CHICAGO – The headline in the latest issue of Windy City Times reads “LAST CALL,” and for good reason.
The 35th Anniversary print edition of the mainstay newspaper focused on Chicago’s LGBTQ community is also its last.
It’s not because there isn’t enough news to cover, it’s because of the increasingly difficult atmosphere for ad revenue for print newspapers.
From the start, WCT co-founder Tracy Baim wanted the weekly newspaper (in the past seceral years bi-weekly) was free for the public to read. Instead of relying on subscription fees, it’s paid the bills by selling advertisements.
Baim is the daughter of two Chicago journalists and co-founded The Windy City Times.
“Most people at that point called me an ‘activist journalist,’” she said. “Like I wasn’t seen as a journalist because I was working in gay press … and I was openly gay.”
Even in the 80s, being out of the closet was a radical concept, especially in newsrooms. While gay journalists worked in the mainstream press, most kept quiet. LGBTQ issues weren’t widely covered.
The Windy City Times gave those issues voice.
“There was stuff happening at a crisis point every single day in the community but yet the mainstream media was either ignoring it vilifying us,” Baim said.
Unions, nightlife, and politics, nothing was out of bounds for them, even when it came to being critical of the community.
“You cover people who abscond with money from organizations and people who are just doing bad stuff in the community. It’s hard to cover those things and people don’t want you to sometimes,” Baim said. “But to me, the gay community is just a mirror reflection of the mainstream society. So we have the same ‘isims – the same racism, sexism, classism – that we have in our community and if we ignore that, we’re just not doing our jobs.”
Protests got front page treatment as did deaths in the early years of the AIDS crisis.
Andrew Davis came to Chicago to go to law school and found himself reading the Windy City Times, eventually writing articles.
He’s now executive editor.
“I think if Windy City Times totally disappeared, so many voices would be lost,” he said. “I just think that this community, this city, would have been so different and it wouldn’t have been nearly as connected.”
Over the years, the look of the paper has changed as did the world and community it covered. The final straw for the print editions became COVID-19.
“Because of the pandemic, our print revenue was hit very hard,” Davis said. “I mean, the timing with it being the 35th anniversary, it just seemed right. It really did.”
“When I posted that we were going to close the final print issue of the Windy City Times, I heard from hundreds of people saying when they came out in 1990 or 1992 or whenever it was… they would go into the gay community and get that paper and put it between another paper, like hide it in the Tribune or just be so afraid of being found out because they had a gay paper under their bed,” Baim said. “And what a lifeline it was to the community in the pre-Internet days or the early days of the Internet (when) they would be afraid of going online.”
It’s the internet that may be saving grace for Windy City Times.
Baim’s focus now is to try and continue the paper, in some form, online and to get as much of the back issues archived as possible.
“At least the history we did is findable,” she said. “And my mission now is to make sure it continues to be findable and that we can scan even some of the early pre-digital issues. … I just want to make sure that the next generations can find us. … I’m really sad but I’m also really happy and proud of the hundreds of people that made Windy City Times what it was.”