Nexstar to launch new Chicago-based national newscast on WGN America

Broadcast group jumps into the cable news game with a different approach to news – the traditional way

With the announcement of a new national newscast originating from Chicago, Nexstar is making a huge financial investment in the Windy City.

The Irving, Tex.-based broadcaster announced Wednesday the launch of a three-hour prime-time national newscast originating from Chicago’s WGN-TV Bradley Place headquarters to air on cable network WGN America, currently available to 75 million viewers nationwide including in the Chicago area. Nexstar acquired WGN-TV and WGN America in an overall deal with Tribune Media for billions last year.

The title of the news show is NewsNation, (formerly used by NBC News and was hosted by then-MSNBC host Tamron Hall) as Nexstar plans to draw content from its 110-plus stations with local news operations. Heading up the new venture is current WGN-TV news director Jennifer Lyons with plans to launch this summer. Lyons has been instrumental in WGN’s continued news success as the station in recent years lost CW programming and rights to Chicago sports teams, including the Chicago Cubs.

There are no plans to air the national newscast on WGN-TV; the station already airs an hour of local news in prime-time at 9 p.m.

In a press release, Nexstar CEO Perry Sook pointed out the properties they have at their disposal to launch this ambitious project. “Nexstar has the largest newsgathering organization in the country, with 5,400 journalists in 110 newsrooms throughout the U.S., including capitol news bureaus in 20 states across the nation. We get to the scene of important breaking news first and provide live coverage delivered by reporters who know the local community and can provide the proper context for what’s happening. This is a powerful combination and gives us a great foundation on which to build News Nation.”

“News Nation will be primetime content that WGN America owns and controls. By aggregating our current news resources to produce News Nation, we can leverage WGN America’s strong reach across the U.S. and develop a new unbiased national news broadcast without incurring incremental operating expenses.”

Plans include an app to provide breaking news 24/7 and the newscasts are being heeded as “unbiased” and “straight down the middle”, differentiating them from the fare currently offered on the cable news networks. Nexstar officials say than plan less emphasis on politics and more on breaking news and feature stores, as no commentary or opinion segments are planned.

Nexstar plans to hire more than 100 journalists for the project to be based from WGN’s Bradley Place headquarters.

WGN’s Bradley Place headquarters to be home of Nexstar’s new prime-time newscast airing on WGN America.

Since Nexstar took over Tribune last year after closing on its acquisition of the Chicago-based broadcaster, the company has shaken up the local TV station and its radio counterpart as they look to invest in their newly bought Chicago properties. Among the moves: expanding WGN-TV news on weekends, adding a weekly political news show, and shaking up WGN-AM by replacing Steve Cochran with Bob Sirott. But last month, they shuttered local cable news channel CLTV due to low viewership and sparse reach.

On Monday, Nexstar officials were so incensed at a Crain’s Chicago Business article over future plans for WGN Radio – suggesting they were grooming the station for a sale, they ended their relationship with the magazine.

So far, no hires have been made but one notable name is still a free agent – former Fox News correspondent Shepard Smith, who left the network last year in a shocking move.

The move also answers a question regarding the future of WGN America as the former superstation has gone under several incarnations over the years, including a dip into original programming such as Manhattan, Salem, and Underground, but eliminated much of its scripted and reality programming when Sinclair announced it was a buying Tribune in a deal later aborted. WGN America finally became available to Chicago cable consumers in 2014 after Tribune decided to separate the cable feed from the local WGN-TV, something Atlanta’s WTBS did in 2007 when it became a standalone cable network and separated from the local station, which became WPCH-TV (now owned by Meredith Broadcasting.)

It remains to be seen how NewsNation would compete with the cable opinion news shows – for one Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity each average four to five million viewers a night, while MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow draw two to three million viewers – often beating some of the broadcast networks, particularly Fox and The CW. Is there an audience for straight forward news without the sideshows? For journalism’s sake, let’s hope so.


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