Robservations: Block Club Chicago wins major grant; DePaul Center to honor Bill Whitaker; Cubs writer Russell Dorsey leaving Sun-Times

Block Club Chicago journalists (Photo: Colin Boyle)

Robservations on the media beat:

Tuesday was another red-letter day for Block Club Chicago. In what it called “a wonderful vote of confidence,” the vital nonprofit neighborhood news site landed a $1.6 million grant from the American Journalism Project and a $450,000 matching grant from the Chicago Community Trust. The funding will be used to expand Block Club’s business and operations side, creating five new positions — vice president of revenue, director of member services, director of major gifts and corporate sponsorships, director of sales and operations coordinator. An expansion of Block Club’s editorial team will follow. “Local news isn’t dying, it’s evolving,” said co-executive editor Jen Sabella. “The support from Chicagoans for our ultra-local newsroom has been overwhelming, proving that newsrooms don’t need to abandon the boots-on-the-ground basics — they just need to be responsive to the communities they cover.” Block Club was founded in 2018 by Shamus Toomey, Stephanie Lulay and Sabella, three editors of the former DNAinfo Chicago.

Bill Whitaker

Bill Whitaker, the “60 Minutes” correspondent and 30-year veteran of CBS News, will receive the Distinguished Journalist Award from DePaul University’s Center for Journalism Integrity and Excellence. He will be honored at a luncheon April 28 along with Heidi Wigdahl, a reporter for NBC affiliate KARE in Minneapolis and a 2010 DePaul alumna, who will receive the Distinguished Alumna Award. “Bill Whitaker represents the finest in journalism,” said Carol Marin, who co-directs the center with Don Moseley. “He listens, he investigates, and above all, he reports with fairness and humanity.” Wigdahl studied journalism and creative writing at DePaul and interned for the DePaul Documentary Project, where she helped produce stories with Marin and Moseley at NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5.

Russell Dorsey

Look for Sun-Times sports writer Russell Dorsey to join Stadium, the multi-platform sports network owned by Silver Chalice and Sinclair Broadcast Group and headquartered at United Center. Without confirming his new job, Dorsey announced Tuesday he was leaving the Sun-Times at the end of January after 18 months as Chicago Cubs beat writer. “Russ has done an excellent job for us covering all things Cubs, one of the more challenging beats to tackle in Chicago sports,” Steve Warmbir, interim editor-in-chief of the Sun-Times, wrote in an email to staff. “He’s had a great work ethic and has been a fantastic colleague.” Dorsey, who grew up in the south suburbs and began as an intern at the Daily Herald, previously covered the Cubs, White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers for MLB.com.

Joe Fournier

After more than 12 years as political cartoonist for the Chicago Tribune, Joe Fournier disclosed Tuesday that his position has been eliminated. His excellent work appeared three times a week on the opinion pages. “They let me go yesterday,” he wrote on Facebook. “Thanks to anyone who ever got a smile or a laugh from the pieces. Love to everyone and stay safe.” Chris Jones, editorial page editor of the Tribune, confirmed Fournier’s departure, adding: “Joe is a great freelance cartoonist and I like and value his work. We’re just trying now to include a multiplicity of voices (and cartoonists) on the opinion pages.”

Bill Ruthhart

Also exiting the Chicago Tribune is political reporter Bill Ruthhart. He’s joining the New York Times later this month as a writing coach and editor for its newsroom fellowship and early-career programs. “Helping build the foundation for the next generation of journalists is important work, and I’m excited to get started,” he tweeted Tuesday. The Rock Island native and onetime intern for the Daily Herald previously worked for the Indianapolis Star. He joined the Tribune in 2010 as a watchdog reporter and covered City Hall under the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Rick O’Dell

Rick O’Dell, program director of WRME 87.7-FM, the Weigel Broadcasting soft-rock oldies station known as MeTV FM, offers encouraging words for fans in an interview with Rick Kaempfer in the January issue of Illinois Entertainer. (Here is the link.) “Everyone else is chasing the younger viewer and listener, and if you want them, you’re only going to be able to get a much smaller slice of the pie,” said O’Dell, who’s been a Chicago radio treasure for four decades. “The stations focused on listeners 25-54 are in panic mode as the average age of the radio listener climbs up and up. Still, Weigel Broadcasting, in their radio and television products, is successful in targeting the older viewer and listener. That means we’re not in crisis mode, and we’re putting out a product that overlaps with my own taste and preferences, and we’re filling a niche for people in that age group by giving them music they really have no other place to get.”

Patty Steele

“The Deep Six” gets deeply personal this week when Steve Cochran and Patty Steele co-host a two-part special on addiction and codependency on Cochran’s “Live From My Office” podcast feed. Steele, a longtime New York radio personality, interviews her son Jake about overcoming his heroin addiction, and Cochran interviews his brother Mickey, who just marked 18 years of sobriety after 30 years as an alcoholic. Cochran said the two men talk about how they tore their families apart and nearly died from their addictions. “The ultimate truth is it doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from, if you’re rich or poor,” he said. “Addiction doesn’t care.” The series starts today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts and other platforms, including cochranshow.com.

Jeff Dickerson

In addition to the outpouring of love and support from friends, fans and colleagues, the death of ESPN reporter Jeff Dickerson drew $1,102,070 for the GoFundMe to support his 11-year-old son, Parker. The effort was spearheaded by Good Karma Brands ESPN sports/talk WMVP 1000-AM, where Dickerson covered the Chicago Bears for 20 years. “The unbelievable public response for Parker has been a direct result of the efforts of so many at ESPN,” organizers said. “Every dollar raised from this effort will support Parker’s future and will be overseen by his guardians and trustees.” A graduate of Buffalo Grove High School, Dickerson, 43, died of colon cancer December 28. Two years earlier his wife, Caitlin, died at the same hospice care facility after battling melanoma complications.

Michael Wilmington

Michael Wilmington, former film critic of the Chicago Tribune, died Thursday in Los Angeles from complications of Parkinson’s disease. He was 75. Wilmington joined the Tribune in 1993 when the late Gene Siskel cut back his full-time role to concentrate on TV work. Michael Phillips, who succeeded Wilmington as film critic in 2006, called him “a singular, ardent lover of cinema.” Born in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, Wilmington developed a passion for movies while he was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also wrote for the Los Angeles Times, L.A. Weekly and Movie City News.

Tuesday’s comment of the day: Mark Zegan: Newsy has a much better chance for survival, by just streaming, as a younger demographic might find it and might find it different and interesting. NewsNation is doomed to fail, and they prove it again by adding George Will. No disrespect, but all cable news networks appeal to an aging demo. I don’t care that NN is “bias-free” but that news audience HAS made its choice already. You can’t split that pie anymore. The highest rated hours of NN are STILL the entertainment hours. So the network’s average audience is still skewed. The network is in the bottom 15 of rated channels. It is a massive FAIL. Eventually, Nexstar has to realize this.