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The WBEZ studio core at Chicago Public Media’s offices at Navy Pier.

Manuel Martinez/WBEZ

Chicago Public Media unions seek CEO’s immediate ouster amid a no-confidence vote

Unions for the Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ criticized Matt Moog, who announced he planned to leave last year but later oversaw layoffs.

Unionized journalists at WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times voted overwhelmingly to seek outgoing Chicago Public Media CEO Matt Moog’s immediate removal, expressing a lack of confidence in his leadership in a letter released Tuesday.

The no-confidence votes from WBEZ’s SAG-AFTRA union local and the Chicago Newspaper Guild at the Sun-Times come after Moog defended the CPM board’s decision to issue lay-off notices to 14 employees in April amid declining revenues, including nine unionized content creators at WBEZ.

In a letter to CPM’s board of directors Tuesday, union leaders said 86% of unionized journalists at the radio station and newspaper participated in the vote, with 96% wanting Moog gone now.

The letter also demanded no layoffs or buyouts during the rest of Moog’s tenure and his ouster, along with an appointment of an interim CEO. The letter also sought greater transparency by the news outlets’ main governing board.

“Under Mr. Moog’s stewardship, we have seen a loss of talented and expert staffers and continued revenue declines, stunting our efforts to achieve sustainability even as we receive generous foundation support that should fuel growth,” the unions wrote in the letter.

Amid union allegations of hostile work conditions at CPM, Moog said last December that he planned to leave as CEO but would remain in the position until the board found a replacement. After announcing the layoffs, Moog indicated he would leave in August.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Moog reiterated his commitment to stay on until a new leader takes over and expressed disappointment for the unions’ vote, saying he has looked out for the non-profits’ future amid an era of weakened financial support for local news.

“After fifteen years of service to the organization as a board member and CEO, it saddens me to be personally attacked for taking the necessary and responsible steps to reduce expenses to offset the financial impact of declining broadcast and print audiences,” Moog wrote. “I thank the board of directors and the executive team for their partnership and full support of those steps to ensure the long-term financial sustainability of the organization.”

The head of the CPM board, Robert Pasin, in a statement Tuesday, praised Moog’s tenure as CEO and made clear the organization has no intention of forcing him out, saying, “Matt will remain the CEO until we have a new leader in place.”

But the labor groups said “the lack of transparency and accountability” on Moog’s watch has created mistrust in the organization’s newsrooms and “unnecessarily combative relationships with our unions” and criticized his spending on consultants and outside lawyers.

The unions, though, still held out hope for the viability of the Sun-Times/WBEZ marriage.

“We want to be clear: Our members are still optimistic and hopeful this merger between the Sun-Times and WBEZ can be a success,” the letter continued.

“We are proud of our journalism and grateful for the belief and investment that our generous funders have maintained in our work. We owe it to them, to our readers and listeners and to ourselves to get this right,” the unions said.

Pasin recently told the Chicago Tribune the board expected to announce a new CEO by the end of the month.

On Tuesday, Pasin did not respond to questions from WBEZ seeking a specific date when Moog would leave or say when a new CEO would be named. What Pasin did say, however, was the organization has benefited while Moog was at the helm.

“In spite of the considerable headwinds facing news organizations all across the country, Matt’s leadership has contributed to doubling the size of Chicago Public Media’s audience, fostering the most diverse staff and audience in our history and guiding the development of a comprehensive strategic plan that will steer the organization into a stronger position for the long-term,” Pasin wrote.

Moog helped lead the 2022 absorption of the Chicago Sun-Times into CPM, a nationally eye-turning deal that involved $61 million in private funding commitments and formed what he has touted as the largest nonprofit newsroom in the country, and which contributed to doubling CPM’s audience.

At the time, Moog announced plans to expand the newsroom with dozens of new hires and publicly committed against laying off workers. Asked in a 2021 interview whether he foresaw reducing staff in any way, Moog responded that he would not — “emphatically, without reservation.”

“This is like a George Bush ‘read my lips’ moment,” Moog told interviewer Mark Jacob.

That alludes to an infamous anti-tax campaign pledge that former President George H.W. Bush made in 1988 but ultimately went back on, contributing to his 1992 re-election defeat.

Citing the non-profits’ financial struggles, Moog ultimately shrunk the WBEZ newsroom in a move that disappointed a major donor to CPM, the MacArthur Foundation. Under the plan that Moog said got unanimous CPM board approval in March, the station also announced it would largely shut down its podcast unit and move Vocalo toward digital and streaming only – which Moog said was financially necessary.

In recent months, public media outlets around the country have announced declining revenues and have instituted budget cuts, buyouts and layoffs.

The no-confidence vote this week comes after SAG-AFTRA recently filed its first-ever complaint against CPM with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging the organization has not shared financial information and conducted essential business — including its March vote to approve the layoffs — behind closed doors.

The CPM board’s annual meeting in June, where a new operating budget for the organizations was approved for the fiscal year that begins July 1, was held virtually and in a manner that prohibited public questions or statements to the board. Most of CPM’s meetings in the past eight months have been closed to the public.

After SAG-AFTRA’s complaint was filed with the NLRB, Moog and the board disclosed to the organization some financial details, showing a decline in revenue for CPM for the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30, and projected budget shortfall of more than $1 million in the next year.

At the same time that CPM was reporting red ink within its budgetary operating lines, its most recent tax filings showed that the organization saw a year-over-year 36% increase in investment portfolio, which stood at more than $64 million as of last summer.

At the time the layoffs were announced, Moog declined to rule out further budgetary cutbacks.

Since CPM’s layoffs, Moog has faced criticism for his salary and a bonus he received.

According to CPM’s tax returns, Moog was paid a total of more than $633,000 for the fiscal year ending in June 2023, representing a nearly 19% pay hike.

Moog has been the CEO since 2020. Prior to that, he served on the CPM board from 2010 to 2020, including a stint as chairman.

Dave McKinney and Dan Mihalopoulos are reporters at WBEZ and members of the SAG-AFTRA union. This story was reported following WBEZ’s standards for independent reporting, fact-checking and verification. The story was edited by non-union editors Angela Rozas O’Toole, Gilbert Bailon, Jennifer Kho, Dave Newbart and Tracy Brown. Nobody involved in CPM’s response reviewed the story before publication.

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