Mark Konkol out as editor of Chicago Reader

Pulitzer-prize winning columnist out after less than two weeks

Back some time ago, if there was a TV show so poorly received by critics and the viewing public, it would be off the air in three weeks.

Mark Konkol lasted less than two weeks running a newspaper.

In a move praised by many, the Chicago Sun-Times fired the Pulitzer-prize winning columnist as executive editor after only ten days after a controversial drawing landed on the front page of the Chicago Reader, criticized for being racially insensitive.

The Sun-Times and the Reader are both owned by a group led by former alderman and CEO Edwin Eisendrath, who bought the paper last year. Eisendrath released a statement on Saturday night regarding the removal of Konkol:

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.

The cover (click here to view) featured a cartoon of Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker sitting on top of a black lawn jockey while blowing black smoke in reference to Pritzker being heard on a FBI wiretap tape talking to imprisoned former Governor Rod Blagoveich, discussing who should fill Barack Obama’s senate seat after he was elected President in 2008. Pritzker was heard saying the seat should be filled with “the least offensive black”.

The cover also draw fire from some African-American elected officials who supported Pritzker, including several members of the City Council’s Black Caucus. This is the second time in less than a year a drawing in a local publication drew fire for being racially insensitive. Last year, another publication depicted a black kid in a Cubs hat representing Chicago Public Schools while a white billionaire saying he was broke.

And this could have turned out to be much worse than it indicated. As documented by Robert Feder, the original plan was to feature Pritzker in blackface – using the “n” word as a headline. That drew the objection of Adeshina Emmanuel, who wrote the piece, saying he felt incredible pressure to use the rhetoric and had to push back against it. Naturally, the original cover idea was rejected, but Konkol slipped through the revised edition cover art without approval from Eisendrath.

Konkol made some unpopular moves during his short tenure at the Reader. For one, he fired editor Jake Malooley on February 9 by phone as Malooley was returning from his honeymoon. Several other staffers said Konkol was hard to get along with and often bullied people.

Reaction on Twitter was swift and noticeable – and even revealed more about Konkol than we thought:

Perhaps, the biggest eye-opener came from the Reader’s Ryan Smith, who wrote this thread (click on the 12:12 link to read more)

And this – from the twitter account of the Chicago Reader (since deleted):

As some of you recall, Konkol was narrator of the critically panned and ratings disaster (and T Dog Media TV Hall Of Shamer) Chicagoland, which was nothing more than an infomercial for mayor Rahm Emanuel while celebrating racial stereotypes. During a review of the entire CNN series, I wrote: “The use of co-writer and Pulitzer Prize Award-Winning columnist Mark Konkol as narrator was irritating, and was the worst part of the show. And even more irritating was his use – or overuse – of the words “national attention” and “national news”, throwing them around like fish.” In other words, Konkol was just as awful as Jermaine Fowler was announcing at the Emmys.

And while at DNAInfo in 2015, an interview Konkol had with Spike Lee went off the rails ending in “anger, f-bombs, and a shouting match.”

And his reporting on racial issues has also come into question. Around 2007 or so, I criticized Mark Konkol in the comments section of the Sun-Times about his reporting on the racially changing Scottsdale neighborhood, a subdivision of the Ashburn community on the Southwest Side for making the racial problems more sensational than they really were. Konkol had a hand in blocking any future comments from me on any future articles on the matter.

Given what I’ve read in Feder’s article and on social media – and my own experiences with him, it verifies what I have suspected all along. Konkol isn’t a nice guy, he’s nothing more than a self-promoting huckster doing only what’s best of him and not the paper. Given his atrocious reporting on racial issues, it didn’t surprise me he would sacrifice the Reader’s credibility for some shock jock antics, which would’ve cost the free alt-weekly advertisers. And it didn’t surprise me he wasn’t well-liked in the office, either.

I’ve said this before but… it’s hard to believe Konkol actually won a Pulitzer. But keep this in mind – Milli Vanilli won a Grammy, too.

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