15 June 2004
Tracking: Channel 11 shuffle
*V.J. McAleer, senior vice president for production at WTTW- Channel 11, shifts to the new role of senior vice president for community partnerships, production and outreach at the public television station.
A search is under way for a vice president for production, whose duties include oversight of "Chicago Tonight," Channel 11's flagship news program.
In other moves at the station, Dan Soles has been promoted to vice president of programming, and Jessica Hanson has been promoted to director of broadcasting and creative services.
*Thom Clark, president of the nonprofit Community Media Workshop, has been elected chairman of the community advisory board of WTTW.
TV & Radio
The media gets a turn under the microscope
4 June 2004
Chicago Daily Herald
Remotely interesting: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Professor Robert McChesney and Chicago journalist Salim Muwakkil talk on the issue of "Seize the Media!: Organizing on the Basis of Race, Politics and Media Justice" at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Havens Center in Geneva, Wis. It's part of the weekend-long RadFest starting today. Tickets are $8 a day, $120 for the weekend including lodging. Call (608) 262-0854 or -1420 or visit www.havenscenter.org.
In the air
19 February 2004
Remotely interesting: Chicago Media Action is again calling on voters to get involved in the debate over the Federal Communications Commission and media ownership. CMA is asking voters to get in touch with their U.S. Representatives to support House Resolution 72, a measure rolling back last year's FCC "reforms." It will need all the support it can muster to get past Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, who has been stonewalling the resolution of disapproval. Go to www.mediareform.net/callcongress.php for help reaching your member of Congress.
16 May 2004
...you couldn't give me a big enough coffee-table premium to make me a WTTW subscriber. Better to support a wino with my loose change than encourage this kind of viewer mistreatment...
* Bob Sirott, host of WTTW-Channel 11's "Chicago Tonight," and his wife, Marianne Murciano, have been tapped to play local television news anchors in "The Weatherman," the Nicolas Cage and Michael Caine movie being shot around Chicago.
WTTW cries wolf in fund-raising appeal; Letter falsely warns of budget gap
10 May 2004
Crain's Chicago Business
Finances at WTTW-TV/Channel 11 aren't as bleak as the public television station's fund-raising materials would have prospective donors believe.
In a solicitation letter dated April 26 and sent to 100,000 people, Chief Financial Officer Reese Marcusson warned supporters of a $1-million gap in the station's budget that needs to be filled by June 30.
``That's why I have no choice, and a very real responsibility, to ask for your help,'' wrote Mr. Marcusson. ``Your special contribution now will help make up this unprecedented shortfall.''
But WTTW's financial position is hardly unprecedented. In fact, it's at its strongest point in years. Support from corporations, which Mr. Marcusson's letter cited as the reason for the shortfall, is up 31% to $1.87 million from this time last year.
Mr. Marcusson says the station doesn't project a shortfall at all. ``We're on pace to break even this year, and we haven't done that since 2000,'' he said during a telephone interview May 5. ``Our ratings are going in the right direction, and our TV and radio underwriting (the equivalent of commercials) is up.''
So, why is his outlook over the phone so much sunnier than in the letter he signed? ``We wanted it to be an effective fund-raising piece,'' he said. ``You want to create a sense of urgency with the letter, because we really do need to raise money.''
Veteran Chicago-area fund-raiser Jimmie Alford says the technique is common in the world of direct mail, which WTTW depends on for $8 million to $10 million of its $36-million annual budget.
``There's a school of thought among some direct-mail firms that you really need to drum up a sense of urgency, whether it's there or not,'' says Mr. Alford. He hasn't seen the WTTW letter. ``But, you know, there are a lot of organizations that really do have a sincere need, so it's a borderline ethical question.''
Mr. Alford says he urges his clients to emphasize what's going well with their organizations. WTTW tries that approach-touting increased ratings and programming triumphs-in membership-renewal requests it mails out early each fiscal year, with little success, Mr. Marcusson said. ``People just say, `Yeah, well, that's what you're supposed to do,' and our renewal rates are down,'' he said. ``Telling a positive story sometimes isn't effective.''
WTTW does have some real problems. Key corporate underwriters like Andersen, United Airlines and A. T. Kearney Inc. have stopped giving since 2001. And state funding has declined.
But things aren't nearly so dire as they were a year ago. In January 2003, the station laid off 23 employees. This year, however, Mr. Marcusson said there won't be layoffs even if the station falls short of the $1 million it's seeking by June.
The Chicago Community Trust gave WTTW $600,000 in 2002 and $50,000 last year. ``Let's face it,'' a spokeswoman for the trust says, ``this wouldn't be the first time an organization overstated its case.'' WTTW's contradiction: An April 26 letter from WTTW says corporate donations are down, but its advertising figures tell a different story.
This entry was posted by Scott Sanders, a co-founder to date of seven Chicago area media and democracy activist groups.
Sanders has worked for long stretches in social science research, in the creation of video documentaries, as a librarian, and also in movie theater management.
You can link to Scott's combined curriculum vitae, timeline, and resume here.
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