Chicago Public Media names Melissa Bell as new CEO

Officially ends rocky Matt Moog tenure; starts Sept. 3

Nearly seven months after Matt Moog announced his departure, Chicago Public Media finally named a replacement CEO – one who comes from the tech world. 

Melissa Bell is set to take over the owner of NPR affiliate WBEZ-FM and the Chicago Sun-TImes effective Sept. 3, in hopes of righting the ship and ending months of turmoil after layoffs, cancellations, and reduced audience numbers and circulation led to tensions between the unions and the CPM board, led by Moog. 

“It is an honor to take on this role, where there is both a massive opportunity and an urgent necessity to strengthen the role of public media in our local communities”, said Bell in a statement, a graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School Of Journalism. “There is a declining trust, and more worrisome, a declining interest in news at a critical time in Chicago and for our country. There are challenges facing CPM, but they are not insurmountable. In fact, there is so much potential that comes from the collaboration between WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times. I’m excited to return to Chicago to work alongside the many talented, passionate journalists and staff to build sustainable and scalable solutions for producing quality, accessible local news.”

Bell co-founded the online publication Vox and was named publisher in 2016, overseeing other online publications including Eater, The Verge, and SB Nation. She later oversaw the merger of Vox and the New Yorker magazine brands, whose portfolio contained The Cut and Vulture, and the acquisition of Group Nine’s titles including Thrillist and The Dodo. Bell was also the features editor of India’s The Mint and wrote a weekly tech column for the Washington Post. She exited Vox last year to take a visiting fellowship position at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University. 

“Melissa brings an incredible depth of experience as a media executive and publisher, a product leader and as a reporter”, said CPM board member Robert Pasin in a statement. “With her proven, visionary leadership and collaborative approach, Melissa will bring tremendous expertise and a strong track record of success to help Chicago Public Media develop a sustainable model for high-quality local journalism in the digital age.”

The WBEZ union cautiously applauded the move in a post on X/Twitter: “We are encouraged by the news that our board has moved to hire a new CEO. We look forward to a new era of transparency in management and to working with Melissa Bell to ensure the future of audio journalism at WBEZ.”

Bell’s appointment ends the often-stormy tenure of Moog, who oversaw numerous cuts to the station and newspaper, which merged as a non-profit in January 2022. WBEZ decided to place more emphasis on digital distribution, as its terrestrial radio numbers fell from their peak during the pandemic to outside the top twenty in recent ratings reports. 

Meanwhile, circulation for the Sun-Times continues to fall, despite going to a non-profit/donation model as their CEO Nykia Wright left the paper last year. Like other media outlets in the city, the Sun-Times was criticized for its approach to covering the WNBA’s Chicago Sky, especially involving rookie Angel Reese and Indiana Fever rookie Caitlin Clark. The Chicago Tribune noted Chicago Public Media has had five CEOs in ten years, and used a search firm to reach out to four hundred executives to gauge interest in the open position, ultimately landing on Bell. 

Bell will have her work cut out to restore both media properties to their former glories as audience erosion of traditional media continues. Repairing the fractured relationship with CPM’s two unions should be a start. 

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