Chicago Public Media made news in January by buying the Chicago Sun-Times, the city’s longtime tabloid alternative to the broadsheet Tribune. The Tribune has fallen into the cost-cutting clutches of the hedge fund Alden Global Capital, so there’s very much an opening for a more public-minded player to make its mark.

The Sun-Times survived some, well, unusual leadership through the past few decades — from Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black to Michael Ferro and whoever came up with this. (And let’s not forget the 2014 bitcoin paywall.) In 2018 — not long after being sold for $1 — it followed the newspaper crowd and put up a (non-bitcoin) paywall, at $7.49 a month.

Its new owners are doing the public-minded thing and dropping the paywall, replacing it with a public-radio-style membership program.

The membership program has a standard tier at $5 a month or $60 a year. A higher tier, at $150 a year, throws in an invite to an “exclusive Founding Member event” and an umbrella. (There’s also a “give what you can” option.)

A free Sun-Times should probably put a little worry in the Tribune’s hedge fund owners, if only because a free direct alternative offers readers an excuse to stop paying for the Trib, which currently sells its digital subs at $17.33 a month. The Sun-Times lists 97 people in its newsroom, which, while a fraction of early metro-paper glory, is still substantial enough to make some noise journalistically.

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