Robservations: Will next Chicago Tribune newsroom be virtual?

Chicago Tribune

Robservations on the media beat:

Could a virtual newsroom be in the offing for the Chicago Tribune? Speculation turned serious Thursday with news that Tribune Publishing was negotiating to break its lease at One Prudential Plaza just two years after moving from Tribune Tower, which had been the newspaper’s home for 93 years. The company hasn’t paid rent on the 137,000-square-foot space overlooking Millennium Park since March, citing losses attributed to the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s unclear where the Chicago Tribune’s newsroom and offices, as well as the corporate parent’s headquarters, would relocate,” according to the Tribune’s Ryan Ori, bolstering the idea that Alden Global Capital, the profit-squeezing hedge fund calling the shots these days, might do away with an actual newsroom altogether. After all, they’ve been putting out the paper virtually for more than four months. “In order to sustain ourselves for the long term, we’ve positioned the company as a smaller, more agile operation,” Tribune Publishing CEO Terry Jimenez told industry analysts this week. “To do so, we have and are taking steps to reduce our primary expense drivers by focusing on our fixed cost infrastructure, reducing our real estate footprint, and reducing compensation expense.”

Chicago Tonight

Also on the move — but not for too long — is WTTW-Channel 11’s “Chicago Tonight,” flagship news program of the Window to the World Communications station. Thursday marked the last broadcast from its familiar wood-paneled studio after two decades. While the cavernous space undergoes a desperately needed and long overdue renovation, the show will originate from a temporary set down the hall. Gone too will be the wall of tchotchkes and trinkets in the background. “I think maybe we’re going to auction them off for a pledge,” mused “Chicago Tonight” anchor Paris Schutz. “Or else our staff is going to steal them for themselves and hawk them on eBay probably.”

Andi McDaniel

Staffers at WBEZ 91.5-FM are weighing in on the controversy swirling around their incoming boss. Andi McDaniel, who was announced to start as CEO of Chicago Public Media on September 28, is under fire for how she handled complaints of sexual misconduct against a male reporter while McDaniel was chief content officer at WAMU, the NPR station at American University in Washington, D.C. This week more than 50 employees of WBEZ sent a letter to the board of Chicago Public Media expressing serious concerns about McDaniel and the process that led to her hiring: “As a public-facing organization, it is imperative that our CEO build trust with the staff and with the diverse communities we serve,” they wrote. “We are troubled these recent events could make that more difficult.” McDaniel told the public broadcasting site Current: “I’ve focused my public media career on shepherding talent and trying to make our industry more innovative, diverse and joyful. . . . As a leader, I bear responsibility and am determined to do better.”

Jenna Barnes

Latest addition to WGN-Channel 9 is per diem reporter Jenna Barnes, who joins the Nexstar Media Group station September 8. Since 2017 she’s been a reporter for KSDK, the NBC affiliate in St. Louis. Barnes, who grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and graduated from Boston University and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, previously was a reporter and fill-in news anchor for Spectrum News in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Windy City Times

Just in time to mark its 35th anniversary as Chicago’s leading publication for the gay and lesbian community, Windy City Times has been named to the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame. Also among 2020 inductees is Stephen Kulieke, former co-editor and City Hall reporter for Chicago GayLife newspaper. He’s being cited for “breaking barriers while covering and advancing the struggle for civil rights equal justice for Chicago’s LGBT community.” This year’s virtual ceremony will be streamed online October 13 in recognition of National LGBT History Month.

Jamie Kalven

“16 Shots,” the Showtime documentary on the 2014 Chicago police shooting of Laquan McDonald and its aftermath, is up for three honors in this year’s News and Documentary Emmy Awards. (Here is the link.) It’s been nominated for best documentary, outstanding investigative documentary, and outstanding research. The film was co-produced by Jamie Kalven, the investigative journalist who heads Chicago’s nonprofit Invisible Institute. Kalven was instrumental in revealing the coverup of the shooting of the 17-year-old McDonald. Awards will be presented virtually September 21.

Thursday’s comment of the day: Charlie Meyerson: Newspapers’ move away from sectionality is a good thing—reducing the need to run articles just because they need to fill a section and giving them the flexibility to run the best, most interesting news when it’s fresh and relevant—instead of letting it get stale until a special section’s day comes round at last.