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Public radio station to acquire Chicago Sun-Times

The for-profit newspaper is merging with the local branch of National Public Radio to create one of the nation's largest nonprofit newsrooms.

CHICAGO (CN) — The Chicago Sun-Times is soon to be taken over by Chicago Public Media, according to a news release put out by the nonprofit organization late Tuesday night.

Under the new arrangement, the 74-year-old newspaper will function as an independent operation under the CPM umbrella, which also directs WBEZ, Chicago's local branch of National Public Radio.

CPM CEO Matt Moog said in the announcement that the CPM Board of Directors voted unanimously to acquire the Sun-Times on Tuesday after weeks of discussion. The Sun-Times' own CEO, Nykia Wright, said in a Wednesday morning message to subscribers that both entities hope to close the noncash deal by the end of January.

The merger marks a shift in the Sun-Times from a for-profit to a nonprofit newsroom.

“This is an important step to grow and strengthen local journalism in Chicago,” Moog said. “A vibrant local news ecosystem is fundamental to a healthy democracy, informed citizens, and engaged communities."

According to 2021 data from the Institute for Nonprofit News, the merged Sun-Times/CPM organization would be the largest nonprofit media outlet in the country in terms of staff size. As of last year, the largest nonprofit outlet in the U.S. was ProPublica with 148 full-time staff. A combined Sun-Times/CPM newsroom would be almost twice that size.

The move also allows the Sun-Times to avoid the fate of many other local newsrooms, including that of the Chicago Tribune, which have been increasingly downsized and traded by private, for-profit interests over the last several decades. The Tribune's parent company, Tribune Publishing, made its own unsuccessful attempt to acquire the Sun-Times in 2017. The New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital instead bought Tribune Publishing in 2021.

The globally recognized public media outlet British Broadcasting Corporation may also face privatization in several years. Nadine Dorries, British Conservative Party MP and the United Kingdom's secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport announced Sunday that she was freezing the UK's TV license fee at £159 ($216) until 2024. The fee is paid annually by all television owners in the UK, and is used to fund public broadcasting.

Freezing the fee effectively starves the BBC of over £2 billion ($2.7 billion) in public funding, and Dorries also stated that she wished to abolish the fee completely from 2027 onward. Without its public funding, BBC will have to look to more private investment to stay afloat.

"Time now to discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling great British content,” Dorries said in a Sunday tweet.

In Chicago, Michael Sacks, one of the Sun-Times' main private investors and CEO of the investment firm Grosvenor Capital Management, supported the paper moving into the public sphere. Since 2019, Sacks has been one of the paper's most prominent co-owners, alongside the Chicago Blackhawks' chairman and principal owner Rocky Wirtz. Other Sun-Times co-owners include a number of private philanthropists, local unions, and the Chicago Federation of Labor.

"Sun-Times’ investor Michael Sacks helped secure the agreement to transfer the Sun-Times’ assets and resources to Chicago Public Media, while also committing significant future financial support," WBEZ said in its statement. "Early leading funders also include the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Pritzker Traubert Foundation."

Though Chicago Public Media said in its statement that both the Sun-Times and WBEZ "will operate separately with their own editors and maintain their editorial independence," the move to the public sphere does mean the Sun-Times will no longer be allowed to endorse political candidates. It is not clear if the Sun-Times will also be allowed to continue running ads aimed at Catholic readers, which are a mainstay of the paper in its current form.

The Sun-Times newsroom did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the details of the merger from their perspective. However, Sun-Times Chairman Jorge Ramirez said Tuesday night that he thought the merger was the result of the staff's hard work for the paper.

“I am extremely proud of the work that the Chicago Sun-Times’ team has done to make the paper an attractive partner to Chicago Public Media,” Ramirez said. “Today’s milestone is a testament to their work and how far the business has come."

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