Chicago Reader

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Geoff Dougherty Comes Over to the Reader; Kiki Yablon Is Named Editor, Alison Draper Publisher

Posted by Michael Miner on Thu, Jul 22, 2010 at 5:44 PM

Three important appointments were announced today to the staff of the Reader, meeting in the back room of the Blue Frog on East Hubbard.

Marty Petty, CEO of the Creative Loafing chain, which controls the Reader, said that acting publisher Alison Draper had taken the job permanently. This news came as no surprise. Even when her job was supposedly temporary, Draper—former publisher of the Dallas Observer—had made it clear she expected to hold it for a long time. She'd been simply the publisher on this paper's masthead ever since she replaced Jim Warren in March.

Draper than announced that managing editor Kiki Yablon had agreed to become editor. Again, the news was no surprise. Yablon had been acting editor since Draper fired Alison True last month; she was both the obvious choice and an exceptionally popular one with the editorial staff.

The surprise was Draper's announcement that she'd hired Geoff Dougherty as her associate publisher. The founder of the online Chi-Town Daily News in 2005, and more recently founder and president of its successor, the print-and-online Chicago Current, Dougherty has been closely identified with Chicago's new journalism, and he famously asserted at the Chicago Journalism Town Hall early last year that for $2 million a year he could cover Chicago as well as the Sun-Times or Tribune. Maybe so, but although he was adept at pulling grants out of foundations he couldn't raise that kind of money, and now he's pulling the plug on Chicago Current.

"You know it seems pretty clear that I was going to be able to have a lot more impact on the things I like having an impact on—journalism and the business of journalism—at the Reader versus the Chicago Current," he told me.

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The way you write it, I feel like I was there.

Posted by Lauri Apple on | Report this comment

"Three important appointments"

Everything's important nowadays.

Posted by FGFM on | Report this comment

. . . so the firing of Alison True was ultimately a cost-saving move alone.

Posted by anonymous poster on | Report this comment


Either that or Draper wanted to hire Geoff Dougherty instead because his two ventures failed and his foundation money all ran out. Pretty depressing.

Posted by anonymous poster on | Report this comment

"[Geoff Dougherty] famously asserted at the Chicago Journalism Town Hall early last year that for $2 million a year he could cover Chicago as well as the Sun-Times or Tribune."

I could cover Chicago as well as the Sun-Times for 300 bucks.

-- MrJM

Posted by MrJM on | Report this comment

I was at at that town hall meeting and specifically remember the reaction in the room when Dougherty made his claim. When people began to laugh (Carol Marine sneered particularly incredulously), a sad look came over his face and his head dropped. But at the time, I was an unemployed journalist and my first thought was, "you know, if he hired me to cover city hall for $21K a year, I'd jump at the opportunity."
— Deadfish

Posted by deadfish on | Report this comment

The Reader would have been wise to do its due diligence and ask a few key questions of Geoff Dougherty before hiring him. While leading the ChiTown Daily News, what happened to the $95,000 Knight grant that was supposed to fund three reporters' salaries for calendar year 2009, yet ran out by Labor Day of 2009? What happened to the $5,000 Headline Club grant (awarded in 2008) for publishing a series on police brutality, but for which no articles were ever published? Why did Dougherty lay off ChiTown's development director in April 2009, and then fail to accomplish any meaningful fundraising on his own after that? Dougherty's leadership has been less than positive; his actions speak volumes. Perhaps he's changed his ways, but judging by the Chicago Current's failure, I'd guess not. If Dougherty has already satisfactorily answered these questions for the Reader, then fine. But I also doubt anyone ever asked.

Posted by gottalovedaley on | Report this comment

"I could cover Chicago as well as the Sun-Times for 300 bucks."

You could do a better job proofreading and fact-checking the Sun-Times online version for that kind of money, at least. It's absolutely horrid.

Posted by FGFM on | Report this comment

Congratulations to Geoff.

Posted by Lou Grant on | Report this comment

what does an associate publisher do?

Posted by donmcleese on | Report this comment

let's hope that geoff does a better job paying his employees than he did at chi-town or the current

Posted by kilgore on | Report this comment

And so when does the Reader get back to promoting journalism?

Posted by fairbanks on | Report this comment

Did someone muzzle Miner? No opinion or inside details? A mere shadow of the Michael who used to write for the Reader.

Too bad. So sad.

Posted by when the Reader was good on | Report this comment

"The Reader would have been wise to do its due diligence and ask a few key questions of Geoff Dougherty before hiring him"

Gottalovedaley,

A few key questions for you.

1. What evidence do you have that there was any wrongdoing with regard to any of the things you mention?

2. Has the Knight Foundation made any complaints about its grant not being used properly? If so, show me the evidence. If not, why would you be complaining when the people who provided this money have not objected to anything?

3. Ditto the above question for the Headline Club.

4. You do release that police brutality is a difficult thing to uncover, right?

5. Do you have information that the development director you mentioned had been able to raise serious money for the Chi Town Daily News? If so, show me the evidence. If not, what relevance is there that Dougherty wasn't able to succeed at bringing in money either?

6. You state Dougherty's "actions speak volumes". You haven't mentioned any actions from Dougherty, however (other than the above mentioned lay-off of the development director at the Chi-Town Daily News, for which you don't explain the significance of). Perhaps you might want to do so if you feel you actually have legitimate points you wish to express.

