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Programming and team changes

The following letter from Chicago Public Media CEO Matt Moog, the Chicago Public Media Executive Leadership Team, and the Chair of the Chicago Public Media Board of Directors Robert Pasin, was shared with staff on Wednesday, April 3, 2024. It has been reproduced here with light editing.

Today, we’re announcing the difficult decision to make a limited set of programming changes and staff reductions outside the newsroom that will allow CPM to best serve our community and manage the organization for long-term sustainability.

Fourteen roles are being eliminated from WBEZ’s Content Development Unit, Vocalo’s radio broadcast, and Chicago Sun-Times business roles. We are also phasing out the WBEZ fellowship program in FY25. Impacted staff members have been notified.

These are painful decisions that affect our valued colleagues. We are working diligently to minimize the negative impact on each individual and provide them with financial and transitional support. We are so grateful for their many contributions over the years.

As we head into another intense news cycle during a consequential election year, reliable local news and information matter now more than ever. Yet, like many news organizations, our traditional sources of revenue — sponsorship, advertising, subscription and membership, and philanthropic funding — are not growing to support our mission.

These are the factors that have led the Chicago Public Media Board of Directors and Executive Leadership Team to make the decision to focus our resources on producing accessible, trusted news programming that helps all Chicago area residents make informed decisions, participate in our diverse communities and make the most of our region. Importantly, we must reach our audiences where they are across multiple platforms.

While print and radio are declining across the industry, our digital channels are growing and expanding our reach significantly. Over the last year, Chicago Public Media’s weekly audience has grown by over 475,000 to 4.5 million listeners and readers. In addition, CPM reaches 750,000 daily email subscribers every weekday, and we expect that number to grow. Meanwhile, our daily news podcasts reach nearly 100,000 downloads a week, and Vocalo’s digital presence reaches 100,000 people a week.

As our audience is growing in new ways, we are also reaching a younger and more diverse audience reflective of CPM’s coverage area. For example, after the Chicago Sun-Times dropped its paywall in October 2022, we have seen page views grow by 50%, which marks a major step forward in providing Chicago’s communities equitable access to high-quality local journalism, while The Goods, Vocalo’s arts and culture newsletter targeting young people of color in Chicago has grown its audience by 67% to 50,000+ subscribers.

To continue to attract growing audiences that are representative of our community, the investments CPM makes over the next year will be critical to its longevity and to the impact of our journalism.

Vocalo

First launched in 2007, Vocalo’s radio audience has not grown, reaching just 11,000 listeners weekly, with the broadcast station running at a significant financial loss for many years. As a result, the radio music broadcast will be phased out by May 1st.

However, as part of our investments in local newsroom coverage, two Vocalo team members will join our Arts & Culture unit and cover Chicago music and events. The Vocalo brand will retain a digital presence, reaching 100,000+ people and covering local music and culture, and collaborate across WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times. We will continue to build on The Goods’ success — having grown its audience by 67% to 50,000+ subscribers — and our vibrant social following.

Content Development Unit (CDU)

Podcast production will now focus on daily local news podcasts such as Reset and the Rundown. Curious City will also remain as a weekly audio feature on WBEZ.

The Content Development Unit, launched in 2016 to capitalize on the growing popularity of breakout podcasts, will wind down its non-newsroom titles, including Nerdette, Making, and When Magic Happens.

This move coincides with our recent programming change to Reset, which means we are meeting new and existing local news audiences where they read, listen and watch. Reset interviews posted online will feature more in-depth write-ups and Q-and-As alongside the audio program. The show will deliver compelling daily video content on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram. Producers will continue to take the daily podcast and daily newsletter in new, more user-friendly directions.

While these changes are difficult, they represent Chicago Public Media’s commitment to delivering high-quality local news that our loyal audiences depend on and innovating to reach new, expanded audiences. We believe these limited changes will continue to move us toward delivering on that promise.

We would like to recognize the commitment and important work of our impacted staff members. Their devotion to telling stories that matter and the incredible talent and care they brought to their craft are a source of great pride. We endeavor to provide as much transition time and support as possible and give them a chance to say a proper goodbye to the audiences they have served.