The Chicago Sun-Times was relevant for the first three days of its existence, but rarely has been since. And now, it’s not only irrelevant, but redundant.
The Sun-Times was first published on Dec. 4, 1941. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, disgusted with the isolationist policies of Tribune publisher Robert McCormick, urged Marshall Field III to start a competing newspaper that would support his internationalist worldview.
Three days after the first Chicago Sun hit the newsstands, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, ending the isolationist movement.
Even after Colonel McCormick’s death in 1955, the Tribune persisted in its identity as the voice of Midwestern Republicanism. The paper never, ever, ever endorsed a Democrat for president, even insisting that Thomas Dewey had defeated Harry S. Truman. During those years, the Sun-Times offered a useful counterbalance to the Tribune’s conservatism (except for the two years in the mid-1980s when it was owned by Rupert Murdoch).
But as Illinois’s political outlook has become more liberal, the Tribune has adapted. The suburbs, the “Chicagoland” where the Tribune has always been most popular, are no longer reliably Republican. Neither is the Tribune. In 2008, the paper endorsed Barack Obama for president, then endorsed him again in 2012. Just this week, the Tribune editorialized in favor of gay marriage. The Colonel is clawing at the lid of his casket. The Sun-Times, meanwhile, won’t even endorse candidates anymore. Was that an acknowledgement that it’s no longer an alternative to the Tribune?
On Thursday, the Sun-Times laid off all its photographers and reportedly has plans to train reporters to take pictures with their smart phones. It’s simply another sign that the newspaper is a terminal case that’s lost its niche in Chicago. (Another big loss: the death of Roger Ebert, the only Chicago columnist who could sell papers.) The city may no longer be able, or inclined, to support two newspapers. If that’s the case, only the venerable Tribune will survive.