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CEO of Sun-Times, WBEZ parent company stepping down

The new year will see another change at the top of Chicago Public Media, with CEO Matt Moog announcing Monday he is stepping down two years after joining NPR radio station WBEZ and tabloid newspaper Chicago Sun-Times under the same nonprofit banner.

Moog, a Chicago tech entrepreneur who was elevated from interim to permanent CEO of Chicago Public Media in 2021, will remain in the role while the board conducts a new CEO search early next year.

“I plan to return to my roots as a technology entrepreneur,” Moog said in a news release.

A board member since 2010, Moog oversaw a dramatic evolution at Chicago Public Media during his tenure as CEO, notably the merger of its flagship public radio station WBEZ-FM 91.5 with the Sun-Times in January 2022, creating a potentially groundbreaking model for nonprofit journalism.

But in the two years since its consummation, the merger has also led to significant and abrupt leadership changes at Chicago Public Media.

In January 2023, Sun-Times CEO Nykia Wright stepped down following a leave of absence, putting Moog “directly” in charge of overseeing both the radio station and the newspaper. Wright, who had led the Sun-Times since 2018, was named interim CEO of the Chicago-based National Association of Realtors in November.

The newspaper and radio station operate separate newsrooms but share content and resources.

Under Moog’s leadership, Chicago Public Media has filled 35 new roles over the last two years, with 80% of those in the newsroom, according to the news release announcing his imminent departure.

“Matt’s experiences as a longtime board member and technology entrepreneur uniquely qualified him to create one of the largest nonprofit newsrooms in the country,” Robert Pasin, chair of Chicago Public Media, said in a news release. “His impact spanned raising significant funds from major foundations and donors, developing a new strategic plan, and accelerating a digital transformation.”

Chicago Public Media raised $61 million in philanthropic support to finance the merger, with the money pledged over five years to fund the Sun-Times operation, including commitments to deepen and broaden its journalism, maintain the print newspaper and invest in a digital future.

The Sun-Times had been losing money for years as a struggling for-profit newspaper, facing a series of existential challenges during the new millennium, including a 2009 bankruptcy and several subsequent fire sales.

An investor group that included the Chicago Federation of Labor bought the Sun-Times for $1 in 2017, after Tribune Publishing was thwarted in its own bid to buy the newspaper by Justice Department antitrust concerns. Still bleeding red ink, in 2021 the Sun-Times began exploring a merger with WBEZ and a transition to a nonprofit news organization.

The merger was completed in January 2022.

As a nascent nonprofit, the Sun-Times showed an operating loss of about $1 million during its first six months in 2022, excluding fundraising revenue and expenses, according to its Form 990 tax return filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

Since then, the Sun-Times dropped its paywall in October 2022, opening up its news content to all readers and shifting to a voluntary digital membership program, which solicits annual donations of about $78 per reader. The nonprofit newspaper has signed up about 20,000 members to date, according to the news release

The tax return for fiscal year 2023, which ended in June, has not yet been posted online.

Michael Sacks, chairman and CEO of Chicago-based asset management firm GCM Grosvenor and a former Sun-Times investor, helped secure the agreement and finance the newspaper’s transition to the nonprofit venture, according to Chicago Public Media. Other financial supporters included the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Pritzker Traubert Foundation and Chicago Community Trust.

Efforts to reach Sacks were unsuccessful Monday.

Chicago Public Media said the acquisition of the Sun-Times more than doubled its audience to 4.5 million weekly listeners and readers across broadcast, print, and digital platforms. The nonprofit parent organization of WBEZ has been going through growing pains — and a number of leadership changes — over the last decade.

Digital media veteran Goli Sheikholeslami arrived in 2014 and expanded the news department, turning it into a consistent top-10 Chicago radio powerhouse before leaving for the same role at New York Public Radio five years later.

In 2019, Steve Edwards, then chief content officer for WBEZ, took on a dual role as interim CEO of Chicago Public Media. He wore the two hats a little longer than planned when incoming hire Andi McDaniel withdrew in September 2020 following an investigation into personnel issues at her former public radio station in Washington.

Edwards relinquished his CEO duties in October 2020 and Moog assumed the interim role as the board pledged to take a “fresh look” at the search process for a CEO. By April 2021, Edwards had stepped down as chief content officer at the station, while the search for a new CEO had yet to begin.

Moog was elevated from interim to permanent CEO in October 2021. Next year, the search will begin anew.

rchannick@chicagotribune.com



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