‘Nightly Business Report’ cuts jobs, closes Chicago bureau

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In two decades as Midwest bureau chief and correspondent for Nightly Business Report, Diane Eastabrook reported on countless workers who’d lost jobs to downsizing and layoffs. On Wednesday, she became one of them.


“I’ve been a TV reporter for 30 years — a business reporter for 20 years,” she told me. “It’s all I’ve ever done. I’ve never lost a job. I’ve never been laid off. I’ve never been part of a staff reduction. This is all very new to me.”


Eastabrook, 52, was one of at least seven staffers laid off Wednesday in the latest round of cutbacks by the Miami-based nightly business news show. Airing on hundreds of public stations nationwide and distributed by American Public Television, Nightly Business Report is seen in Chicago at 11pm weeknights on WTTW-Channel 11.


The closing of the Chicago bureau, which leased offices at the Northwest Side headquarters of WTTW, 5400 North St. Louis Avenue, also cost the jobs of videographer and editor Mike Prendergast and part-time producer Hart Billings.


“These are all broadcast professionals,” Tom Hudson, the show’s managing editor and co-anchor, said of his suddenly out-of-work peers. “They possess the unique ability to cut through economic jargon and dense statistics to uncover stories with meaning and impact. I consider it an honor to call them colleagues.”


Nightly Business Report has been undergoing cutbacks since the program was sold by Miami public television station WPBT-TV in 2010. The new owner, NBR Worldwide, immediately cut eight positions — or about 20 percent of the staff. The program again was sold in 2011 to Atalaya Capital Management, a private equity firm, resulting in additional layoffs. The likelihood of yet another sale is looming.


The loss last August of the production’s sole underwriter, Franklin Templeton Investments, only added to the unease among the decimated staff. So while the latest cutbacks didn’t come as a complete surprise, Eastabrook said she thought she might survive at least until the first quarter of next year.


“Obviously, I’ve seen what’s happened in the media world, the cuts that have gone on, not just with us but everywhere — at all the networks,” she said. “I guess I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve had the long run that I’ve had.”


A native of Pekin, Illinois, and journalism graduate of Northern Illinois University, Eastabrook worked for stations in Wausau, Wisconsin; Peoria, and Albany, New York, before joining Nightly Business Report in 1993. Traveling across the country, she covered a wide-ranging beat, including the auto industry, airlines, manufacturing, agriculture, commodities, housing and small business.


Hudson called her “one of the most gifted storytellers and resourceful reporters in broadcasting.” What he didn’t say was that without her — or any other full-time presence in the Midwest — there’s a risk the show will become even more myopically focused on New York and Washington.


What does Eastabrook plan to do now?


“I know it’s a cliché, but I’m weighing my options to figure out what I want to do next,” she said. “I love journalism. I love business news. I like people stories. I’ll miss doing that. I’ll miss the day-to-day excitement of doing a story. It’s something I’ve always been very passionate about.


“One of the things I’ve always taken pride in is being able to come up with stories that nobody else had. I like to enterprise stories and break stories on my own. I did that very often. It’s in your blood.”


 



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