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The Chicago Reader is an alternative weekly newspaper known for its literary style of journalism and intelligent coverage of the arts, particularly film. A pioneer of the urban free-weekly movement, it was founded in 1971 by a group of friends who attended Carleton Collegemarker. In July 2007, the Reader and its sister paper, the Washington City Paper, were sold to Creative Loafing, publisher of alternative weeklies in Atlanta, Charlotte, Tampa, and Sarasota. Creative Loafing filed for bankruptcy in June 2008. In August 2009, the bankruptcy court awarded the company to Creative Loafing's chief creditor, Atalaya Capital Management.

The Reader, as it is commonly known, is dated every Thursday and distributed free on Wednesday and Thursday to more than 1,900 locations in the Chicago metropolitan area. As of November 2009, the average weekly circulation, audited by Verified Audit Circulation, was 100,000 down from more than 138,000 just five years before.

The Reader has served two significant roles in Chicago. First, it offers local news and commentary. Its reporting on police torture in the 1990s and the rise of mayor Harold Washington in the 1980s, for example, led to fundamental changes in city government. Second, it provides an extensive guide to Chicago, primarily its culture and real-estate. Its criticism nurtured the birth of off-Loop theater, a scene that now boasts more than 200 companies, including the Steppenwolf Theatremarker.

Because it is funded largely through extensive classified advertising and by small businesses, the Reader's journalism can be hard-hitting. Though the paper is famous for long, exhaustive cover stories, a la The New Yorker, it has always offered a variety of stories in a variety of lengths and voices, plus extensive arts coverage. In recent years, most of its cover stories have been of a fairly typical magazine-feature length, but now some believe the paper's overall quality has declined.

A 2008 article in the Columbia Journalism Review tried to provide an explanation for this decline. By 2005, the Reader was quickly losing its audience, though it was still a "fat, four-section paper . . . under the arm of every L rider." The paper had grown "complacent because it was still raking in the dough." But with the skid in quality, the editors tried hard to seem "hip" once again, even hiring "a tattooed, twenty-seven-year-old stripper to write a late-night party column." A former contributor called the paper's subsequent shift a tragic mistake that exacerbated its business troubles, explaining, "The feeling was the Reader had to be reinvented . . . and change its character."

Format

The work of acclaimed comic book artist and cartoonist Chris Ware used to run regularly in the Reader. Its main film critic is J.R. Jones; the Reader's publisher, Creative Loafing, hosts the Web site holding the past and current writings of the paper's former chief film critic, Jonathan Rosenbaum. The Reader often runs the weekly comic DIRTFARM by Ben Claassen III.

The Reader’s Guide to Arts & Entertainment, a spin-off launched in 1996, was a free weekly repackaging of the Reader's entertainment listings and arts writing for the suburbs north, northwest and west of Chicago. Publication was suspended in August 2007 and suburban circulation of the city paper was expanded.

The Reader was slow to offer its content on the Internet, but now posts all of its content and archives online for free website.

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