Robservations: Chicago news bosses warn journalists to be careful out there

Rioters damage media equipment outside U.S. Capitol January 6 (Photo: Associated Press/Jose Luis Magana)

Robservations on the media beat:

In the wake of attacks on reporters at the U.S. Capitol uprising January 6 and the continued threat of violence against journalists nationwide, Chicago area news organizations are on high alert this week. “Your safety is paramount,” Chicago Tribune editor-in-chief Colin McMahon wrote in an internal memo to staffers Wednesday. “If a journalist feels uncomfortable about an assignment — before, during or after — that journalist should raise those concerns immediately. Your assigning editor is there to listen and work with you, and if you feel an assignment is too risky, you will not be placed on that assignment. If you already are on the scene, you should feel free to break off that assignment.” An online training session for Tribune staffers will be held Friday on “Updated Safety Strategies & PPE for High Risk Assignments: Large Crowds, Demonstrations, Political Rallies and Riots with Escalating Crowd and Police Actions & Lessons Learned from Capitol Riot.” At ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7, news crews are being urged to cut back on live shots and take other measures to reduce their exposure. “When we have the option, let’s package or do a ‘look live’ instead of being live,” read an internal memo from ABC 7 newsroom management. “You may want to limit the wearing of clothing, face masks etc. with our logo on them. You also may take off the mic flag if you feel it’s drawing attention.”

Dan Haar

Wednesday brought word of two more veteran journalists exiting the Chicago Tribune after taking buyouts — crime and justice desk editor Dan Haar and photographer Zbigniew Bzdak. “Behind the scenes, [Haar’s] steady hand molded countless breaking news and criminal justice stories,” the Chicago Tribune Guild tweeted. “He’ll be missed, particularly by the many colleagues who count him as a friend.” Haar served as night city editor of City News Bureau and metro editor of the Sun-Times before joining the Tribune in 2009. Of Bzdak, the Guild tweeted: “Since joining the Tribune in 2002, he’s covered war, disaster and politics, among other many things. We’ll miss his intrepid spirit, warm nature and commitment to getting the shot. Thanks for serving our readers, friend.”

Susan Smith Richardson

Susan Smith Richardson, former editor and publisher of The Chicago Reporter, is leaving after two years as chief executive officer of the Center for Public Integrity, the Washington-based nonprofit investigative news organization, to become deputy editor of The Guardian US. “I’m excited to join the organization at this critical moment for democracy in the U.S. and the world, and look forward to helping create journalism that accurately reflects the diverse narratives that constitute America,” Richardson said in a statement. From 2013 to 2018 she headed The Chicago Reporter, the independent nonprofit news organization that investigates issues of race, poverty and income inequality. Earlier she worked at the Chicago Tribune as assistant metro editor and taught at Columbia College.

Rob Johnson

Rob Johnson, former top news anchor at CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2, turns up as morning host today and Friday on Cumulus Media news/talk WLS 890-AM. From 5:30 to 9 a.m. he’ll be filling in for Bruce St. James alongside Judy Pielach. “Rob Johnson is a trusted and familiar voice,” said WLS program director Stephanie Tichenor. “He knows Chicago and Chicago knows Rob.” Johnson’s 13-year run at CBS 2, which ended in 2019, followed eight years as anchor and reporter at ABC 7. St. James returns to his morning show Monday.

Paul Lisnek

This week marks publication of Assume Treason, the latest Chicago-based political thriller by Paul Lisnek, longtime political analyst for Nexstar Media Group flagship WGN-Channel 9. Released by Written Dreams Publishing, it’s a sequel to his 2018 novel Assume Guilt. “It’s about a presidential election, white supremacy and a lot of other things that have turned out to look all too real today . . . but it’s fiction,” Lisnek said. “And WGN fans will notice lots of homage to the ‘characters’ I work with here in the book.” The Niles North High School and University of Illinois graduate has been a fixture on WGN since 2008.

Newton Minow

Newton Minow, the Chicago lawyer and former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, will be saluted on his 95th birthday Sunday with a rebroadcast of “Newton Minow: An American Story” on Window to the World Communications WTTW-Channel 11. The 2015 documentary, produced and narrated by Mike Leonard, will air at 5 p.m. Sunday. It traces the life and career of the child of immigrants from Ukraine who became an adviser to presidents and an eyewitness to history. Famous for calling television “a vast wasteland” in a 1961 speech, Minow later served as board chairman of WTTW, where he was credited with recruiting William J. McCarter, the visionary leader who served as president and CEO for 27 years. Minow continues as a WTTW trustee emeritus.

Tuesday’s comment of the day: David Stewart: It seems to me that Cumulus Media’s efforts to ban certain controversial topics is less about their responsibility to the community and more about their calculation that they’ve maximized their ROI [return on investment] on backing Trump and his supporters.