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WBEZ to finalize Sun-Times purchase by end of the month, paper will stop endorsing candidates

Wednesday, Jan 19, 2022

* Robert Feder

The parent company of public radio station WBEZ 91.5-FM is moving forward on plans to acquire the Chicago Sun-Times — a merger designed to assure survival of the money-losing newspaper while creating one of the nation’s largest nonprofit local news organizations.

The board of Chicago Public Media voted Tuesday to approve the deal, which was first disclosed here in September. The merger is expected to be finalized by January 31.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but major funding is expected from Michael Sacks, lead investor in the Sun-Times, along with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Pritzker Traubert Foundation.

“I’m deeply grateful to the Chicago Public Media board of directors for their work in leading us to this milestone,” board chair Piyush Chaudhari said in a statement. “This new venture will be on its best path forward as we bring together two of Chicago’s most respected news organizations in our city and our region.”

According to the announcement, WBEZ and the Sun-Times “will continue to serve their respective audiences, and the newsrooms will operate separately with their own editors and maintain their editorial independence.”

* Sun-Times

While WBEZ and the Sun-Times will continue as independent operations, the deal could change one newspaper tradition. Executives said that as a nonprofit, the Sun-Times can no longer endorse political candidates. News coverage and investigations of public officials would be unaffected.

The Sun-Times stopped endorsing candidates in 2012, and then resumed in 2014 so it could endorse Bruce Rauner, a former part-owner.

Anyway, your thoughts on all this?

- Posted by Rich Miller        

42 Comments
  1. - Three Dimensional Checkers - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 9:45 am:

    I’m not convinced that a non-profit organization that has to ask for donations from major corporations and business interests is the best model for news. But all the other models are pretty bad too.


  2. - Downstate - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 9:45 am:

    Has a public radio station ever owned a newspaper before?

    While the article notes that this will maintain separate identities, I’m intrigued by the idea of a newspaper that is supported, even remotely, by government funding.


  3. - cermak_rd - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 9:51 am:

    I like the idea of not endorsing. All the newspapers should consider that. Have tough coverage sure. One on one interviews with the candidates, sure. For judges, point people to the bar ratings page.


  4. - TheInvisibleMan - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 9:52 am:

    In the bigger picture, this could be a rare beacon of light in the increasing dearth of local reporting. Or at least a start to addressing that issue.

    = investigations of public officials would be unaffected. =

    This is disappointing. If there is anything which needs to be done more than it is now, this is it.

    In most small towns corruption runs rampant - there are a thousand Rita Crundwells in small towns across the state. The argument could even be made that these activities are increasing as local reporting has vanished.

    While it may not be possible to place a dedicated reporter in these small towns, it should be possible to have a roving reporter in a larger organization who covers these areas in a rotating fashion.

    Around here, we’ve always said it would be a full time job just to follow the paper trails being left by the corruption - some of which is just right out in the open.

    Maybe then we could also start to address how many county states attorneys not only know this is going on, but turn a blind eye to these activities. Either because they are involved in these activities themselves, or because they give a limp public excuse of “staying out of politics”.


  5. - Montrose - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 9:54 am:

    “I’m not convinced that a non-profit organization that has to ask for donations from major corporations and business interests is the best model for news. But all the other models are pretty bad too.”

    For profit news outlets are asking those same folks to buy ads, so I don’t think the fear of compromising journalistic independence is any greater with the nonprofit model.


  6. - TheInvisibleMan - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 9:55 am:

    = a newspaper that is supported, even remotely, by government funding. =

    How remotely? Because all newspapers today are to some degree supported by the legal requirements of public bodies to publish legal notices in local papers. The newspapers aren’t doing that for free, they are being paid for it - by government funding.


  7. - Paddyrollingstone - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 9:59 am:

    I sure hope it works. I read it online but occasionally will see the paper version and it is beyond tiny.


  8. - Downstate - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 10:00 am:

    Invisible Man,

    You raise some interesting points.

    “a thousand Rita Crundwells”. That type of fraud certainly exists, although not to the Dixon, Il level. Rita’s situation was actually exposed by another employee and not by the hometown paper. But it got me to wondering what was the last big scoop by any Illinois paper?

    “legal requirements of public bodies”
    I consider this to be a more objective spending of government dollars. By contrast the allocation of money to NPR and the like is much more subjective and I would suggest involves a massive portion of the revenue than legal notices might. But I could be wrong.


  9. - Back to the Future - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 10:03 am:

    For the last few years WBEZ and the Times have moved up to the two places I trust to report the news. Clearly these news organization did the best job on reporting what was happening in Springfield. I hope the combined organization continues to inform and educate us on what is happening in state government.
    Not happy the Times will not be endorsing candidates. They used to do a good job on expressing an opinion on why they favored candidates.
    As a long times subscriber of the Times and contributor to WBEZ I hope for the best. No doubt about it the combination creates the potential for success.


