Journalism and COVID-19: Illinois Newsrooms Affected

This page is part of Journalism and COVID-19: The Toll of a Pandemic, PEN America’s project covering the toll of the coronavirus crisis on the journalism industry in the United States. For “Newsrooms Affected,” we looked at five U.S. states with among the most negatively affected newsrooms; Illinois was one of the states. Here are the Illinois newsrooms that have faced furloughs, layoffs, pay cuts, reduced hours, shifts to solely online coverage, suspension of print, temporary or permanent closures, reduced print schedules, or mergers as a result of the pandemic.

Last updated: December 15, 2020

22nd Century Media

22nd Century Media logo

Location: Chicago, IL
Founded: 2005
Action: Shuttered completely and went out of business, resulting in the loss of more than 40 jobs across 14 community newspapers and websites

Quotes from RobertFeder.com’s story on 22nd Century Media shutting down:
“Due to the economic impact of the coronavirus on all small businesses, from which we earn a large majority of our advertising base, we have made the difficult decision to cease operations for the time being. We hope to be able to resurrect in the not too distant future, but in order to make that a possibility, we were compelled to make this decision.”
—22nd Century Media

“To say this is devastating news would certainly be an understatement. But I’m incredibly thankful for the wonderful journey I had. . . Together, the journalism we produced made a profound impact on our communities. These communities lose their best source of information today.”
—Marty Carlino, Editor, The Northbrook Tower (via Facebook)

“Being the editor of The Patriot, the newspaper that serves the town I have lived in my entire life, has meant more to me than I can put into words. It was more than a job to me. I was able to be a voice of the town I grew up in and tell countless stories that I will always remember.”
—Sean Hastings, Editor, The New Lenox Patriot (via Facebook)

Chicago Public Media

Chicago Public Media logo

Location: Chicago, IL
Founded: 1989
Action: Laid off 12 staffers, including the team of the weekly rock music talk show “Sound Opinions”

Excerpt from Chicago Public Media’s statement, via RobertFeder.com’s story:
“The economic impact of COVID-19 has placed enormous pressure on the finances of many organizations, including Chicago Public Media. As a result, we are facing an overall revenue decline of 20 percent in the coming fiscal year*, leaving a deficit four times larger than the deficit experienced during the 2008 financial crisis. . .

“Today we announced layoffs of 12 members of the Chicago Public Media team. In addition, we are also ending WBEZ’s production of Sound Opinions on August 28. Going forward, Sound Opinions will continue as an independent public radio show and podcast. It will continue to air on WBEZ, as well as on nearly 150 other public radio stations, with distribution via PRX. 

“While these decisions are extremely difficult ones, we have worked hard to preserve the local journalism and programming investments that are so critical to our mission and to our community. As a result, we have not made any layoffs to our newsroom, programming or Vocalo teams. We remain committed to navigating these unprecedented challenges as responsibly as possible so that we may continue serving Chicagoans with the essential journalism and programming they need.”

Chicago Reader

Chicago Reader logo

Location: Chicago, IL
Founded: 1971
Action: Reduced to a biweekly print schedule (from weekly)

Quotes from the Chicago Reader’s story on the changes at the paper:
“This was not an easy decision. We wanted to focus on the current strengths of the paper. We did not have to lay off or furlough any editorial employees during the recent crisis, but it is clear there is still a difficult path to navigate in the coming months and years. This is the right time to focus on streamlining costs to keep our team intact, and to focus on new revenue sources.”
—Tracy Baim, Publisher, Chicago Reader

“We are so proud of the Reader’s legacy as an alt-weekly, and I’m honored that all of us have been part of its history as a weekly publication. As much as we would love to continue bringing our readers a weekly print paper, we know that this is the best path forward for the future. We’re grateful to still be here—and still kicking ass— when so many of our peers are not. Our print publication schedule is changing, but our commitment to being Chicago’s premier alternative news source has not.”
—Karen Hawkins, Co-Editor-in-Chief, Chicago Reader

Daily Chronicle, The Daily Gazette, Northwest Herald, The Herald-News, and The Telegraph

Daily Chronicle logo

The Daily Gazette logo

Northwest Herald logo

The Herald-News logo

The Telegraph logo

Location: DeKalb County, IL; Rock Falls and Sterling, IL; Crystal Lake, IL; Joliet, Will County, and Grundy County area, IL; and St. Louis Metro-East region respectively
Founded: 1879, 1951, 1985, 1877, and 1836 respectively
Action: Reduced print schedules due to measures taken by parent company Shaw Media

Excerpt from a notice to Shaw Media subscribers:
“In response to the ongoing crisis Shaw Media’s print schedule has changed:

“The print edition of the Northwest Herald will continue its normal publication schedule Monday through Friday. The Saturday and Sunday editions will be combined as a single edition and delivered on Saturday. 

