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Parker Alumnus Purchases the Chicago Sun-Times

New+Sun+Times+CEO+and+Parker+Alum+Edwin+Eisendrath+sits+in+his+new+office.
New Sun Times CEO and Parker Alum Edwin Eisendrath sits in his new office.

New Sun Times CEO and Parker Alum Edwin Eisendrath sits in his new office.

Photo by Grace Buono

Photo by Grace Buono

New Sun Times CEO and Parker Alum Edwin Eisendrath sits in his new office.

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The dry-erase-board on the back wall of the grey office is full of red scribbles that detail the inner workings of the Chicago Sun-Times. Paper pricing, digital services, membership events, logo and brand advertisers, alerts, sponsored content–the list is long. Front and center at the chestnut colored desk sits former Parker student and new CEO of the Sun-Times, Edwin Eisendrath ‘76.  Chicago skyscrapers seen through the window are reflected on the whiteboard behind him, and it seems appropriate–after all, the Sun-Times is known as the paper of Chicago working men and women.

In early July, Eisendrath and his investors signed the formal deal to purchase the Sun-Times. This Chicago paper has long been a victim to tumultuous times, and many who paid attention assumed it would be bought by and absorbed into the Chicago Tribune. Eisendrath changed the path for the Sun-Times.

For the past 12 years as managing partner of StrateSphere, which the Tribune describes as “an Ohio-based business development company,” Eisendrath has done most of his work overseas–but he wanted that to change after the results of the 2016 elections. “Every six weeks or so I would get on a plane and go to Riyadh, or somewhere near there, and I was worried about our country after the election,” Eisendrath said. “I thought a lot about this question of trust.”

Eisendrath thought about trust in relation to the media that people use. “People, if you look at poll after poll after poll, with the exception of two big issues, which are guns and abortion, most people are clustered fairly much in the same area,” Eisendrath said. “But they don’t always vote the same way because they hate elites.”

Most often, these elites are defined as the people in Boston and New York City. “Now, it’s not fair,” Eisendrath said. “The New York Post isn’t an elite newspaper, but in a large part of the country, people think it’s that way because it comes from New York.”

So how does Chicago fit into all this? Eisendrath thinks the city can wield more trust with more people than a Boston or New York paper could. “Chicago is a great place to build a news organization that really connects in a genuine way to people,” Eisendrath said. “I went to meet with people at the Chicago Federation of Labour and found that they had some of the same thoughts–so we were allies in doing this.”

Eisendrath chose to buy a newspaper at a very interesting time for the industry. “Newspapers themselves are dying off all over the country,” Eisendrath said. “The revenue isn’t there, advertisers have moved to mobile platforms–so if you want to find a way to pay reporters, you need to find a way to make it work.”

Every day since the purchase was made, Eisendrath has been working to give the Sun-Times a new and unique platform that will draw new support in from the Chicagoland area and beyond. “What makes us special is that the Sun-Times and Chicago share a lot of identity,” Eisendrath said. “They are both hard working, they’re both scrappy, they both do a lot with a little, and so we feel like we have the backs of hard-working men and women in Chicago, and they have ours. That is a very strong place to start.”

Eisendrath never imagined himself owning a newspaper. “I did imagine myself being involved in civic life, and have, after all, spent a lot of time doing that,” Eisendrath said. “I have spent forever, since Lin Martin in 4th grade, thinking about what community and democracy mean. Look, a lot of investors who have stepped up to save this paper have Parker connections. It’s not just me, there’s clearly something there.”

While Eisendrath may have not pursued a journalism career during his time at Parker, he was always very civically aware and engaged in the school community. Principal Daniel Frank said, “Edwin has been very civic minded, a public figure…certainly that Parker attitude of everything to help and nothing to hinder, how can he help improve people’s experience in the community?”

Frank was a few years behind Eisendrath here at Parker, but he still remembers Eisendrath’s civic side. “That he’s always had, and I’ve always admired him for doing that,” Frank said. “This one is really something–to try and save the newspaper like the way he has for so many Chicagoans.”

Since their time at Parker, Frank has continued to see Eisendrath embrace and work with so many of the values students are taught at Parker. “How do you see an opportunity or see a problem, and how do you bring all the hussle and creativity and public-minded citizenship to make an improvement,” Frank said. “He was very passionate about doing this, and he was just relentless at trying to achieve the goal. That takes a lot of perseverance and belief in one’s self and optimism. He embodies all that.”

Another investor, also a Parker alum, criminal defense attorney Leonard Goodman ‘XX, was part of the purchase and will be part of its future. “This is not my day job,” Goodman said. “But I’m on the board of the Sun-Times and hoping to steer the direction of the paper in a less corporate and more independent way.”

Goodman knew of Eisendrath at Parker, but they weren’t friends. Knowing Goodman’s commitment to supporting investigative journalism, Eisendrath called him one day and explained what he was trying to do. “The Sun-Times has a reputation for doing good investigative pieces and for being somewhat independent from the corporate press,” Goodman said, “and that was of interest to me.”

Eisendrath says that what he has learned about how to be civic-minded and engaged he didn’t learn entirely at Parker. “And the reason is because what I got out of Parker were values,” Eisendrath said. “You don’t really apply values, you live them. The things that you have to do in order to act on them in a community are skills of community-building, organizing, of leadership, of communications. Those came in a bunch of different ways. Maybe some at Parker. It’s the values piece that I got at Parker.”

Goodman agrees. “I think being community-minded and wanting to save an important piece of history in Chicago–” he said, “I think the Parker spirit probably plays a part in that.”

Even though Eisendrath is no longer walking down the halls at Parker every day, he still sees similarity between what Parker was for him and what his work is today at the Sun-Times. “We have a lot of meetings,” Eisendrath said. “We don’t have Morning Ex, but we have a lot of smaller or group meetings. To put together, for example, today’s newspaper, there was a lot of news yesterday. And yet it all came together to tell a coherent story about the day. That required every piece of us working together–and they did.”

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