Friday, June 25, 2010

The Vultures Claim Latest Victim: Alison True gone as Chicago Reader Editor

Crain's Chicago Business and The Chicago Reader's Mike Miner reports that Alison True, The Reader's long-time editor who had been with the paper since 1984, was summarily dismissed Friday morning by the latest revolving-door full of executives put in place by Atalaya Capital Management, the current owners trying to salvage some of the $30 million it loaned Creative Loafing, the parent company that bought The Reader in 2007 and spun it into bankruptcy less than two years later.

As I said in a comment I posted on Mike Miner's story, The Reader is now at the mercy of a Florida CEO who did such a good job at her last job they let he go, and an "acting" publisher du jour from Texas whose last great accomplishment was cutting the frequency of the publication she managed from daily to weekly.

Without Alison True, I would never have become a writer on architecture, but not even that can tarnish Alison's reputation as an exemplary editor who cared about developing writers and nurturing the kind of offbeat outlooks that made for compelling stories.

My own story, I'm sure, was shared by many other aspiring writers. Back in 2002, I was looking out my Marina City window and getting increasingly angry about the often hideous condo towers rising all around me. I put my feelings into an article that my former boss, Wendy Lapidus-Saltz, helped me punch into shape, and I mailed it to The Reader. When I heard nothing after several weeks, I said to myself that it was par for the course for a first effort and I needed to start thinking about what I would do next. Then, I came home to find a message on my answering machine, "This is Kiki Yablon of The Reader. We liked your piece and we're thinking about putting it on the cover."

Kiki and Alison gingerly guided their novice contributor through the editing process and the piece, titled, Stop the Blandness! ran on The Reader's front page on January 16, 2003. It was a long piece. but it got a great response from Chicago's architectural community. And for me, it was an amazing thrill.

Dozen's of other articles followed. I got to meet and write about Chicago's amazingly talented architects - from Helmut Jahn, to Stanley Tigerman, Ralph Johnson, Carol Ross Barney, Jeanne Gang, John Ronan, and so many more, including a side trip to Seattle for Rem Koolhaas's new public library, and concluding with a different take on Daniel Burnham for the Burnham Plan Centennial last year.

It was a great trip. I may have tortured an entire succession of talented Reader editors with my contentious bad humour, but I could still depend on finding a receptive ear in Alison whenever I had an idea for a new piece. And I think I can say, objectively, that a lot of interesting stuff resulted.

Week after week, Alison created a product whose quality frequently put Chicago's two dailies to shame. My suspicion is that Alison's unforgivable crime was that her commitment to that quality made her an obstacle to those absentee landlords who seek a cheaper, more blandly marketable, more generically modular Reader whose content can be created largely on autopilot from the home office in Florida.

For management to dismiss Alison is a huge misfortune for The Reader and an outrage to its most dedicated readers. What would be a tragedy, however, would be for Chicago to lose her entirely. We can only hope that a major publication that still retains some capacity for judging talent will snap her up - and quickly.

Alison, I would follow you anywhere. You're my hero.


Anonymous said...

Wow. It seems every 50-something journalist in Chicago is outraged at Alison True's dismissal. Don't know her, and she may well be a lovely person. But the truth is the Reader is so incredibly last century. Page after page of dense gray type about tedious insider stuff that only journlists could possibly care about. Maybe she could get a gig at a publication for journalists, if such a thing exists, so she and they can engage in more navel-gazing.

Lynn Becker said...

wow, bad spelling, an allergy to reading, a contempt for "insider stuff" like the city being bled dry by TIF's, and a disinterest in anything that isn't your own reflection: congratulations! you're just the target audience management is looking for!

Garret Gaston said...

Don't know you and you may well be an asshole, but the truth is Alison was a great editor who took chances and got important stories into print, although you were put off by all those dense gray words lumped together so unattractively. You're perfectly entitled to think insider "stuff" is tedious, but you don't get to dismiss what Alison did at the Reader on the grounds that you're young and with-it, as your tone indicates. In fact, if you want to sound all young and hip, try not to use cliches like "so last century" or "gig", or "navel-gazing", which is a 50-something expression nobody in 2010 uses.

Mk's library said...

Posting to Anonymous:
It's vaguely ironic that your pen name implies the vaccuum your thoughts on paper show. Reading involves comprehension and thought process, however the density you speak of has nothing to do with the font.
Good luck Alison, & thank you for your dedication!

Kathleen Herzog

Erik Maldre said...

thanks for sharing this story

Anonymous said...

Your comment said on the Reader Web site it was all about debt service, which is true, but someone else posted the information about Draper's failed history at Quick in Dallas and her later job as a fish monger. Interesting stuff, though.

Andrew Patner said...

Thank you, Lynn.