The Media Notepad: Journalists and columnists exit Chicago Tribune en masse

Also: The Score’s Danny Parkins raises money for a neighborhood grocery; ESPN 1000 comes to HD Radio; Lauren Lake signs on with Entertainment Studios for new show  

As the website was under construction for the last two weeks, here were some stories that made news, and as you can imagine, this first item was the biggest.

With Alden Global Capital now in full control of the Chicago Tribune and other related Tribune Publishing properties, a mass exodus via buyout of columnists and other personnel has occurred, hollowing out one of what was once one of the most premier newspapers in the country.

The departures include many notable names: John Kass, Mary Schmich, Heidi Stevens, Dahleen Glanton, Phil Rosenthal, Steve Chapman, and Eric Zorn. Kass and Zorn have been at the Tribune each for nearly 40 years in a variety of roles (Kass was a general beat reporter and Zorn was the paper’s TV/radio columnist.) Both have written controversial columns in the last year

Robert Feder has complied a running list of departures you can read here.

The exodus could put the nail in the coffin of the Tribune as readers are concerned investigative journalism could be impacted. In recent years, the Tribune uncovered water woes in south suburban Crestwood and a sex scandal in Chicago Public Schools. While this site had grievances over the years with the Tribune regarding a number of issues, the loss of talent – whether you agree with them or not, is devastating as the paper will have a hard time trying to hold anyone in power accountable. 

Proving how local radio and TV stations are valuable to our communities (though a lot of people would argue against this point), Audacy’s sports talk WSCR-AM/The Score recently held a radio-a-thon hosted by personality Danny Parkins last week to raise money for a west side grocery store project. Dubbed What About Chicago, the project has raised more than $660,000 for the Austin Harvest project. Notable names making donations include NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Chicago Bears Chairman George McCaskey, and raising awareness through Twitter were LeVar Burton and White Sox broadcaster Jason Benetti. WGN-TV’s nighty sports show also did a story on Austin Harvest last week. 

The project is a pop-up grocery store staffed by youths in the West Side Austin neighborhood at a site of a former liquor store in one of the city’s largest food deserts. Former Chicago Bear Sam Acho bought the property after it closed due to last year’s unrest and through his Athletes For Justice charity, helped arrange the radio-a-thon along with Parkins and Audacy Chicago management. The Score broadcasted from Austin Harvest for 24 hours from June 23 to June 24. 

“I genuinely didn’t know how the audience would respond. Obviously, the audience came through in an amazing way.” Parkins told the Tribune on Friday.

The store plans to offer fresh produce and groceries – a concept lacking in many Chicago neighborhoods and suburban areas as residents travel miles to get food – in Austin’s case, traveling to neighboring Oak Park or other western suburbs. 

An interesting facet to this radio-a-thon was the name – What About Chicago. Parkins decided to name the charity event after noticing the phrase  – one of many used on social media, to mock Chicago and its gun violence epidemic. 

“People ask, ‘What about Chicago?’ in bad faith, so this is defiant.” said Parkins told the Tribune earlier last week. It’s ‘What about Chicago?’ This is Chicago: It’s a Chicago radio station partnering with Chicago athletes to build a grocery store in a Chicago neighborhood that employs Chicago kids to give back to a Chicago community. That’s the Chicago that I know and am proud of.”

“One of my biggest pet peeves in the world is when people talk about Chicago who don’t care about Chicago.”

Indeed, the “concern” some out-of-towners share about Chicago gun violence is about as phony as a bigfoot sighting given some of the cities or states these people are from have the same problem, pretending it don’t exist in their own neck of the woods. It’s basically “fake outrage”.          

While radio often gets blasted for numerous bone-headed moves, this is a story that deserves kudos all around.

If you’re having trouble receiving WMVP-AM/ESPN 1000, there’s some good news if you’re an HD Radio owner. 

Last week, the Good Karma Brands station struck a deal with Hubbard Broadcasting to broadcast their signal on one of digital channels, occupying fne HD2 tier on WSHE-FM.  

“HD Radio has been around since 2002, and today over 50% of new cars have HD Radio as standard equipment, said ESPN 1000 market manager Mike Thomas in a statement. “Our partnership with Hubbard Chicago will allow fans to hear our ESPN 1000 shows and White Sox baseball in crystal clear, digital FM. As of today, you can listen to Chicago’s Home for Sports on ESPN 1000, 100.3 HD2 and on your phone from anywhere on the ESPN Chicago app!”

While HD Radio is nearly two decades old, it hasn’t caught on as many in the industry had hoped. But that hasn’t stopped programmers from developing programming or adding formats for the fledgling frequency as Audacy recently launched The Bet, a new gambling sports format on WCFS-HD2 (105.9).

The Score is already on WBMX-FM 104.3-HD2.

With HD Radio in half of new vehicles, this gives new exposure for the medium and an opportunity to reach those who don’t have AM radio in their cars or their devices.

Entertainment Studios has lured away Lauren Lake away from MGM to launch a new one-hour weekday syndication courtroom show We The People With Lauren Lake beginning in September 2022. 

“I am very excited about We the People with Judge Lauren Lake and I’m thrilled to be working with Byron Allen,” said Lake in a statement. “Byron’s creative vision and commitment to creating high-quality television programs and networks is unparalleled in this industry. I am enthusiastic and highly confident that we will deliver another first-class television court series.”  

The series is also being made available to other cable networks (including Allen’s own JusticeCentral.Tv) and digital outlets.

Lake fronted Paternity Court for seven seasons, but ended production due to the pandemic as did fellow MGM court shows Couples Court and Personal Injury Court. The company’s unstable financial condition was also a factor in cancelling all three shows as MGM was recently bought by Amazon for $9 billion, pending antitrust review. Paternity Court reruns are still airing in syndication, but will likely come to an end when her new show debuts. 

“We at Allen Media Group are beyond elated to add We the People With Judge Lauren Lake to our already stellar portfolio of court shows,” said Entertainment Studios/Allen Media Grup CEO Allen in a statement last week. “Emmy Award-winning Judge Lauren Lake is an outstanding and charismatic television host. We are extremely confident that our newest court series with Judge Lake will be very successful for years to come as she joins our outstanding roster of talent, including Judge Kevin Ross, Judge Mablean Ephriam, Judge Christina Perez, Judge Karen Mills-Francis, and Judge Glenda Hatchett.”

This isn’t the first time Entertainment Studios has used the We The People title for a court show. In 2011, the company produced We The People With Gloria Allred featuring the famed attorney. The show lasted only one season, airing on a few NBC-owned stations including WMAQ Chicago.


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