Another 40 Chicago journalists are out of work today. But in this case, figuring out who’s to blame isn’t easy.
All were employees of TouchVision, the multi-platform digital programming service that abruptly ceased operations after two years Thursday. How abruptly? Staffers were told at an afternoon meeting that it was their last day.
A lot of good work came out of the ambitious enterprise based at Weigel Broadcasting studios, 26 North Halsted Street. Led by Justin Allen, vice president of content and operations for parent company Think Televisual, the daily output of news features, documentaries and commentaries marked a vast improvement over the original format of TouchVision, a hypercharged bombardment of video news streaming.
In its latest iteration, TouchVision was billed as programming “for people looking for substance, context and entertainment.” Its 24/7 video news and feature content was available through free iOS and Android apps, on its website and on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. TouchVision also aired a one-hour daily morning news program to affiliates, including several of Weigel’s digital subchannels.
Norman Shapiro, chairman of Weigel Broadcasting, never publicly promoted — or even acknowledged — his company’s interest in TouchVision. But he kept pouring money into it long after its three founders, including former Tribune Co. chief innovation officer Lee Abrams, had bailed out.
Shapiro has always been a smart operator with an entrepreneurial spirit who doesn’t get into anything to lose money. When it became clear there was no road to profitability for TouchVision (what Allen called “the challenges to find consistent paths to revenue,” according to Crain’s Chicago Business), he pulled the plug. You win some, you lose some. That’s business.
Some fortunate staffers will shift to work on Decades, the nostalgia digital network Weigel is programming for CBS Television Stations. Most are unemployed and already seeking their next opportunity. All know they have nothing to be sorry for.
“I am incredibly proud of the work this group has done,” Allen posted Thursday. “Evolving a media company is no easy task. You answered the best every single day and brought passion, creativity and pinches of holy-shit-what’s-going-on-inside-their-head-ness to the job. For that, I am grateful.”