Robservations: New WGN anchor Joe Donlon debuts Monday

Joe Donlon and Micah Materre

Robservations on the media beat:

Although he’s been making the media rounds for weeks, Joe Donlon officially starts Monday as weeknight news anchor at Tribune Broadcasting WGN-Channel 9. His first newscast alongside Micah Materre will be at 5 p.m. Donlon spent 21 years as a top anchor in Portland, Oregon, before he was tapped to replace Mark Suppelsa (who retired from “Chicago’s Very Own” in December). “I will have to start over, and prove myself every day in a city that doesn’t know me,” Donlon, 55, told Facebook friends. “But I am beyond excited about what’s ahead. I can’t begin to tell you how honored and humbled I am to join such an incredibly talented team. It is truly one of the best TV news jobs in the country.” Continue reading

Robservations: Two new co-hosts join WGN’s ‘Chicago’s Best’

Lauren Scott, Elliott Bambrough and Marley Kayden

Robservations on the media beat:

Two new co-hosts are joining Elliott Bambrough on “Chicago’s Best,” the weekly food magazine show on Tribune Broadcasting WGN-Channel 9. They are Marley Kayden, former weekend traffic anchor at NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5, and Lauren Scott, a feature reporter at KETV, the ABC affiliate in Omaha, Nebraska. Kayden, a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and the University of Virginia, previously worked for Bloomberg News and Wall Street Media. Scott, a native of Chicago’s South Side, is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Starting in May, Kayden and Scott will succeed Brittney Payton, who left in January to become co-host of “Good Day Chicago” on Fox-owned WFLD-Channel 32. “Chicago’s Best” airs at 10 p.m. Sundays on WGN and replays during the week on WGN and CLTV. Continue reading

Robservations: Three bidders reportedly eyeing tronc


Robservations on the media beat:

Tronc, we hardly knew ye: Three suitors are vying to acquire the parent company of the Chicago Tribune, according to several published reports. SoftBank Group, a Japanese investment conglomerate, Gannett Co. and Apollo Global Management have been identified as potential buyers of Chicago-based tronc. SoftBank last year bought the Gatehouse newspaper chain. Gannett made an unsuccessful bid to buy tronc in 2016. “We don’t comment on any speculation in the market,” said Marisa Kollias, vice president of communications and public relations for tronc. It’s not clear how a takeover would alter the strategy of McCormick Media, which last week agreed to buy former head honcho Michael Ferro’s 26 percent stake in the company — more than nine million shares — for $208.6 million. Continue reading

Chicago radio ratings: Another victory for V103

Joe Soto

Two years after he succeeded the late syndicated superstar Doug Banks on WVAZ 102.7 FM, Joe Soto continues his predecessor’s winning streak as the most popular afternoon personality in town.

Soto, a 38-year veteran of Chicago radio, moved up from evenings on the iHeartMedia urban adult-contemporary station after the much-loved Banks died in April 2016. He’s been a success from the start. Continue reading

Robservations: Journalism’s would-be savior ends ‘scandalous reign’

Michael Ferro

Robservations on the media beat:

As the brand new chairman and largest shareholder of Tribune Publishing in 2016, Michael Ferro declared his goal was nothing less than to save the journalism industry. “Instead of playing golf and doing stuff, this is my project — journalism,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “We all want to do something great in life. Just because you made money, is that what your kids are going to remember you for? Journalism is important to save right now.” Despite his earlier failure to turn around the Sun-Times, Ferro talked of creating a “global entertainment brand” at the company he renamed tronc, and harnessing artificial intelligence and machine learning to revolutionize digital media. How’d that work out? On Friday Ferro announced he was selling his entire stake in tronc — more than nine million shares — for $208.6 million. Three weeks earlier he stepped down as chairman just ahead of a report that accused him of sexual misconduct with two women. His three-year, $5 million-per-year management consulting agreement with tronc will remain in effect, according to the Tribune. In the end, Ferro made a fortune stripping company assets (including the Los Angeles Times, which he sold for $500 million) and eliminating more than a thousand newspaper jobs. With employees rising up to demand union rights in L.A. and Chicago, and no discernible plan for the future, the company appears to be in disarray. Far from saving journalism, Ferro had left a long list of newspapers much worse off than when he’d bought them. Former Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski tweeted: “What a scandalous reign atop an historic newspaper company.” Continue reading

