Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Chicago-Area 22nd Century Media Shuts Down

Days after suspending print publication of its suburban Chicago newspaper chain, 22nd Century Media ceased operations Tuesday amid a coronavirus-spawned advertising drought.

The end was sudden and the downfall swift, as businesses closed shop and advertising dried up, cutting off the key revenue stream for the weekly newspapers, Joe Coughlin, 22nd Century’s publisher, said Tuesday.

“We were having a great year, and then...March,” Coughlin told The Chicago Tribune. "Advertising and revenue collection just stopped.”

The decision ends a 15-year run for the hyperlocal publisher, whose 14 Chicago-area weeklies ranged from the north suburban Highland Park Landmark and Northbrook Tower to the Orland Park Prairie and Lockport Legend in the southwest suburbs.

The newspaper chain had about 50 employees. A handful will stay on to help wind down operations over the next few weeks, Coughlin said. The rest were laid off Tuesday.

Companies large and small have struggled during the health crisis, including the already challenged legacy newspaper business.

The Tampa Bay Times announced Monday it was suspending all but two days of print publication, while Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, announced furloughs and pay cuts across the chain in the wake of coronavirus-related advertising declines.

On Friday, Coughlin posted a message to readers saying print publication would be suspended, but the online versions of the newspapers would continue. He also said print subscribers would be converted to digital subscriptions, and made a plea for new subscribers to help support the local journalism 22nd Century Media provided.

By Monday night, it became clear to Coughlin that the advertising-supported business was unsustainable under the current conditions. The company told its staffers of the decision to cease operations Tuesday.

“We are refunding subscribers, both print and digital,” Coughlin, 37, said Tuesday, adding he didn’t know yet whether the company was capable of refunding all subscribers.

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