  10. - Farm Boy - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 10:07 am:

    Will the Sun-Time be required to publicly disclose all of its donors? As I recall there were demands that another news non-profit do that. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.


  11. - MisterJayEm - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 10:09 am:

    “a newspaper that is supported, even remotely, by government funding”

    Exempt from state and local sales taxes, all Illinois newspapers have been subsidized by the taxpayers for quite some time.

    And nobody noticed any effect on their content.

    – MrJM


  12. - TheInvisibleMan - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 10:09 am:

    = although not to the Dixon, Il level =

    How do you know this? It seems like a guess.

    I am absolutely positive there are 6 figure dollar corruptions in small towns, and more than likely 7 figure ones too.

    The real estate agent involved in politics that gets the contract to both buy and sell the same building as a township community center, at the direction of his campaign treasurer who is also running the township.

    = Rita’s situation was actually exposed by another employee =

    And it also was allowed to continue for years by another employee because “that stuff only happens in Chicago, so I’m not going to look into it at all”.

    The local investigations are needed not just to expose the corruption, but to start to crack the local ingrained perceptions that “corruption only happens in big cities” which seems to be fairly widespread.


  13. - Nefarius Veneer - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 10:11 am:

    Downstate,
    the Illinois Press Association exists to keep the legal notice requirement. They doggedly fight any attempts to do away with it.
    Remember just how many municipalities there are in Illinois, all having to buy legal notice space in the local paper.


  14. - Downstate - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 10:12 am:

    “Exempt from state and local sales taxes”

    Great point. However, tax exemption is an objective distribution, irrespective of specific bureaucratic decisioning.

    I don’t believe the allocation of public radio dollars by the state and/or federal government operates on the same basis. My understanding is that it is much more subjective.


  15. - Steve - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 10:15 am:

    I think it’s wise for a state run operation not to endorse candidates. Who would have guessed the public sector would own a major newspaper in a major city? Interesting first amendment issues here.


  16. - Downstate - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 10:19 am:

    Mr JM,
    Don’t get me wrong. Candidly, if this is the first time that a public radio station has owned a newspaper outlet, I’m sort of interested in the outcome.

    As an aside, it’s also why I’m passionate about individual states taking different paths to solve various issues. One of America’s greatest strengths is the ability for each state to be an experiment for success.


  17. - OldSmoky2 - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 10:23 am:

    WBEZ gets only 6 percent of its funding from government sources.


  18. - Downstate - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 10:33 am:

    “WBEZ gets only 6 percent of its funding”

    Wow. A lot less than I would have imagined. Your comment caused me to find their audited financials. The member contributions are very impressive.


  19. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 10:34 am:

    ===Exempt from state and local sales taxes, all Illinois newspapers have been subsidized by the taxpayers for quite some time. ===

    Not to mention official notice publishing requirements.


  20. - ArchPundit - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 10:37 am:

    ===While the article notes that this will maintain separate identities, I’m intrigued by the idea of a newspaper that is supported, even remotely, by government funding.

    In 2020 Chicago Public Media received about $1.9 million total from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and a few other public sources like colleges and universities out of a budget around $31 million (and that’s a bit higher support than in recent years probably due to Covid-19). Most of the money received by CPB is for specific programs and services and some support of infrastructure. Most of the well known NPR programs are not covered by CPB funding which places far more restrictions on what can be funded. That total also includes community grants such such as literacy/educational programs.

    I haven’t seen an estimate of revenue from legal notices for the Sun-Times, but the NJ Star Ledger has taken in $16 million a year in legal notices.


  21. - ArchPundit - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 10:42 am:

    I think the 6 percent is off–that’s more of a direct funding for infrastructure. Some of the grant funding is also related to CPB if I’m reading the reports correctly, but at most we are looking at about 15%–and again, a highly restricted 15%


  22. - ArchPundit - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 10:45 am:

    Nope, I did the math wrong–it’s about 6%. Sorry.


  23. - Amalia - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 10:46 am:

    WBEZ got some stats on crime very wrong recently. hoping they focus on facts not political position.


  24. - 47th Ward - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 10:53 am:

    The best business model for local newspapers was a very wealthy family to own it and try to break even or allow a modest loss each year. They did it for lots of reasons, but primarily because good local journalism is a boon to the entire community.

    Now the corporate giants own the press and it’s all about the next quarterly earnings statements and (deleted) the community.


  25. - ArchPundit - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 10:58 am:

    ===The best business model for local newspapers was a very wealthy family to own it and try to break even or allow a modest loss each year.

    I completely agree on the model, but the biggest problem for newspapers are the private equity companies that are buying them and saddling them with incredible debt as they take anything of value out of the newspaper. While newspapers are facing declining readership, they can still survive as long as they aren’t saddled with debt from private equity.


  26. - NonAFSCMEStateEmployeeFromChatham - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 10:58 am:

    ==I’m intrigued by the idea of a newspaper that is supported, even remotely, by government funding.==

    Maybe the U of I system could buy out the SJ-R and lift the paper up from its Gannett misery?