It’s over and out for Michael Ferro at tronc

Michael Ferro

Michael Ferro, the tech entrepreneur and would-be media mogul who was the largest shareholder in the parent company of the Chicago Tribune, is leaving the newspaper business.

According to a filing late Friday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Ferro is selling all of his stock in tronc to McCormick Media, a new ownership group reportedly tied to the family of the late Colonel Robert McCormick, longtime publisher of the Chicago Tribune. Continue reading

Lisagors to honor Mirage Tavern team — 40 years later

Zay Smith, Pam Zekman and Bill Recktenwald in 2018 (Photo: Kevin Tanaka/Sun-Times)

The three legendary Chicago reporters who went undercover in 1978 to break the famous Mirage Tavern investigative series will be honored at this year’s Peter Lisagor Awards presentation.

Pam Zekman and Zay Smith, who were reporters for the Sun-Times, and Bill Recktenwald, who was chief investigator for the Better Government Association, will receive Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Chicago Headline Club. The group’s 41st annual Peter Lisagor Awards dinner will be May 11 at Union League Club, 65 West Jackson Boulevard. Continue reading

Robservations: Countdown to Chicago Tribune sale?

Chicago Tribune Guild

Robservations on the media beat:

Will history repeat itself? The last time a tronc newspaper unionized, the company quickly sold it and got out of town. That was in February at the Los Angeles Times. On Wednesday Chicago Tribune newsroom employees officially announced their bid for union recognition. Tronc’s response? Nothing more than a perfunctory memo to staff from publisher and editor-in-chief Bruce Dold: “Everyone in Chicago Tribune management has the utmost respect for the decisions you make and for your rights on this issue.” As was the case in L.A., a resounding union victory here could be the final impetus for tronc chairman-in-exile Michael Ferro and CEO Justin Dearborn to call it quits and cash out. I’m willing to bet that’s just what they’ll do. Continue reading

Stop the presses: Chicago Tribune journalists form union

Chicago Tribune

Editorial employees of the Chicago Tribune have announced plans to seek union representation — a first in the 171-year history of the traditionally anti-union newspaper.

“Greetings,” they tweeted Wednesday. “We’re the journalists of the Chicago Tribune and its community publications, and we proudly announce the formation of the Chicago Tribune Guild. We’re unionizing to protect the future of the newspapers we love and bring readers the best journalism possible. #TribUnion”

In an open letter signed by 46 employees (including four Pulitzer Prize winners), the organizers called on their colleagues Wednesday to support the effort with the NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America. Continue reading

Robservations: Alabama goes solo on Big 95.5 mornings

Amber “Alabama” Cole

Robservations on the media beat:

Big 95.5

The long-anticipated shakeup of iHeartMedia Chicago’s country music station Tuesday didn’t end with the exit of Steve Stewart as program director and midday host. Also out after three years at WEBG 95.5 FM is the morning team of Mason Schreader and Zach “Remy” Hoesly. The lone holdover is Amber “Alabama” Cole, who’ll now host mornings solo. The native of Pinson, Alabama, who joined Big 95.5 as afternoon personality in 2015, had been co-hosting mornings with Mason & Remy since 2016. Incoming as program director and midday host is Lance Houston via iHeartMedia in Boston. From Chicago, Houston will continue to program WBWL in Boston as well. Underperforming ratings were cited for the shakeup. In the latest Nielsen Audio survey, Big 95.5 ranked 25th with a 1.7 percent audience share. It fared no better in the 25-to-54 revenue-generating demo. Continue reading