It will be interesting to see if there is now a mea-culpa from some of the people who declared that the change made a few weeks ago clearly meant the the Reader was no longer going to be interested in doing serious journalism. There were several people who stated unambiguously, without any evidence, that the Reader will now without a doubt be nothing more than a clone of Time Out Chicago. Some even called for a boycott and other types of protests against the Reader. Most of those people, ironically, were journalists who should have been trained to avoid jumping quickly to conclusions when events happen.

Posted by The original IAC on | Report this comment

More discussion over on Windy Citizen: http://www.windycitizen.com/chicago/media/…

Posted by RexFaraday on | Report this comment

It's funny how IAC compulsively defends management even though he doesn't know any of these people. I don't know any of these people either, but I wasn't impressed with the quality of Dougherty's sites given that he had some money with which to work and the scuttlebutt around him is not reassuring.

Posted by FGFM on | Report this comment

@The original IAC

How do you know that the critical, severe and quite sustained negative reaction to True's firing hasn't changed Draper's and Creative Loafing's original intentions? After all, it has taken a while for these appointments to be announced.

For that matter, won't we have to wait a few weeks or months before we render any kind of judgment on the new Reader? In any event, Draper now has her team in place, all people who owe their jobs to her. And that's key. Whatever Draper and her CL higher-ups want, they'll probably get. Whether Yablon and Dougherty end up as fine, energetic and uncompromised journalists or mere credibility window dressing in the new environment remains to be seen. It can cut either way. I've seen people put their foot down and refuse to compromise their principles and I've seen others toss aside everything they ever professionally believed like a used kleenex.

In any event, even if the Reader continues to be a credible and vital publication (in which case, it's legitimate to ask why True was fired), it MAY be only because of the folks here and in other venues who raised a ruckus.

If you have solid, credible evidence to the contrary, please, do illuminate us.

Posted by Pelham on | Report this comment

Congratulations Geoff. Here's hoping you get that 2 mil.

Yablon seems a good choice to bump up as well - suspect she'll do exactly what she's told.

Posted by DeBartolo on | Report this comment

"How do you know that the critical, severe and quite sustained negative reaction to True's firing hasn't changed Draper's and Creative Loafing's original intentions? After all, it has taken a while for these appointments to be announced."

Oh my goodness. I really do not think that Draper and her bosses altered their decision-making based on several whiny comments on this blog. Creative Loafing is owned by a hedge-fund that you can bet is insisting that there is a plan to get its financial house in order and to maximize revenues and improve its balance sheet. Finding the right way to do this is critical for a company that just emerged from bankruptcy. It is a very serious situation. They are not going to change their course of action based on a few people on the internet, even journalists, screaming loudly (especially since they didn't really even seem to know what they were screaming about). And I find it odd that you think that it took a long time for them to make this announcement. My reaction was just the opposite. I thought it was really quick to in less than a month hire a new editor as well as a new person from outside the publication for another top position.

"Whatever Draper and her CL higher-ups want, they'll probably get."

Forgive me, but isn't that the way it is supposed to work? Don't companies generally work better when their employees are committed to carrying out the vision of its leadership? Or is it better for people to ignore the orders of their bosses and try to impede what they intend to accomplish? That doesn't mean that good leadership doesn't involve listening and considering what everyone who works for them has to say. But that is separate from employees purposely not giving their bosses what they want.

Geoff Dougherty is a former investigative reporter. He has done a good job editorially with the Chi-Town Daily News and the Chicago Current. In many cases, those publications did a better job covering certain issues than both the Tribune and the Sun-Times. Clearly, he is someone who is committed to sound and comprehensive journalism. He has even made some anti-corporate statements about the Tribune Company and other newspaper companies not investing enough in journalism. So obviously his hiring and the elevation of the number two to the editor's post have shown that everybody was off-base when they jumped to the conclusion that True's firing indicated that management was clearly not committed to the Reader continuing to produce strong and extensive journalism.

Posted by The original IAC on | Report this comment

The bottom line is that a lot of people have been burned by Geoff Dougherty and still carry a grudge. Reporters. Administrative staffers. Funding officers. Local media training programs (both nonprofit and university based.) None of this is a secret, either--it's very common knowledge in this town. These folks are not shy about sharing their opinions of Geoff when asked in private, even if most of them aren't blogging about how big a turd they think the guy is. (And I'm being generous here, I've heard him called far worse by people who've worked closely with him in the recent past.) In fact, Fernando Diaz, now the managing editor of Hoy, very publicly slammed Dougherty on his past failures and lack of leadership skills when the Chi-town Daily closed.

Point being: there are many people in Chicago who may view the Reader as tainted because of its association with Dougherty and may choose to distance themselves from the publication rather than have anything to do with him. I won't LMGTFY, but the names of these people are very easy to surmise for anyone who has been paying attention in the past couple of years.

I summarized Dougherty's spotty history and lack of follow through on his previous projects and quoted Diaz's thoughts about him on my blog on Friday:

“The archives will remain online”: The Troubling History of Geoff Dougherty http://bit.ly/9Dbfnh

Posted by mikedoyleblogger on | Report this comment

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