    Plus there is one commercial TV station that is still owned by a government entity, and it’s only about three hours southwest of Springfield. KOMU-8 Columbia, MO (NBC affiliate) is still owned by the University of Missouri curators. Lots of Mizzou J School alums got their start in the TV news biz on KOMU, including IIRC some former Channel 20 news anchors who later went to the state (e.g, Sara Wojicki Jimenez, Catie Sheehan).


  27. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 10:59 am:

    === very wealthy family to own it and try to break even or allow a modest loss each year===

    Many newspapers are still profitable. Money is being siphoned to pay crippling debt and to fund things like helicopter landing pads on rooftops.


  28. - The Ford Lawyer - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 11:12 am:

    Interesting. I am glad to see someone working to keep the Sun-Times in print. A public newspaper? Now that’s just an interesting concept. I have not heard anyone complain that NPR or PBS is a mouthpiece for the government or the equivalent of TASS, so I don’t see the Sun-Times becoming Pravda. Suffice to say I am not worried about potential conflicts. The old model of newspapering does not appear to be financially sustainable. Maybe this is the way to go?


  29. - Friendly Bob Adams - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 11:12 am:

    What evidence is there to back up the “thousand Rita Crundwells” statement?


  30. - Downstate - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 11:15 am:

    ” I have not heard anyone complain that NPR or PBS”

    I would respectfully and vehemently disagree with that statement.


  31. - Downstate - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 11:19 am:

    “What evidence is there to back up the “thousand Rita Crundwells” statement?”

    I’ll weigh in. In one southern Illinois area, one public official was siphoning off money from multiple small towns, before being caught. Less than 15 miles away, another “volunteer” was draining little league accounts. Ten miles from there, a pastor was using collections to fund a gambling addiction. These were all uncovered in a span of 3 years.

    None were identified through a “scoop”, but the illegality exists on a wide scale.


  32. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 11:20 am:

    First, I am excited for those, like and specifically Dave McKinney too, willing to be about bringing news back to Chicago without the Tronc-type silly that ruins the work of the reporters.

    This is exciting and great news.

    I’m looking forward to reading more Sun-Times going forward


  33. - low level - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 11:22 am:

    I will really miss the endorsements from them. Even if I disagreed with their reasoning behind supporting one candidate over another, I appreciated their reasoning.


  34. - SAP - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 11:24 am:

    The following quote from the Sun-Times story is why the WBEZ acquisition is an excellent development:
    ==The partners outmaneuvered the Chicago Tribune’s then-parent company, which wanted to buy the Sun-Times with what analysts believed was an intent to shut it down.==


  35. - Pot calling kettle - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 12:07 pm:

    ==”I have not heard anyone complain that NPR or PBS (is a mouthpiece for the government or the equivalent of TASS)”

    I would respectfully and vehemently disagree with that statement. ==

    Do tell. NPR and PBS may not report what you want to hear, but that’s not the same as being a mouthpiece for the government.


  36. - Banish Misfortune - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 12:31 pm:

    Last year I made the decision to subscribe to the online version of the Sun Times. I couldn’t stomach the Trib point of view and some columnists were a disgrace. My subscription was less than I contribute to WBEZ, I don’t know how to think about that. But we really need local news, I feel that WBEZ, the Sun Times and Cap Fax keep me up to date well.


  37. - Scott Fawell's Cellmate - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 12:49 pm:

    Will ‘BEZ keep “the Wonka-esque wonders of the candy and ice-cream room” that Michael Ferro ordered built for the Sun Times:

    https://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/November-2013/michael-ferro/

    (I love the image of McKinney walking down the hall with a banana split covered in gummies.)


  38. - walker - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 1:23 pm:

    As long as they employ and support the likes of Hannah Meisel (and a few others), it won’t matter who owns them.


  39. - Unconventional wisdom - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 1:36 pm:

    The Sun Times is Left Center oriented. I see no real change. Perhaps this will make them more financially viable now and in the future.


  40. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 1:37 pm:

    ===I never see NPR generating stories that might make liberals or Democrats look bad.===

    So… what you want is NPR to make …. “Democrats and Liberals” … look bad?

    You are a strange one


  41. - Give Us Barabbas - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 2:06 pm:

    Not sure which owns which, but there’s an oldies radio station in DeWitt county that uses all their advertising to connect listeners to the local daily newspaper’s web site. Then they leverage the news content back to the radio side. They do it in a way I’ve not heard anywhere else, but when your markets are so very small, maybe this works for them. It’s not the same as the morning “News Director” in Springfield literally reading the front page of the SJ-R on air, like he’s Mayor LaGuardia.


  42. - Three Dimensional Checkers - Wednesday, Jan 19, 22 @ 5:48 pm:

    ===For profit news outlets are asking those same folks to buy ads, so I don’t think the fear of compromising journalistic independence is any greater with the nonprofit model.===

    There aren’t always as many punches to pull for advertisers as there are for donors.


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