In what could become the norm in an increasingly fragmented media landscape, Chicago Public Media’s WBEZ and the Sun-Times are discussing a possible partnership to combine operations. Talks between the two parties are underway according to Robert Feder, who broke the story this morning.
“I can confirm that we are currently exploring partnerships and opportunities with the Chicago Sun-Times to strengthen local journalism in the city and our region,” said Matt Moog, who is CEO of Chicago public Media in an e-mail to staffers. “These conversations are an important part of our commitment to serving Chicago and ensuring local news continues to thrive.” In another e-mail to staffers, Moog noted the potential for a combined Sun-Times and WBEZ partnership. “The fundamental premise of these talks is about growth and investment and expanding local journalism in Chicago,” said Moog.
Sun-Times CEO Nykia Wright sent a memo to her staff saying “To that point, we are in talks with Chicago Public Media to determine if there is an opportunity to become a combined entity. It is very important to note that we are not close to any deal. Opportunities like this require a lot of due diligence. We would not be in this position without your hard work over the last four years.”
A closed-door meeting in scheduled for tonight, but no official announcement is expected.
The news comes as both entities have been headed in opposite directions. WBEZ’s audience has grown in recent years, often placing in the top five among most-listened to Chicago morning radio shows. On the other hand, the Sun-Times – and other newspapers around the country – have seen their circulation shrink for the last twenty years as the impact of the Internet and the financial crisis of over a decade ago has clearly taken its toll as the paper has undergone numerous ownership changes in the last few years. In 2017, the Sun-Times was nearly bought by the former Tronc, the then-owner of the Chicago Tribune.
The same year, the Sun-Times published a blank front page to illustrate how the plight of newspapers could affect journalism.
If a this goes though, changes are likely. For one, the Sun-Times could end up a non-profit like WBEZ is. Many newspapers have taken the route in recent years, including the Chicago Reader, Block Club Chicago, and the Salt Lake (City) Tribune, relying on part on reader donations. Even WTTW’s journalism efforts have taken the non-profit route (though they always have been) by creating the WTTW Fund For Independent News.
The combo of both WBEZ and the Sun-Times comes as the FCC under the Trump administration recently loosened the newspaper-radio-television cross-ownership rule and a challenge was upheld by the Supreme Court. However, it is unknown how long these rules would stick since the FCC is now at four members and President Biden has yet to name a fifth FCC Commissioner to the agency.