“The Herald-News will continue its six-day print-and-deliver cycle, but the weekend edition will now be delivered on Saturday.

“The Daily Chronicle, Daily Gazette and The Telegraph will suspend the Monday print edition. The Daily Gazette and Telegraph will transition from a broadsheet format to a tab format. 

“The News Tribune and The Times will continue their current five-day print and delivery cycle, but will be moving to tab configuration. The change in format will allow us to more efficiently produce our printed newspapers in La Salle County and throughout Northern Illinois.”

Daily Herald

Daily Herald logo

Location: Chicago, IL
Founded: 1871
Actions:

Quote from executives of Daily Herald Media Group, via RobertFeder.com’s story on salary cuts at the paper:
“We are confident that we can weather this, provided we pull together and make some short-term sacrifices for the long-term health of our employee-owned company. While other industries have shut down and their workers released, with your support we will stay the course. We will continue to deliver on our mission — to provide valuable, trusted news and information to readers in print and online and to serve with excellence our many customers who depend upon us to meet their needs.”

Herald & Review

Herald & Review logo

Location: Decatur, IL
Founded: 1872
Action: Laid off one staffer

NBC Sports Chicago

NBC Sports Chicago logo

Location: Chicago, IL
Founded: 2004
Action: Laid off more than a dozen staffers

Statement by NBCUniversal, via the Chicago Tribune’s story:
“Due to the ongoing economic challenges caused by the pandemic and with the need to better position NBCUniversal for the future, we have made a number of difficult decisions to achieve cost savings, including eliminating some roles across the portfolio.”

From a tweet by Michael Piff, social media coordinator at NBC Sports Chicago who was among the staffers laid off:
“Yesterday I was informed that my position at NBC Sports Chicago would be terminated. All I can say is that the last 4 years have been the best of my life. Jessica Felten gave me an opportunity of a lifetime as social media coordinator, I covered my favorite teams in a city I truly love, and I got to be a part of something special. When I refer to the people I worked with as ‘family,’ that’s because they are and I will continue to see them that way for the rest of my life.

“I will always root for NBC Sports Chicago, because everyone there are the absolute best professionals and humans. Now I’m looking forward to what’s next, the right thing at the time.”

The Pantagraph

The Pantagraph logo

Location: Bloomington-Normal, IL
Founded: 1837
Action: Laid off two staffers

WLS-TV

WLS-TV logo

Location: Chicago, IL
Founded: 1948
Action: Laid off four full-time staffers and at least one part-time staffer

WDRV, WSHE, and WTMX

WDRV logo

WSHE logo

WTMX logo

Location: Chicago, IL
Founded: 1955, 1988, and 1961 respectively
Action: Twelve staffers laid off by parent company Hubbard Radio Chicago

Quotes from RobertFeder.com’s story on Hubbard Radio Chicago’s layoffs:
“This was a difficult day, in response to the challenges presented by COVID-19, we made changes that include a reduction in staff. This was an extremely tough decision and one that was delayed for as long as possible. Please know that this decision was driven solely by our ability to continue operating our business in an extraordinarily difficult economy and environment.

“We are all aware of the impact Covid-19 has had on our health, work environments and lifestyles. In less than three months, this global pandemic has created unexpected and unfathomable challenges to everyone. Like other businesses, we at Hubbard Chicago, have to adapt and work through these challenging times. However, as the pandemic continues, it is clear we needed to do more to adapt to the new business environment we face.

“I want to take a moment to recognize and thank our friends and co-workers who were affected and have contributed so much to our culture, our performance and our past success: Jeff Buti, Cynthia DeNicolo, Melissa Dever, Greg Easterling, Todd Ganz, Teddy Harris, Dale King, Phil Manicki, Brian Middleton, Robb Rose, Heather Torrey, and Susan Wiencek.”
—Jeff England, Market Manager, Hubbard Radio Chicago (memo to staff)

“The mark of a great company is one that sticks by their employees — and Hubbard Radio made it the longest while others cut weeks ago. I will miss my former teammates and wish them all tremendous success!”
—Robb Rose, Morning Show and On-Air Host, WSHE-FM (via Facebook)