Reefer Madness  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Drop Cap
From AJR,   January/February 2003

Reefer Madness   

A publisher of pot literature takes issue with the name of a Chicago tabloid

By Kelly Heyboer
Kelly Heyboer is a reporter at the Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey.      


Sometimes, there's trouble when the smoke clears.

Just ask the Chicago Tribune. First the company announced a youth-oriented tabloid called RedEye this fall only to have the rival Chicago Sun-Times steal the idea and launch its own, called Red Streak, the same week. Then, media critics trounced the fledgling publication for trying too hard to be hip while going light on content. And pranksters piled on by crafting parody Web sites mocking the RedEye style.

Now the beleaguered tabloid has been socked with a cease-and-desist letter from, of all places, the proud publisher of marijuana literature. Seems he thought Red Eye was pretty hip too--way back in 1988.

Red Eye Press, which prints the "Marijuana Grower's Guide Deluxe" and other weed reads, says the Chicago Tribune must have been smoking something when it failed to do a thorough trademark search and slapped RedEye on its masthead in October. Darla Anderson, the publisher's attorney, says they've owned the name and bloodshot eye logo since 1988 and the Tribune title is likely to create confusion in the grass-growing community (a community easily confused).

"The Chicago Tribune's targeted consumers for its newspaper--18-to-34-year-olds--comprise a large percentage of those who purchase Red Eye Press books," Anderson wrote in a letter to the Tribune's attorney. "These consumers are likely to be familiar with Red Eye Press and again connect it with the Chicago Tribune's new edition."

Tribune officials, confident that their readers can differentiate a Trib product--even a light and hip one--from pot pamphlets, say Red Eye Press is overreacting. "We did do a trademark search and we didn't find anything that showed a conflict," says Tribune spokeswoman Patty Wetli. "There's not going to be consumer confusion with a daily newspaper in Chicago."

Still, Red Eye Press, based in Los Angeles, is threatening a trademark-infringement lawsuit. But after months of publishing and promotion, Trib officials say it's too late to change the tab's name. And if RedEye gets a new moniker, what will the Sun-Times people--who specifically named their product Red Streak to taunt the Trib--do? See Red? Red, Red Wine? Redrum?

James Goodwin, president and publisher of Red Eye Press, hadn't heard about the Tribune's RedEye until a reporter from the Sun-Times' Red Streak called to ask him about whether he and the newspaper chain had struck a deal to share the name. That call sent him running to his lawyer.

Goodwin says he doesn't care what happens in the Chicago newspaper wars, as long as everyone lays off his name. The Red Eye title and stoned eye logo have brought him lots of luck, he says, with more than 400,000 marijuana-related titles sold in the U.S. and thousands more translated into German, Dutch and Danish for pot-lovers worldwide.

No, he and Tribune editors won't be passing the peace pipe, Goodwin says--this one's likely headed for court. And, he adds, it may not stop in Chicago. All the hubbub over this new RedEye led to his learning that a Boston-based hip-hop magazine may also be using the name Red Eye. It's all completely harshing his mellow.

"Absolutely," Goodwin says. "I think it's absolutely outrageous."

###