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Melissa Bell sitting on a chair for a photo portrait.

Melissa Bell has been named CEO of Chicago Public Media.

James Bareham

Melissa Bell named CEO of Chicago Public Media, will oversee Sun-Times, WBEZ

The co-founder of Vox.com and former publisher of Vox Media will take over in September.

Melissa Bell, former publisher of Vox Media, will become the next CEO of Chicago Public Media, the nonprofit owner of the Chicago Sun-Times and public radio station WBEZ, amid tough times for news organizations.

Bell co-founded the explanatory journalism site Vox.com and eventually oversaw other media brands, such as Eater and The Verge. She also worked on digital strategy for The Washington Post.

Bell stepped back from Vox in 2023 to become a visiting fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University, where she studied the impact of news avoidance on local journalism in the United States.

Bell is to start her new job Sept. 3, CPM announced Thursday. She will succeed Matt Moog, whose four-year tenure is wrapping up after he oversaw the merger of the two legacy news organizations two years ago. More recently, workers openly criticized his salary and management’s transparency.

“It is an honor to take on this role, where there is both a massive opportunity and an urgent necessity to strengthen the role of public media in our local communities. There is a declining trust, and more worrisome, a declining interest in news at a critical time in Chicago and for our country,” said Bell, who received her master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

“There are challenges facing CPM, but they are not insurmountable. In fact, there is so much potential that comes from the collaboration between WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times. I’m excited to return to Chicago to work alongside the many talented, passionate journalists and staff to build sustainable and scalable solutions for producing quality, accessible local news.”

CPM Board Chair Robert Pasin praised Bell’s “incredible depth of experience as a media executive and publisher, a product leader and as a reporter.”

“Not only does Melissa have a proven track record in growing Vox Media’s audience, she knows her way around a newsroom,” Pasin said, noting that, before starting Vox, she wrote a weekly consumer technology column for The Washington Post.

CPM said Bell was unavailable for an interview Thursday.

A CPM spokeswoman said Moog will depart once Bell starts in September. Before becoming CEO, he served on the company’s board from 2010 to 2020.

Moog’s tenure included shepherding the 2022 merger of the Sun-Times and WBEZ, a deal that netted $61 million in foundation support. But his time ended in controversy.

Moog announced last December he would step down just as the unions at both organizations pressed for a board investigation following allegations of a “hostile work environment” at CPM.

He remained during the hunt for his successor and drew criticism from the unions for pocketing a nearly 20% pay hike, to $633,310 in the 2023 fiscal year, while presiding over layoffs in response to declining revenue. The layoffs and other cutbacks hit heaviest at WBEZ’s programming.

On June 18, unions representing staffs at the Sun-Times and WBEZ said members voted overwhelmingly to ask the CPM board to remove Moog immediately, citing a lack of confidence in his decisions.

Moog described the unusual public declaration as a personal attack for trimming expenses.

A CPM spokeswoman declined to disclose Bell’s salary. “The board approved a compensation package that is competitive with market rates for executives running public media operations,” the spokeswoman said.

Pasin said, “Under Matt’s leadership, Chicago Public Media has become a national model for the future of local news. The landmark acquisition of the Chicago Sun-Times helped to expand our reach and enhance our journalistic capabilities. Moog’s dedication and strategic vision have been instrumental in strengthening Chicago Public Media as a leader in public service journalism.”

Both unions welcomed the hiring of Bell. “We’re optimistic that this can be a positive new chapter for Chicago Public Media,” said heads of the Sun-Times Guild, who said they want to meet with Bell “to chart a sustainable path forward for our journalism.”

Leaders of the WBEZ union local said they are encouraged by the new hire and “look forward to a new era of transparency in management and to working with Melissa Bell to ensure the future of audio journalism at WBEZ.”

CPM has reported that ratings for WBEZ have fallen, contributing to financial pressures, and while print readership for the Sun-Times has declined, digital traffic has been up overall by almost every metric.

Both newsrooms solicit donations independently but face headwinds common in the media business as audiences and advertising have fragmented.

Rick Edmonds, media business analyst at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, said Bell worked creatively at Vox to expand its holdings and produce content for different platforms. He knows Bell from her work on a national advisory board for Poynter.

Vox expanded via acquisitions of New York Magazine and other properties but more recently has resorted to layoffs.

Overseeing the Sun-Times and WBEZ, Bell must deal with declining revenue and getting two operations to join forces more effectively, Edmonds said.

“There are a lot of differences in how you do things in a radio broadcast versus traditional print or digital media. It’s a challenge, to say the least,” he said.

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