Sun-Times boss orders front-page eulogy for friend

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Robservations on the media beat:



  • With all due respect to David B. Speer, most Chicagoans never heard of the late president and CEO of Illinois Tool Works Inc., who died November 17. So when the Sun-Times devoted the entire front page of last Monday’s edition to Speer’s passing (and all of Pages 2 and 3 to his obituary and career highlights), it must have struck many readers as odd. But there in the ninth paragraph of Neil Steinberg’s laudatory obit was the answer: Speer was “a mentor and a friend” of Michael Ferro, chairman of the Sun-Times’ parent company, Wrapports LLC. (In 2006 Speer bought a software company Ferro owned, Click Commerce, for $292 million.) Sources said Ferro personally ordered the Page 1 splash, overriding the judgment of his editors. It was a flagrant abuse of his power as publisher and yet another example of Ferro’s ego undermining the credibility of the paper. Hiring wannabe columnist Jenny McCarthy was merely foolish. But dictating news coverage is shameful and disgusting.



  • But wait, there’s more: Ferro’s heavy hand in the newsroom isn’t the only thing angering journalists at the Sun-Times. In contract talks with the Chicago Newspaper Guild, the company is refusing to restore any of the salary lost by reporters and other editorial staffers who took a 15 percent pay cut in 2009. (That’s when the paper was rescued from bankruptcy by its former owner, the late James Tyree.) The union is calling on its members to demonstrate their unhappiness with the current owners by boycotting the Sun-Times’ holiday party on December 3.



  • A lot of people had high hopes when Chicago radio veteran and author James VanOsdol announced he was writing the definitive story of Q101 (including more than 385 fans who contributed to his Kickstarter.com project). Now that We Appreciate Your Enthusiasm: The Oral History of Q101 has been published, I can report that it exceeds all expectations. VanOsdol, a former Q101 personality, spent hundreds of hours over 16 months interviewing 75 fellow alums of the legendary modern rocker. The result is a riveting, you-are-there account of a Chicago radio treasure from its flip to alternative music in 1992 to its demise in July 2011. No one has ever captured the story of a local radio station with as much candor and insight. Starting this week, it’s available in digital versions (for Kindle, Nook and iBookstore) and in paperback on Amazon.com.



  • Monday is expected to mark the launch of DNAInfo.com Chicago, the hyperlocal digital news service focused on the city’s neighborhoods and key agencies and institutions. The initial staff of 20 reporters and editors includes Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Konkol, formerly of the Sun-Times. Leela De Kretser, editorial director and publisher of DNAInfo.com/NewYork, has been serving as acting managing editor of the Chicago startup since the resignation last month of Robert K. Elder. A permanent replacement is expected to be named soon. The company, whose name stands for Digital News and Information, is funded by Joe Ricketts, founder of TD Ameritrade Inc. and father of Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts.



  • The revolving door continues to spin at Chicago’s Fox-owned stations, where the fifth vice president and general manager in eight years has been named at WFLD-Channel 32 and WPWR-Channel 50. He’s Dennis Welsh, a company man from WOFL-TV in Orlando, Florida, where his claim to fame was the Fox station’s massive coverage of the Casey Anthony trial last year. Welsh replaces Mike Renda, who proved as ineffectual and inaccessible as his two predecessors. But Fox Television Stations CEO Jack Abernethy seems to like managers who do nothing but follow orders from New York. No doubt that’s why Renda, who bounced from Cleveland to Philadelphia to Chicago, is being kept on — and dispatched to Detroit.



  • One of Chicago’s highest profile Hispanic media stars is on the move: Tsi-tsi-ki Felix, principal news anchor at WSNS-Channel 44, has parted amicably with the Telemundo Chicago Spanish-language station after more than 10 years. She previously worked for Univision Radio’s WOJO-FM (105.1) and WIND-AM (560). “I look forward to sharing news in the very near future about an opportunity that is in development and will have me reaching even more television viewers in ways that truly inform, inspire and empower,” Felix said in a statement.



  • In just 13 hours last Tuesday, CBS Chicago stations raised more than $550,000 to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy. CBS 2 and the company’s six radio stations joined forces with the Red Cross of Greater Chicago on the live telethon/radiothon. “We have colleagues, business associates and family members who are still living with the devastation from this horrific event,” Rod Zimmerman, senior vice president and market manager of CBS Radio Chicago, said in a statement. “It is our civic responsibility as broadcasters to do everything we can to help make a difference.”



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