The Chicago Reader fired Mark Konkol ten days into his tenure as executive editor. Konkol’s first cover (pictured above) depicted gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker on the phone while sitting on a lawn jockey. In the corner, an FBI agent appears to listen him on his conversation. The cover came as a result of the release of Pritzker’s FBI wiretapped-conversations with former Governor Rod Blagojevich where Pritzker deemed Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White the “least offensive” option when it came to “the African-American thing” as Blagojevich searched for a replacement to fill President-elect Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat.
Blagojevich was later convicted and sentenced to fourteen years in federal prison for soliciting bribes in exchange for the vacant Senate seat.
Pritzker’s statements on the recording were criticized as racists and his supporters called the Reader’s cover race-baiting.
Konkol had previously defended the cover, saying, “Today’s Reader included a variety of opinions about J.B. Pritzker’s wire-tapped interaction with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, including the candidate’s own statements in his defense.”
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion. We stand by our decision to engage readers on important issues of the day by producing journalism and social commentary that gets people talking about uncomfortable topics.”
Pritzker’s said in a statement, “I knew that they intended to be provocative at the Reader, but I think this is not the right approach.”
Sun-Times Media CEO Edwin Eisendrath then released a statement Saturday evening announcing Konkol’s dismissal. He wrote in part, “Mark came to the publication bringing great hope for a new direction and a new life to a storied brand. Sometimes things don’t work out as planned.”
“A tumultuous ten days culminated in the publication of a Reader cover that we believe was not in line with either our vision for the Reader or that storied history.”
The Chicago Reader then tweeted out that announcement with an unusually frank “Ding dong the witch is dead!” The Twitter account then proceeded to hold a no-holds-barred ask me anything on Twitter for three hours.
I am announcing today the departure of Mark Konkol from the Reader. Mark came to the publication bringing great hope for a new direction and a new life to a storied brand. Sometimes things don’t work out as planned. A tumultuous ten days culminated in the publication of a Reader cover that we believe was not in line with either our vision for the Reader or that storied history. We wish Mark well.
While controversy is sometimes seen as part and parcel of the alternative weekly world, we believe it’s necessary in this instance to apologize to anyone who was offended by this week’s cover. The published cover in my view distracted from the publication as a whole.
The reporters at the Reader work hard to be great journalists. They can and will take on the toughest stories — including issues of race, injustice and people struggling to be heard.
We will put in place interim leadership and plan for the future.