Fall 2010: Media Landscape

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Stability at the Newspapers, Evolving Online News Sources and Major Changes in TV and Radio

By Bob Goldsborough

This past year was a tale of two fates for Chicago’s major metro news outlets. The metro daily newspapers experienced far more stability in their editorial departments than they have in recent years, when there were massive numbers of cutbacks, while the city’s TV and radio stations continued to undergo big staff losses at worst and major changes at best. Meanwhile, the online news sources serving Chicago continued to evolve, as the metro news outlets and the online upstarts clamor for the clicks and eyeballs of online news consumers.

No one would say that ad dollars at newspapers have stabilized, or that any newspaper yet has figured out how to fund meaningful reporting and writing from online advertising. However, newspapers’ previous cutbacks generally were so significant that still-declining ad revenues can — for the moment, at least — absorb current staff levels. The picture was far less promising in the once-flush broadcasting world, where major outlets like WTTW-Channel 11 and WFLD-Channel 32 proceeded with massive staff cutbacks. Both TV and radio stations continue to find themselves — and their advertising revenues — under siege by massive fragmentation and in the case of radio, satellite radio, iPods and free, commercial-free online radio stations like Pandora.

With several tight races for governor and Senate this November and Mayor Daley’s retirement likely causing a broad field of contenders for next February’s primary, local TV stations may see a boost in political ads that they missed out on during the 2008 presidential election when election dollars moved to other swing states’ media markets.

The online journalism arena continues to punch out an array of fascinating options for news consumers, including “hyperlocal” sites that have sprung up by individuals and community-themed sites that have been and are being created by deep-pocketed media companies like AOL (Patch) and Tribune (TribLocal). At the same time, not much has changed from last year in one sense, which is that no online-only site with a paywall has materialized, and no online-only site has yet ascertained how to wring meaningful advertising dollars out of cyberspace in a way that would cover its costs.

Major Dailies

Very few editorial staffers left the city’s two major daily newspapers this past year, and almost no one left involuntarily. The Sun-Times said good-bye to copy editor Chris Bonjean (now with the Bar Association), columnist Zay Smith (retired), obituary writer Larry Finley (ditto), rock critic Jim DeRogatis (now with Vocalo.org), sports editor Stu Courtney (now with the Tribune), sports writer Brian Hanley (now solely at WSCR-AM) and sportswriter Len Ziehm (retired). However, the paper did undergo one small layoff, furloughing Weekend feature writer Delia O’Hara and sportswriter Jim O’Donnell.

The news was similar at the Tribune, where no one was laid off this past year, although several big-name editorial staffers did decide to depart for an incredibly diverse batch of destinations, including White House correspondent Mark Silva (joined Bloomberg), senior editor of staff writing development Louise Kiernan (now teaching), metro source editor Hugh Dellios (joined the Associated Press), education reporter Stephanie Banchero (joined the Wall Street Journal), investigative/Chicago Park District reporter Robert Becker (joined the office of U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley), child welfare reporter Ofelia Casillas (joined the ACLU), City Hall reporter Dan Mihalopoulos (joined the Chicago News Cooperative), housing reporter Sara Olkon (joined the University of Chicago), suburban reporter Kim Janssen (joined the Sun-Times), technology reporter Mike Hughlett (joined the Minneapolis Star Tribune), sports columnist Rick Morrissey (joined the Sun-Times), sports columnist Dan McGrath (joined the Chicago News Cooperative), photographer Chase Agnello-Dean (joined the Chicago Blackhawks).

