Two of Chicago’s most prominent media organizations – public radio station WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times – are one step closer to merging. The deal is likely to close by the end of this month, says the Chicago Sun-Times. WBEZ’s board has approved the acquisition, though final contracts are still pending. The deal will involve a noncash transfer, and the Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ will be combined under WBEZ’s parent company Chicago Public Media.
Once the deal is complete, Chicago Public Media will become one of the largest nonprofit news organizations in the nation, who have an employee count of about 300, will operate independently, and be led by Matt Moog, current CEO of Chicago Public Media.
“Strengthen local journalism”
Moog shared his thoughts on the merger.
“This is an important step to grow and strengthen local journalism in Chicago. A vibrant local news ecosystem is fundamental to a healthy democracy, informed citizens and engaged communities,” said Moog. “Together WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times aim to tell the stories that matter, serve more Chicagoans with our unbiased, fact-based journalism and connect Chicagoans more deeply to each other and to their communities.”
Chicago Sun-Times CEO Nykia Wright will join Chicago Public Media’s leadership team and report to Moog. Wright also commented on the pending deal.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity for our collective news community and for the future of the hardest working paper in America, which counts some of the best storytellers in Chicago among its ranks. We are excited about the possibilities that lie ahead for this unique model of nonprofit news and raising the bar for supporting, preserving and strengthening local journalism,” Wright said.
The Chicago Sun-Times says Chicago Public Media will create a five-member board to oversee the Chicago Sun-Times, including Moog, Adrienne King of Bain & Co., Lerry Knox of Sovereign Infrastructure Group, Kristen Mack of the MacArthur Foundation, and Aretae Ortiz Wyler of The Atlantic, says the Chicago Sun-Times.
Further Chicago Public Media’s mission
The two companies began exploring a merger last fall with the goal of being able to serve their respective audiences while expanding their coverage and reaching a more diverse cross-section of audiences across platforms. In a September 29, 2021 news release, Tracy Brown, chief content officer for Chicago Public Media, explained how merging the two companies would further the parent company’s primary mission.
“Chicago Public Media’s mission is ‘to serve and inform the public and connect diverse audiences by telling stories that matter, that provoke thought, entertain, capture emotion and inspire action,’” said Brown. “Together we will better serve our mission with journalism that is human-centered, solutions-oriented and transformational, but reach more people whose lives our work greatly impacts. We talk a lot about building a more empathetic Chicago. This is an opportunity to do just that.”
As we said when we first reported on the proposed merger in October, this is an interesting move, but one that seems to have the best interests of all parties (WBEZ, Chicago Sun-Times and their respective audiences) in mind. With companies like Alden Global Capital gobbling up media organizations like candy (e.g., acquisition of Tribune Publishing, including namesake newspaper the Chicago Tribune, last year and its current attempts to buy Lee Enterprises), this is a way to protect the Sun-Times’ legacy which dates back as far as 1844. Shifting to nonprofit status under the Chicago Public Media umbrella protects the Sun-Times from hostile takeover attempts and puts the focus on local journalism and expanding their reach.