Citing coronavirus impact, 22nd Century Media goes out of business

22nd Century Media

The coronavirus pandemic and its calamitous effect on advertising revenue has put a suburban Chicago news organization out of business after 15 years.

22nd Century Media, publisher of 14 community newspapers and websites covering the North Shore and southwest suburbs, abruptly shut down operations Tuesday, resulting in the loss of more than 40 jobs — including 20 newsroom positions.

“Due to the economic impact of the coronavirus on all small businesses, from which we earn a large majority of our advertising base, we have made the difficult decision to cease operations for the time being,” the company said in a statement. “We hope to be able to resurrect in the not too distant future, but in order to make that a possibility, we were compelled to make this decision.”

The announcement came just days after 22nd Century Media suspended publication of its 14 print editions and issued an urgent plea for digital subscribers. Print and digital subscribers are expected to receive refunds.

Joe Coughlin

For publisher Joe Coughlin and his staff, it marked the end of the line after 15 years of award-winning hyperlocal news reporting that’s in short supply these days. One could argue it’s more desperately needed now than ever.

Coughlin confirmed that 20 editorial employees were among those suddenly out of work, adding: “Good news is there are a lot of talented journalists that just became free agents, and who knows maybe we’ll come up with a project out of the ashes.”

Jack Ryan, the North Shore investment banker and onetime Republican candidate for U.S. senator, founded the company in 2005 out of dissatisfaction with traditional media. “People would say if you think this is so wrong, why don’t you do something about it?” Ryan once told me. “So I went out and did something about it.”

Ryan turned over control of the company to Coughlin, president Andrew Nicks, chief marketing officer Heather Warthen and chief technology officer Collins Mony in 2015.

22nd Century Media

The weekly titles included The Glencoe Anchor, The Glenview Lantern, The Highland Park Landmark, The Lake Forest Leader, The Northbrook Tower, The Wilmette Beacon, and The Winnetka Current on the North Shore, and The Frankfort Station, The Homer Horizon, The Lockport Legend, The Mokena Messenger, The New Lenox Patriot, The Orland Park Prairie and The Tinley Junction in the south suburbs.

A 15th publication, Malibu Surfside News in southern California, will continue online.

For two years 22nd Century Media also published Chicagoly, a quarterly lifestyle magazine that won the Peter Lisagor Award for general excellent in print journalism just before it folded in 2018.

Marty Carlino, editor of The Northbrook Tower, wrote on Facebook: “To say this is devastating news would certainly be an understatement. But I’m incredibly thankful for the wonderful journey I had. . . . Together, the journalism we produced made a profound impact on our communities. These communities lose their best source of information today.”

Sean Hastings, editor of the The New Lenox Patriot, wrote on Facebook: “Being the editor of The Patriot, the newspaper that serves the town I have lived in my entire life, has meant more to me than I can put into words. It was more than a job to me. I was able to be a voice of the town I grew up in and tell countless stories that I will always remember.”

Tuesday’s comment of the day: Terry Socol: Sorry to see Ji [Suk Yi] take over the evening slot. I was hoping that WGN would have the sense of putting the talented Pete McMurray in that slot rather than limiting him to a four-hour slot on Sundays. Pete is much more witty and engaging than Ji. But WGN has made a lot of bad moves lately like dropping Bill and Wendy in favor of more John Williams.