In Chicago blizzard, pubcasting “failed the public,” writer says; WBEZ news exec disagrees

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Chicago public broadcasting outlets are taking a hit from local media columnist Robert Feder. In his blog post today (Feb. 3) on how the media performed during this week’s massive blizzard that crippled the city, both WTTW-Channel 11 and Chicago Public Radio WBEZ were declared losers. In fact, he writes, WTTW was the “biggest loser,” because it “declared Wednesday a snow day and shut down its entire news operation.”

“Viewers who tuned in to Chicago Tonight expecting an analysis of the city’s response to the crisis or an examination of the blizzard’s political and economic impact were stunned to see a rerun of the public television station’s forum with mayoral candidates from Jan. 17,” he adds.

As for WBEZ, that was “equally disappointing,” he says. The station canceled its Wednesday airing of Eight Forty-Eight, its morning newsmagazine.

“In both cases,” he says, “public broadcasting failed the public.”

Current left messages at both stations for comment. The city is attempting to dig out from under more than 20 inches of snow.

UPDATE: Sally Eisele, managing editor for public affairs at WBEZ, tells Current that Feder was “incorrect  when saying we abdicated our responsibility” for covering the blizzard. Eight Forty-Eight “is just one component of the station’s local programming,” she says. “We had more air time devoted to this story yesterday than any local story I can remember. We had over three hours of coverage, in addition to regular news break-ins,” and even more coverage during All Things Considered. She says the newsroom was not shut down. “Everyone who could get into work did,” she says. “And as in any major emergency, we’re not talking eight-hour days, we’re working through the middle of the night.” And some station staffers stayed in nearby hotels before and during the storm. “I stand behind our coverage,” she says.

  • Eight Forty-Eight “is just one component of the station’s local programming,” [Eisele] says.

    It might be more straightforward to just admit that 848 has been allowed to largely devolve into an arts-and-culture program with a dollop of current affairs at the top (and it never really aspired to much more). It’s probably not worth WBEZ’s while to attempt live coverage of much of anything unless they can squat on ME or ATC.