Jan 19, 2022 - Economy

Chicago Public Media to acquire the Sun-Times


The Chicago Sun-Times announced its acquistion by WBEZ today. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

The Chicago Public Media Board of Directors (CPM), which runs public radio station WBEZ, voted on Tuesday to acquire the Chicago Sun-Times.

Driving the news: The deal was a "no cash acquisition," according to the current Sun-Times investors.

Why it matters: The move could create one of the largest nonprofit news organizations in the nation and the acquisition mirrors a trend happening in other large local newspapers across the nation.

  • The news comes after a surprise announcement last fall that the organizations had signed a letter of intent for the Sun-Times to become a subsidiary of CPM.
  • It also comes after decades of financial trouble for the Sun-Times, which has struggled to survive under a series of owners in a declining newspaper market.

Between the lines: The paper's owners have reportedly been trying to find a way out of a costly investment that also preserves its viability.

  • "This acquisition is about preserving and strengthening local journalism in Chicago and ensuring that the Sun-Times is positioned for a strong future," current investors spokesperson Becky Carroll told Axios Wednesday. "Investors were focused on bringing the paper back from the brink and putting it in a healthy financial position. Their work is done and now it’s time for a new chapter."
  • “I am proud to have played a part in securing the future of the Chicago Sun Times and, by doing so, honoring the paper’s past," current investor Michael Sacks said.

Details: CPM says the two newsrooms will operate separately with "their own editors and editorial independence," but that they will share content across platforms.

  • The same CPM statement announced that each organization will conduct "a nationwide search" for executive editors to lead each newsroom.

The big picture: Metro newspapers are increasingly being spun out as nonprofits so that they can solicit philanthropic donations from their local communities.

  • The Philadelphia Inquirer, alongside Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com, was donated to a nonprofit by their billionaire owner HF “Gerry” Lenfest in 2016.
  • The Salt Lake Tribune announced plans to become a nonprofit in 2019 to provide long-term stability for the outlet in the digital age.

By the numbers: The number of local news outlets that have registered as nonprofits has roughly doubled in the past five years, according to the Institute for Nonprofit News.

Be smart: By pivoting to a nonprofit model, the Sun-Times could avoid the fate of its rival, the Chicago Tribune, which was taken over by a hedge fund in 2021 and has lost dozens of journalists to buyouts.

Remaining questions: How will the reading and listening experience change, if at all, for the distinct audiences of both entities?

  • And if they don't, how does that create efficiencies in the new arrangement?

What's next: CPM says it expects to close the transaction by Jan. 31.

Disclosure: Monica Eng worked at the Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ for several years.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to remove an incorrect reference about the Baltimore Sun's sale to a philanthropist's nonprofit. The philanthropist's efforts ultimately fell through.

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