The Media Notepad: Chicago Journalism: The future and you, Part 2

For awhile, Chicago-based Tribune Publishing was known as “Tronc”, a much-maligned name for a media company.

Also: Two TV-related sites shut down; XFL off to good start

With all the threats to our freedom of the press – from hedge fund operators buying financial stakes in newspaper companies to President Trump, now is the right time to discuss what it means to the future of journalism.

On February 23, numerous journalists and reporters are gathering at the Walnut Room of the Allegro Hotel in downtown Chicago to discuss the future of journalism at the second Chicago Journalism Town Hall. The first one took place in February 2009, organized by Ken Davis and Linda Paul.

Among the panelists assembled for the second go-around of this gathering include Bruce Dold from the Chicago Tribune; Carol Marin from NBC 5 and WTTW;¬† Crain’s Jim Kirk; and Daily Herald media critic Robert Feder, whose blog broke this story on January 29; and more (a full list of participants can be found here.) Both Marin and Feder participated in the first Town Hall in 2009.

For those who won’t be able to attend, the Town Hall will be airing live on CAN TV (channel 27 on most cable systems.) For those without cable or subscribe to satellite TV, the gathering will be available on-demand at

While local television had been adding news in the past year (although ABC 7 canceled its newscast on WCIU due to the Weigel-owned broadcaster joining The CW), Chicago has seen The Chicago Defender go online only; the bankruptcy of Johnson Publishing; and the shuttering of CLTV and WXRT’s newsroom. In addition, print is continue to struggle as the Tribune and Sun-Times continue to lose revenue to big tech as both papers are having problems reinventing themselves.

Among the issues discussed at the last Town Hall included the financial difficulty newspapers were experiencing¬† (the late John Callaway declared them “dead”), the growing costs of running a newsroom, and a lack of internet access in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods – all still issues today.

It’ll be interesting to see what will be discussed this time around as the journalism world has changed considerably since the last gathering.

Back in 2001, the XFL made a splashy debut with a prime-time game on NBC and Vince McMahon coming out to the crowd at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas and announcing “This Is The XFL!”

Nineteen years after it folded, the XFL returned on Saturday – but the return was much quieter and low-key than its first premiere.

The league struck deals with ABC/ESPN and Fox, ensuring all four games in the eight-team league would be on national television and so far, so good. The first game Saturday on ABC between Seattle and D.C. (Washington) produce strong ratings, drawing an average of 3.3 million viewers – more than the Duke-North Carolina college basketball game on ESPN (2.67 million.) and an NBA game on ABC between the Lakers and Warriors (2.88 million.) The game peaked at an impressive 4 million viewers from 3:45 p.m-4 p.m. Central Time.

Seattle’s KOMO had the best overnight household rating for the Saturday afternoon game at 6.4; Washington’s WJLA was fifth at 4.0. Both are owned by Sinclair Broadcasting.

Even more impressive, the St.Louis-Dallas game on ESPN Sunday afternoon drew a strong 7.4 Nielsen household rating according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, even outdrawing a Blues game on Fox Sports Midwest on Saturday (4.8). The other XFL games were also strong draws in St. Louis, who saw its NFL team move back to Los Angeles in 2016 after 21 years (the now-Arizona Cardinals also played in St. Louis from 1960-87, after moving from Chicago.)

Nationally, the XFL drew decent ratings with the four games averaging 3.12 million viewers and a 1.0 rating among adults 18-49. The demo rating is better than many prime-time shows, especially everything on The CW. Fox’s Sunday afternoon matchup was the high-water mark, drawing 3.39 million viewers. Advertisers have been responsive too, with Progressive, Geico, Anheuser-Busch, and Comcast all buying time on broadcasts.

Even though Chicago doesn’t have a team (the original XFL did have the Chicago Enforcers, who played in Soldier Field), the league did provide chatter on several local sports shows including NBC Sports Chicago’s Sports Talk Live and WGN-TV’s GN Sports, and a few game highlights were shown during the newscasts of WBBM-TV and WGN-TV. However, look for the XFL to ease into the background as spring training begins and March Madness descends upon us as Chicago is the largest media market without an XFL team.

The number of TV news websites are now down by two with the closure of TV By The Numbers and TV Week.

TV by The Numbers ceased publication on January 31 as Nexstar acquired Tribune Media, who owned the site. TVBTN was very useful to us media bloggers as it provided useful information on television ratings, especially on cable and in certain demos (as did Media Life, another now-defunct publication.) Also, former NBC and Fox executive Preston Beckman (known as the Masked Scheduler) told the story of his career at both networks in the “History Of Must-See TV” in thirty parts (which you can still access here for the time being.)

As for TV Week, I already bid adieu to the publication when the print edition ended in 2009 and told you what an impact the magazine had on me and my site. In recent years under Chuck Ross’ stewardship, the site hasn’t had much original content (just links to other TV sites) and when there was original content, he would often write about items I couldn’t care less about, such as his love of the Dodgers and his childhood in Los Angeles – very oft-putting for a publication founded in Chicago as Electronic Media.

In 2003, TV Week left for L.A. as Crain’s sold it to Ross several years later.

One thing I do agree with Ross on is it the original Electronic Media should be resurrected by a journalism school so it would train the next generation of students on reporting about the media business and no one did it better.

In addition to the above, recent years have seen the closure of several media-related sites for one reason or another. Now-defunct sites include Chicagoland Radio & Media, Radio-Info, Television Without Pity, and Target Market News (though the website claims it is returning later this year.)

Further reading:

Hostless Oscars earns lowest-rating on record for ABC

John Records Landecker heads to the NAB Hall Of Fame

Bill and Wendy and Cumulus’ WLS-AM hook up for podcast


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