Robservations: Gannett bid refigures Chicago media equation

Tribune Tower

Tribune Tower

Robservations on the media beat:

The Michael Ferro era at Tribune Publishing may be over sooner than anyone could have imagined. Just three months after the tech entrepreneur bought his way in as board chairman of the Chicago Tribune parent company, his exit appears inevitable thanks to an $815 million bid for the company from Gannett, made public Monday. If Gannett succeeds, as most analysts predict, gone would be Ferro’s grandiose pronouncements about saving journalism and reinventing news. Gannett likely would replace words with actions — cutting expenses, slashing staff and operating “more efficiently.”

Michael Ferro

Michael Ferro

Other than bringing the Chicago Tribune under its banner, no one knows what Gannett would do with the rest of Tribune Publishing’s portfolio in Chicago. It’s a good bet the new owners would continue Chicago Tribune Media Group’s six suburban dailies (Daily Southtown, Aurora Beacon-News, Elgin Courier-News, Naperville Sun, Lake County News-Sun and Northwest Indiana Post-Tribune) and 32 weeklies. But the future of other properties, including RedEye Chicago, Chicago magazine and the newly acquired Splash, is anyone’s guess.

Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago Sun-Times

One mile west of Tribune Tower at 350 North Orleans are the remnants of Ferro’s last grand media venture, Wrapports, which at this point includes the rival daily Sun-Times and the alternative weekly Chicago Reader. A Gannett deal for Tribune Publishing not only could bring an end to the Sun-Times’s content partnership with USA Today. It also could thwart the exit strategy of the Wrapports investment group. Until now it was assumed that Tribune Publishing would acquire the Sun-Times even if it meant keeping its editorial operations separate. Ferro told the Tribune last month: “I do see that someday, and why not?” Now that’s up for grabs too.

Chicago Reader

Chicago Reader

Longtime media critic Michael Miner must have read my mind when he weighed in this week about an online petition drive to “save” the Chicago Reader. (There were more than 2,900 signatures as of Tuesday morning.) The headline on his story said: “Don’t think of the Reader’s public appeal as a negotiating gimmick,” which is precisely how it looked at first glance. Efforts at the bargaining table have gone nowhere since the Reader’s underpaid and overworked staff voted to join the Chicago News Guild in January 2015. Calling out management has been a tactic for the union in past negotiations with the parent company of the Sun-Times. “Ownership must invest in marketing, advertising, and digital operations and enrich editorial content, or the Reader will die,” the petition states. Though they insist they have no secret stash of money, bosses dismiss reports of the weekly’s impending demise. Said Jim Kirk, editor and publisher of Sun-Times Media: “The Reader remains a strong voice in the community, and we have every intention of keeping it that way despite the growing challenges all media companies face.”

Steve Darnall

Steve Darnall

Steve Darnall, host and producer of “Those Were the Days,” has hit on a clever way to celebrate the 46th anniversary of the old-time radio showcase this weekend. He’ll transform the show into a four-hour “record hop,” playing a wide range of recordings from the past and spotlighting some of radio’s greatest record-spinners (including an interview with Chicago broadcasting legend Bob Hale). Darnall also will feature a 1945 “GI Jive” program hosted by “GI Jill,” a 1944 disc jockey program hosted by Milwaukeean-turned-New Yorker Jack Bundy, and the great Al “Jazzbo” Collins in a dramatic role on “X Minus One.” “Those Were the Days” airs from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays on College of DuPage’s WDCB FM 90.9 and on wdcb.org.

Natasha Korecki

Natasha Korecki

Natasha Korecki, the veteran Chicago journalist whose Politico Illinois Playbook is a daily must-read, was honored last week as Illinois Journalist of the Year by Northern Illinois University’s journalism program. Before joining politico.com as senior political reporter last fall, Korecki was chief political writer and federal courts reporter for the Sun-Times. A University of Illinois graduate, Korecki previously worked as a reporter and legal affairs writer at the Daily Herald.

Thomas Johnson

Thomas Johnson

Some of us still remember him fondly as “Major Tom,” the Chicago broadcasting jack of all trades — news anchor, traffic reporter, talk show host, rock jock and producer, among other roles. Now he’s Thomas Johnson and he’s just joined the executive staff of the Better Business Bureau as director of public and board relations. Johnson most recently was director of business development for the Chicago City Treasurer’s office. He also headed media relations for the Office of Emergency Management and the Chicago Department of Transportation.

Dick Rakovan

Dick Rakovan

Dick Rakovan isn’t supposed to read this, but friends of the radio industry statesman want to get the word out about a gathering May 4 at Tortoise Club Restaurant, 350 North State Street. From 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., they’ll be videotaping brief messages from his fans congratulating Rakovan on receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois Broadcasters Association. A former general manager of WFYR and senior vice president of the Radio Advertising Bureau, Rakovan will be honored by the IBA June 14 in Champaign-Urbana.