Meanwhile, the Tribune replenished its ranks by hiring several new members of its core editorial staff, including hiring Georgia Garvey (now a RedEye reporter, she previously had been at the Daily Herald), two-year reporting resident Kristen Schorsch (previously had been at the SouthtownStar), sports breaking-news editor Stu Courtney (previously had been the Sun-Times’ sports editor), personal finance writer Gregory Karp (previously had been at the Tribune’s sister paper, the Allentown Morning-Call), food reporter Emily Bryson York (previously had been with the Los Angeles Business Journal), metro reporter Julie Wernau (previously had been at The Day, a newspaper in New London, Conn.), southwest suburban bureau reporter Andy Grimm (previously had been at the Gary Post-Tribune), Deputy Northwest Suburban Bureau Chief Diana Wallace (previously had been at the Daily Herald), metro reporter Cynthia Dizikes (previously had been MinnPost’s Washington, D.C. correspondent), northwest suburban metro reporter Joe Mahr (previously had been with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch), and Joseph Ryan (previously had been politics and projects editor at the Daily Herald).

Other Metro and National Print

Other significant Chicago-area publications saw plenty of editorial staff changes this past year, but not from layoffs. Crain’s Chicago Business avoided previous layoffs but saw publisher David Blake prepare to exit his job and be replaced by associate publisher (and Crain’s mainstay) David Snyder, managing editor Brandon Copple quit to join Groupon, senior reporter Monee Fields-White quit to join TheRoot.com, senior reporter Ann Saphir quit to join Reuters, reporter David Sterrett resign to pursue a PhD, and research director Matt Carmichael leave to join sister publication Advertising Age. In turn, Crain’s hired senior reporter Lynne Marek (previously had been a legal reporter in Washington, D.C.) and a new consumer products reporter, former Ad Age reporter Kate Macarthur. There were no changes at Chicago magazine, and the Chicago Reader’s big changes all were at the top: publisher Jim Warren, associate publisher Steve Timble and editor Alison True all were forced out, and Alison Draper was made publisher, onetime Chi-Town Daily News (and later Chicago Current) guy Geoff Dougherty became associate publisher, and Kiki Yablon was promoted to editor.

Local TV News

Although the future remains bleak at the city’s broadcast outlets, several TV stations experienced surprisingly little in the way of staff changes. Top-rated WLS-Channel 7 had the least turnover of anyone, firing anchor Kevin Roy reportedly because of habitual tardiness and hiring reporters Eric Horng and Jessica D’Onofrio, while steady-Eddie WMAQ-Channel 5’s departures all involved behind-the-scenes producers and WGN-TV said good-bye only to general assignment reporter Antwan Lewis (who left to take a job in New York) and hello to former Channel 7 reporter Dan Ponce. However, much bigger changes were at opposite ends of the dial, at WBBM-Channel 2 and WFLD-Channel 32. Channel 2 dumped anchor Anne State, morning weather forecaster Ed Curran and its entire “Monsters and Money” morning show (consisting of Mike North, Dan Jiggetts, Mike Hegedus and Terry Savage), while simultaneously welcoming back both Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson as 6 p.m. news anchors and hiring weather forecaster Megan Glaros, morning news anchor Steve Bartlestein and 10 p.m. anchor Kate Sullivan — all from New York. Channel 32 axed the most on-air talent, firing (or declining to offer contracts to) weekend anchor Nancy Pender, weekend anchor Byron Harlan, reporter Lilia Chacon, news anchor Lauren Cohn, morning news anchor Nancy Loo (who subsequently joined Channel 9), reporter Anne Kavanagh, entertainment reporter David Viggiano, weekend sports anchor Jill Carlson, news anchor Jeff Goldblatt and weather forecaster Chris Sowers. In their place, FOX-32 hired former Channel 2 and Channel 9 reporter Joanie Lum, news anchor Bob Sirott, Channel 2 political editor Mike Flannery and sports anchor Lou Canellis.

The public television world was hit hard this past year, as WTTW-Channel 11 pushed out about 30 more staffers (in addition to the 56 that were laid off in 2003) through layoffs and buyouts, including noted producer Susan Godfrey, producer Andrea Guthmann, producer Amy Christenson, producer Marc Glick, community partnerships manager Sarah Warner and community outreach manager Shaunese Teamer.

