Chicago's media circus: Recalling a year of cheers and jeers

One last look back at the top 10 Chicago media stories of 2012:

Lights out on FM News 101.1: “If it weren’t for all the jobs that were lost and careers that were wrecked, this would be a day for gloating and celebration,” I wrote when Merlin Media pulled the plug on its all-news fiasco after one year. “Once again, [CEO] Randy Michaels has exposed himself as the arrogant, inept charlatan we’ve always known him to be.”

Sun-Times gets dimmer: “The paper of Roger Ebert and five other Pulitzer Prize winners is morphing into a garish, down-market tabloid,” I wrote shortly after new owner Michael Ferro began remaking the Sun-Times in his own image. Things looked brighter after Jim Kirk stepped in as editor, but Ferro still asserted himself occasionally with stunts such as hiring Jenny McCarthy as a columnist and demanding front-page play for a friend’s obit.

Scandal trashes TribLocal“I used to look forward to receiving TribLocal, the weekly hyperlocal news insert in my Chicago Tribune. But now it’s become a worthless piece of garbage,” I wrote after the publication outsourced its reporting to an unscrupulous company called Journatic. And that was before This American Life exposed the rogue outfit for falsified bylines, fabricated quotes and outright plagiarism.

Chicago News Cooperative flies the coop: What began in October 2009 as a high-minded alternative to hit-and-run journalism went kaput when foundation funding dried up. In the end, the nonprofit news operation achieved little more than producing a couple of pages for the Friday and Sunday zoned editions of the New York Times. Among the year’s new entries: Chicago.

Free weekly gets sold: After 41 years as Chicago’s anti-establishment alternative weekly, The Reader was acquired by the parent company of the Sun-Times. “The marriage of the traditional and alternative press might seem jarring, but from what I can tell, Sun-Times Media aims to be less ‘traditional’ — and these days, ‘alternative’ is all but meaningless,” Reader editor Mara Shalhoup told me.

Anchorman steps aside: Even close friends were shocked when straight-arrow news anchor Mark Suppelsa announced he was entering alcohol rehab. “Simply put, I have been abusing alcohol at the end of my work day as my family slept. It was my secret and I became very accomplished at hiding it,” he wrote in a letter to WGN colleagues. His openness and candor were rare for any public figure. Suppelsa returned a month later, telling me he was “humbly overwhelmed” by the outpouring of support he’d received.

Radio royalty steps down: Chicago’s longest running morning team, husband-and-wife Don and Roma Wade, called it quits from WLS after Don was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. “The daily stress of rising each day at midnight to prep for our 5am show does not help the healing process,” they said. “So we are choosing a different path and focusing on what's really important for us right now.”

Weatherman makes long long-range forecast: All hailed the king of Chicago weather when Tom Skilling signed a 10-year, multimillion-dollar renewal as WGN’s chief meteorologist. “I never in my wildest dreams imagined that this would ever come to pass,” he said. “I’m so delighted.”

Brenda Starr wins a Pulitzer: When Tribune columnist Mary Schmich was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for commentary, I recalled what she’d said about herself after moonlighting for 25 years as author of Brenda Starr, the comic strip about an ambitious and sassy female reporter: “The 10-year-old girl who lay on the living room floor reading the funnies all those years ago couldn't have hoped for more.”

TV bosses sign off: “It’s been an unbelievable privilege to be able to say that I’m the general manager of this station,” Emily Barr told me after stepping down as boss of top-rated ABC 7 to become head of Post-Newsweek Stations. “But I think after 15 years, in all honesty, this television station deserves a fresh pair of eyes.” By year’s end, there were new managers in the front offices of ABC 7, CBS 2, WGN 9, Fox 32 and Telemundo 44.