Chicago Public Media, the parent organization of the city’s WBEZ public-radio station, is acquiring the Chicago Sun-Times and creating a nonprofit news organization that's unusual for its size and multichannel scope.
The move was approved by Chicago Public Media’s board late on Tuesday and is expected to close at the end of this month.
“This is an important step to grow and strengthen local journalism in Chicago,” Matt Moog, CEO of Chicago Public Media, sa id in a press statement. “A vibrant local news ecosystem is fundamental to a healthy democracy, informed citizens and engaged communities. Together, WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times aim to tell the stories that matter, serve more Chicagoans with our unbiased, fact-based journalism, and connect Chicagoans more deeply to each other and to their communities.”
In the new structure, the newspaper will operate as an independent nonprofit subsidiary of Chicago Public Media, separate from WBEZ but sharing content across channels. Together, the two journalism organizations reach an estimated audience of 2 million people per week across print, broadcast and online channels, making it one of Chicago’s largest media platforms.
The merger is being touted as an example for local news organizations across the country.
“If we do this correctly, not only will it have a significant impact in the Chicago community, but I really do believe it will have ripple effects across the nation,” Sun-Times CEO Nykia Wright said in September. “We’re not talking about reduction. We’re talking about expansion, and that’s one of the most exciting things to come out of journalism in at least a decade.”
Wright will remain in her position and report to Moog.
The success of the deal, the joint statement indicated, will depend on community support through subscription growth and donations, as well as funding from large philanthropic foundations. Among early supporters are the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Pritzker Traubert Foundation, the statement said. The newspaper’s leading investor, Michael Sacks, CEO of Chicago-based Grosvenor Capital Management, is also putting money into the new organization.
One strategy that might work against the new business model: Moog said the ne wspaper’s existing paywall will be softened to stop blocking content “for those unable or unwilling to pay.” Of course, that’s a self-selecting group, and proof of such status is impossible to establish.
Which leads to a simple conclusion: Undermining a vital revenue stream — a fair revenue stream, in which readers are asked to pay for the work that professional journalists produce — can’t possibly advance the business interests of the organization.
The Sun-Times, formed in 1948 with the merger of the Chicago Sun and the Chicago Times, has had a recent history of acute financial distress. Layoffs started in the 2000s, followed by bankruptcy in 2009. In 2017, the paper, reported losing more than $4 million per year and was sold to an investment group for the reported sum of $1.00.