how does Eisendrath view the Sun-Times as a product today?
“I like it a little better,” he said. “I think that reflects that the people who work here — the writers, the editors and everybody — feel free to do what they’ve always wanted to do. I think that shows. It’s a punchier paper than it was. I like that.
“I’m doing my share, but everybody is stepping their game up, too. That’s what this is about. We’re all learning together how to do this, how to step up and amplify our voice.
“It’s not a secret that we have challenges we have to overcome. But we’re knocking them off one at a time.”