WBEZ enters final stretch of $30M campaign to fund its journalism

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WBEZ in Chicago launched the public phase of its $30 million fundraising campaign to fund original programming, podcasts and other local journalism efforts.

The campaign started in late 2017 and reached the milestone of $23 million — more than two-thirds of its projected goal — by Dec. 3. The station now plans to raise the remaining $7 million by December 2020.

During its quiet phase, the campaign drew gifts of $1 million or more from nine foundations and individuals.

The multiyear effort enables WBEZ to “dramatically increase its local reporting capacity, create the next generation of original podcasts and programming, and reach new audiences through multiplatform content and robust community engagement,” according to the station’s Dec. 19 press release.

Since the campaign began, the station has established enterprise reporting desks around topics like criminal justice and education and produced original podcasts such as 16 Shots, which covered the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald and the trial of the officer who shot him. Last fall, WBEZ started the daily talk show Reset with Jenn White.

The campaign also supports WBEZ’s goal to expand its content teams across Chicago Public Media, which includes the urban-alternative music station Vocalo. Its goal is to reach 82 employees, adding staff to the newsroom, podcast team and programming in FY2020, according to a spokesperson. The station currently employs about 75 content staffers, the spokesperson said. In 2015, WBEZ’s workforce included 50 content staffers. 

“This is a critical moment for journalism locally and nationally, which is why we are so grateful for the generous support of those many individuals and organizations who share our belief that great journalism and powerful programming are essential ingredients in a healthy community,” said Steve Edwards, WBEZ’s chief content officer and interim CEO, in the release.

Chief Development Officer Jennifer Bell is leading the campaign along with Campaign Chair Steve Baird, who is on the station’s board of directors.

Former CEO Goli Sheikholeslami discussed WBEZ’s ambitions to grow its newsroom in 2017. When she left last year to become CEO of New York Public Radio, the transition didn’t affect “the timeline or the strategy for the campaign,” the spokesperson said. 

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that WBEZ employs about 75 staffers. It has about 75 content staffers.

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