Robservations on the media beat:
The year is opening on a sour note for employees of the Chicago Tribune, now that Alden Global Capital, the New York-based hedge fund that owns a 32 percent stake in Tribune Publishing, is seeking to purchase all outstanding shares and take the company private. Terry Jimenez, CEO of Tribune Publishing, told staffers in a New Year’s Eve email that the company’s board formed a committee to evaluate the bid. “The special committee is under no commitment to accept or decline the proposal,” Jimenez wrote, adding: “The leadership team and I recognize that this news may be a source of distraction as we progress into the new year. But I can assure you we will remain focused on our core business, on our civic mission and on our digital growth. And I encourage you to remain focused on controlling what is in your control. No matter the outcome of the proposal, our mission remains serving our communities.” Those assurances offer little hope to worried journalists. In a petition to the board in December 2019, hundreds of Tribune editorial employees called Alden a “destroyer of newspapers,” noting the hedge fund’s “well-documented history of extracting short-term profits from already-lean operations by cutting newsroom jobs and denying fair wages and benefits.”
The big fun starts today on MeTV when the Chicago-based network for nostalgic television premieres “Toon In With Me,” an hour of sketch comedy and Looney Tunes cartoons at 6 a.m. weekdays. Hosted by multi-talented funnyman Bill Leff, the show features a talking tuna named Toony and a cast of irregulars — both real and animated. “I’m so excited for people to finally get to see what all of us at ‘Toon In With Me’ have been working on,” Leff told me Sunday. “The show is great for adults who remember cartoon shows so fondly, fun for kids who are experiencing them for the first time, and it tested really well with pelicans, which surprised us.”
Mark Giangreco and Janet Davies continue to reign supreme as Chicago’s King and Queen of New Year’s Eve. Hosting a studio version of “Countdown Chicago 2021” with a plexiglass barrier between them (and using hand puppets with their likenesses for a “sanitized smooch” at midnight), Giangreco and Davies easily won the time period Thursday night for ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7. Viewers in 545,025 households — the biggest audience in six years — tuned in for the merriment on ABC 7, including another amazing opening dance number by Terrell Brown and Cheryl Scott. (Here is the link.) “News Year’s Eve Chicago,” a taped special hosted by Matthew Rodrigues and Cortney Hall on NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5, drew 124,974 households, according to Nielsen numbers.
Good news for fans of Big John Howell: Starting today he’ll add an hour onto his afternoon show on WLS 890-AM, the Cumulus Media news/talk station. “The John Howell Show” will air from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays, bumping an hour off Ben Shapiro’s syndicated talk show (which continues from 2 to 4 p.m.). “Howell’s ability to break down the news of the day while engaging with our listeners through his no-nonsense style is what makes his show an audio afternoon delight,” WLS program director Stephanie Tichenor wrote in an email to staffers. “We are thrilled to have more Big John in 2021.” No word yet on who’ll succeed the retiring John Dempsey, who’s agreed to stay on as afternoon news anchor at WLS until the end of January.
Melissa Forman, popular morning personality at iHeartMedia adult contemporary WLIT 93.9-FM, gets the profile treatment from Rick Kaempfer in the January issue of Illinois Entertainer. (Here is the link.) Now back for her third stint at Lite FM, Forman says she prefers radio to the morning TV gig she shared for eight years with Jeanne Sparrow at The U. “I loved TV, but radio is in my blood,” she tells Kaempfer. “The calls that come through. The moments with listeners. The immediate feedback. It’s special. . . . People say that radio is dead, but they should come in and listen to these people every day. They are intelligent; they have a point of view; they are creative; they are hilarious. I leave my show every day in a better mood because I got to talk to them. There’s magic in radio. Local radio. . . . I just love it.”
Natalie Moore, who reports on race, class and communities for Chicago Public Media WBEZ 91.5-FM, has been named recipient of a Richard C. Longworth Media Fellowship. Presented jointly by the Pulitzer Center and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the $10,000 fellowships promote international reporting by Chicago and Midwestern journalists. For her fellowship project, Moore will travel to Finland to report on the country’s criminal justice reform and “open prison” system. Before joining WBEZ in 2007, Moore was a reporter for the Detroit News, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and the Associated Press in Jerusalem.
Thursday’s comment of the day: Harry M. Politis: As a daily subscriber to the Chicago Tribune for well over 50 years, that is devastating news that Alden Global Capital is poised to take a controlling interest in the newspaper. As it stands now, the Tribune is just a pale imitation of the paper it once was, but gutting local news coverage and terminating some of the voices that make up their team of columnists will do me in!! In a city that was once home to some of the best journalism in the country, I guess it’s time to wave the white flag!