Radio

The radio industry has been roiled over the last few years by the changes that have been the result of the change in how the industry measures radio ratings. The advent of ratings giant Arbritron’s new pager-size “Portable People Meter,” which listeners actually carry like a cell phone, showed that listeners were not listening to certain big personalities — Steve Dahl and Jonathon Brandmeier, to name a few — anywhere near to the extent that management had believed and that previous (handwritten) rating systems had indicated. Most of the on-air changes that were the result of the PPM technology occurred in 2008 and 2009, but their results continue to inform Chicago’s radio station groups and general managers. And, the meters, which have prompted Arbitron to release 13 four-week ratings “books” a year, have radically changed radio ratings, with more swoops and dives month to month.

Hands-down, the biggest changes in radio this past year were at once-top-rated WGN-AM, which pushed out afternoon host Steve Cochran, significantly downgraded the role of sports wunderkind Dave Kaplan, hired former city official and convicted felon Jim Laski as an evening host, and hired Cincinnati radio host Mike McConnell as a morning host, and at news and talk WLS-AM, which canceled Mancow & Pat Cassidy (resulting in Cassidy rejoining WBBM-AM as its morning co-anchor), brought back Cisco Cotto as a late-morning host, added Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper as the co-host of Roe Conn’s afternoon show, hired Bruce Wolf to co-host a Saturday afternoon show with failed gubernatorial candidate Dan Proft, hired onetime WBBM-FM stalwarts Ed Volkman and Joe Bohannon as Saturday evening hosts, and brought back weekend talk show host Jim “Jake Hartford” Edwards.

Other changes on the radio dial took place at WBEZ-FM, which hired a new chief operating officer in onetime Tribune interactive bigwig Alison Scholly, hired a North Side bureau chief, Odette Yousef, and said good-bye to “Sound Opinions” producer Todd Bachmann, and at WLUP-FM, which fired morning host Jonathon Brandmeier and replaced him with Pete McMurray.

Online News

Although it’s an area that the Community Media Workshop has studied in great detail in the past two years, online news sources and one-person news blogs remain scattered and disorganized but full of potential. The landscape continues to shift quickly (in the last year alone, the Chi-Town Daily News, for instance, disappeared altogether as its founder first tried a print concept called Chicago Current and then abandoned that as well in taking a job at the Reader), so anything we write here will be outdated quickly. However, it’s worth noting that there is great opportunity out there from those pursuing online-only news (and in some cases, user-generated content), including the Beachwood Reporter, Chicagoist and Gapersblock.com. And, the deeper-pocketed players like AOL (Patch), Huffington Post and the Tribune’s TribLocal and its ChicagoNow set of blogs all are continuing to make significant investments in the space. This year’s directory contains more of these online-only outlets than ever before, and it’s definitely worth checking out the work they’re doing. At this point, their work generally is still-evolving, with few paid reporters at any online-only news source. Still and all, as online advertising grows, we would expect this to be the single most fertile area for grown on Chicago’s media landscape in the years to come.

One final note is about the Chicago News Cooperative, the band of ex-Tribune reporters, editors and photographers that up to this point has provided content solely to the Chicago pages of the New York Times. However, the CNC is planning to revise its website and boost its local reporting in the months to come, and we (as all Chicagoans should) eagerly await the cooperative’s increased efforts. CNC has an outstanding stable of noted bylines (most of whom formerly toiled for the Tribune), including columnist James Warren, staff writers Don Terry, Jessica Reaves, Dan McGrath, Mick Dumke, Ben Goldberg and Dan Mihalopoulos, picture editor Jose More, and editors Jim O’Shea, Marshall Froker, David Greising, Jim Kirk and William Parker. And newcomers to town like reporters Katie Fretland, Ash-har Quraishi and Daniel Libit have produced some interesting copy so far as well.

About the Author

Bob Goldsborough has been a Chicago-area free-lance journalist since 1987, having written more than 3,000 articles for the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Reader and NewCity. He also worked as an investigative reporting associate for Pam Zekman at WBBM-Ch. 2. He holds a B.A. in Modern Languages from Knox College, an M.S.J. from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and an MBA from the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business.

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