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Chicago Reader photographs: Performance collection

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Chicago Reader PP

Scope and Content of the Collection

Publicity and live photographs of Midwest area dance, drama, comedy, and music performers and performances from the files of the Chicago Reader weekly newspaper.

Dance and drama photographs include those of small and large theatre groups and companies, spaces, and productions, as well as actors, comedy troupes, and performance artists. Music photos encompass the many genres present in the Chicago and Midwest music scenes including blues, jazz, R & B, rock, folk, cabaret, and country.


  • Creation: approximately 1960s-2006
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1980 - 2000



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Chicago Reader photographs: Performance collection is open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Chicago Reader photographs: Performance collection is the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use note

Copyright of all photographs is owned by photographer. It is the responsibility of the user to obtain permission to publish or reproduce photographs from individual photographers.

History of Chicago Reader

Alternative weekly newspaper founded in Chicago in 1971.

The Chicago Reader was founded in 1971 by a group of friends who met at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Unlike the underground press of the 1960s, alternative weeklies like the Reader were less political and more commercial in their orientation, published by and for the baby boomers who were then emerging from college.

The brainchild of Robert A. Roth, who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, the Reader ignored the news and concentrated instead on the texture of life in the city: rather than add to the plentiful coverage of politics, crime, and celebrities supplied by the city’s four dailies, it offered features about everyday life and ordinary people. It also offered extensive listings of arts and cultural events-- especially live music, film, and theater--and prominently featured the writing of young critics. The paper is often credited with nurturing Chicago’s nascent theater scene, giving early coverage to storied companies such as the St. Nicholas, Organic, and Steppenwolf.

The paper also distinguished itself by giving free classifieds to individual readers and by distributing the paper for free, a practice that was virtually unheard of at the time for publications with journalistic ambitions. Eventually, free circulation lost its stigma and became the standard for city weeklies.

The Reader is perhaps best known for its deep, immersive style of literary journalism. An oft-cited example is a 19,000-word article on beekeeping by editor Michael Lenehan. Steve Bogira's 1988 article “A Fire in the Family” used an apartment-building fire as the starting point for a 15,000-word chronicle of life among the underclass. And Lee Sandlin’s two-part piece on World War II ranged close to 34,000 words. (A 13-minute version of it was aired on the This American Life program on National Public Radio.)

As the paper prospered, investigative and political reporting became another important part of the mix. Reader articles by David Moberg are credited with helping to elect Chicago’s first black mayor, the late Harold Washington. John Conroy wrote extensively over a period of more than 17 years on police torture in Chicago; his reporting was instrumental in the ouster and prosecution of the alleged leader of a police torture ring and in the release of several wrongly convicted prisoners from death row. And in more recent years, extensive coverage of tax increment financing (TIFs) by Ben Joravsky and articles on government transparency by Joravsky and political editor Mick Dumke have had a major impact on Chicagoans’ understanding of city politics.

In 2006, one of the paper’s founders, Tom Rehwaldt, filed suit against his partners, accusing them of mismanagement. Not long afterward, in July 2007, the Reader was sold to Ben Eason and Creative Loafing, Inc. In 2008, Creative Loafing filed for bankruptcy and was later acquired by its chief creditor, Atalaya Capital Management.

Despite staff cutbacks necessitated by these ownership changes, and by environmental factors leading to drops in advertising revenues, key figures remained on staff in January 2010, including editor Alison True, managing editor Kiki Yablon, media critic Michael Miner, film critic J.R. Jones, food writer Mike Sula, arts reporter Deanna Isaacs, theater critic Albert Williams, and music writers Peter Margasak and Miles Raymer. In June 2010 Creative Loafing laid off Alison True. Managing editor Kiki Yablon was installed as editor and Geoff Dougherty was brought in as associate publisher to assist new publisher Alison Draper.

The Chicago Reader continues to be acknowledged as a leader of the alternative press, among the top three or four papers in the country in terms of page count, advertising revenue, and reputation for editorial excellence. - Reader staff


61 Linear Feet (147 boxes, 1 oversize box)


Publicity and live photographs of Midwest area dance, drama, comedy, and music performers and performances from the files of the Chicago Reader weekly newspaper.


Papers are organized in the following series

Series 1: Dance/Drama, 1972-2006
Boxes 1-83
Series 2: Music, approximately 1960s-2006
Boxes 84-147

Collection Stack Location

1 10 6-7, 1 11 1-7, 1 12 1, 1 16 3

Other Finding Aids

See also the Chicago Reader Photographs: News Collection (Midwest MS Chicago Reader PN), the Chicago Reader Artwork Collection (Midwest MS Chicago Reader A), and the Chicago Reader Records (Midwest MS Chicago Reader R).


Gift of the Chicago Reader, 2008.

Processed by

Lisa Janssen, 2008-2009.


This inventory was created with the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this inventory do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Inventory of the Chicago Reader photographs: Performance collection, approximately 1960s-2006, bulk 1980-2000
Lisa Janssen
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States