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Defender cuts editors, more staff

The Chicago Defender offices 4445 S. King | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times Files

The Chicago Defender offices at 4445 S. King | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times Files

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Updated: November 25, 2011 8:07AM

One of the nation’s oldest black-owned newspapers, the Chicago Defender, is struggling to stay afloat. The newspaper is months behind on its rent, and this week laid off a sixth of its staff.

Laid off were the only two editors left among its already dwindled staff of 18 — Executive Editor Lou Ransom and News Editor Rhonda Gillespie.

An accounts receivables staffer also was laid off, and the paper’s only photographer switched from full- to part-time, according to staffers at the 106-year-old, once daily paper founded by Robert Abbott in 1905. Amidst financial woes, it became a weekly publication in 2008.

The Defender is thousands of dollars behind in its lease with developer Elzie Higginbottom, owner of its 8,500-square-foot headquarters at 4445 S. King Dr., the landmark Metropolitan Funeral Home building in Bronzeville and the Defender’s third home since 2003.

That’s when it was purchased by Real Times Media Inc., a Detroit-based investment group.

Publisher and President Michael House attributed the Defender’s woes to factors assailing the newspaper industry as a whole — competition from the Web, decreased advertising, and rising print and operating costs — compounded, he said, by difficulties collecting its accounts receivables.

“We’re facing the same struggles as everyone else,” said House, noting that the Chicago Tribune is still in bankruptcy. “And our receivables are taking longer to collect. We’re facing 60- and 90-plus days from advertisers, which creates a back-up in terms of our being able to make our own payments. The area where we have the greatest challenge right now is with our landlord, and we’re currently working out an agreement to bring our lease current.”

The paper earlier this month released its audited circulation numbers, hovering around 16,000.

But the future of the historic paper — credited as the catalyst to the Great Migration of blacks from the South to the North and a champion of the civil rights movement — is secure, House said.

“We have no intentions of closing. In terms of layoffs, it’s strictly based on some realignment of duties and trying to do things that will help us meet our monthly obligations,” he said.

Real Times Media also owns the Michigan Chronicle and Michigan Front Page, New Pittsburgh Courier and Memphis Tri-State Defender.

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