Chicago radio station to acquire Sun-Times | State and Region

Chicago Public Media’s board of directors voted Tuesday night to move forward with its acquisition of the Chicago Sun-Times, combining the struggling daily with resurgent public radio station WBEZ-FM 91.5 into a single newsroom. non-profit multimedia.

The transaction is expected to close by January 31, creating a potentially game-changing model for the future of local journalism.

“This is an important step in growing and strengthening local journalism in Chicago,” said Matt Moog, CEO of Chicago Public Media, parent company of WBEZ, in a press release.

The proposed merger was first announced in September, when Chicago Public Media and the Sun-Times signed a nonbinding letter of intent. The radio and newspaper would operate separately under the Chicago Public Media banner, while sharing content and resources across multiple platforms.

WBEZ and the Sun-Times will launch a nationwide search for editors to lead their respective newsrooms, Chicago Public Media said.

Moog, a Chicago tech entrepreneur who moved from interim to permanent CEO of Chicago Public Radio in September, will continue in that role. Nykia Wright will remain CEO of the Sun-Times, reporting to Moog. Chicago Public Media will establish a separate nonprofit board of directors for the Sun-Times.

Chicago’s NPR station WBEZ has beefed up its local news team in recent years and bolstered its ratings. The station tied for 3rd in Chicago with a 5.1 share in December, according to Nielsen.

The combined entities will have nearly 300 employees, with no post-merger staff reduction plans, Chicago Public Media spokeswoman Betsy Berger said Tuesday.

Chicago Public Media sought “significant philanthropic support” for the partnership. Michael Sacks, chairman and CEO of Chicago-based asset management firm GCM Grosvenor and Sun-Times investor, helped secure the agreement to transfer the paper’s assets and pledged “financial support important future,” according to Chicago Public Media.

Other financial supporters include the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Pritzker Traubert Foundation. Chicago Public Media declined to disclose funding raised to date for the project.

The impending merger comes as traditional news media struggles to navigate the digital age, and the Chicago market is rocked by ownership changes, downsizing and declining revenues. Transitioning the Sun-Times to a nonprofit model follows the path of the Salt Lake Tribune, the first major daily to make the transition in 2019.

The Sun-Times has a long and colorful history, most of which is written in red ink in the new millennium.

Founded in 1948 by Marshall Field III, the Sun-Times has gone through a succession of owners, including media baron Rupert Murdoch, who bought it in 1984. Murdoch was forced to sell the Sun-Times in 1986 after acquiring WFLD-Ch. 32 due to Federal Communications Commission cross-ownership restrictions.

In 2009, a group led by former Mesirow CEO Jim Tyree rescued the Sun-Times from bankruptcy, paying out $5 million in cash and assuming $20 million in debt.

Wrapports, a local investor group led by tech entrepreneur Michael Ferro, stepped up after Tyree’s death to buy the Sun-Times and 38 suburban newspapers for around $20 million in December 2011.

The suburban newspapers were sold to rival Chicago Tribune for $23.5 million in 2014. Ferro sold his interests in Wrapports and became chairman and largest shareholder of Tribune Publishing in 2016.

In 2017, a group of investors including the Chicago Federation of Labor bought the cash-losing Sun-Times and other assets from Wrapports for $1, after Tribune Publishing was thwarted in its own bid to purchase of the newspaper by the Justice Department’s antitrust concerns.

“We should all be grateful to the newspaper’s current investors for finding the best way forward from the perspective of all Sun-Times voters,” said Jorge Ramirez, current chairman of the Sun-Times board of directors. , in the press release.

About the author