The hard-hitting tone of tabloid journalism and the measured voice of public radio make an unlikely combination, but the two come together in a new media deal that is likely to shape how news is covered in Chicago for years to come.
On Tuesday night, the board of directors of Chicago Public Media, the nonprofit organization behind noncommercial radio station WBEZ, moved significantly closer to acquiring The Chicago Sun-Times, the tabloid that once housed film critic Roger Ebert and columnist Mike Royko.
At a special meeting, the board voted in favor of its proposed acquisition of The Sun-Times, a deal that would make Chicago Public Media one of the largest nonprofit news organizations in the world. country. It is expected to close by January 31.
“This is an important step in growing and strengthening local journalism in Chicago,” Matt Moog, chief executive of Chicago Public Media, said in a statement.
WBEZ, which airs national public radio and co-produces “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me,” and The Sun-Times will share content while working in separate newsrooms under the Chicago Public Media banner. Combined, they will reach an audience of more than two million people per week, the organizations said in a press release.
The Sun-Times, which has changed hands several times in recent years, is owned by a disparate group of labor unions, philanthropists and businessmen, including Rocky Wirtz, the owner of the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team. , and Michael Sacks, an investor. The coalition was set to block a bid from Tribune Publishing, the company that operates tabloid rival The Chicago Tribune.
Struggling newspapers these days face a range of options: the hope that a billionaire will rush in, as Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong and his family did for the Los Angeles Times and others California newspapers in 2018; awaiting the arrival of hedge fund-backed ownership, as happened with The Tribune when its parent company became owned by Alden Global Capital last year; or try a new approach, like the nonprofit route.
Nykia Wright, managing director of the Sun-Times, said she was excited about the Chicago Public Media plan. “We’re excited about the opportunities ahead of us for this unique model of not-for-profit news and raising the bar in supporting, preserving and strengthening local journalism,” she said. in a press release.
If the deal goes through, the ownership structure would be similar to that of The Philadelphia Inquirer, a big-city newspaper that the nonprofit Lenfest Journalism Institute has run since 2016.