At 7 p.m., Sept. 1, on Tuesday the launch of News Nation is a prime-time newscast that pledges to return cable news to unbiased reporting. And it aims to take market share from the likes of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News.
WGN America is the station that brought America such diverse programming as Bozo’s Circus, the Phil Donahue Show, Looney Tunes cartoons, and The Andy Griffith Show. Now it is reinventing itself as a cable all-news network.
Broadcasting behemoth, Dallas-based Nexstar Media Group bought WGN America in August 2019, acquired as part of a $4.1 billion acquisition of Chicago-based Tribune Media. The purchase gave Nexstar control of the nation’s largest local TV station group.
In January 2019, Nexstar announced plans to turn the former superstation into a prime-time cable news network.
Delayed but not derailed by the pandemic, WGN America has assembled a 150-person newsroom. And they have been making practice runs for several weeks of nightly three-hour newscasts from remodeled Chicago studios.
In the time of COVID, civil unrest, rising crime, a polarized presidential election, and the most divided America in recent memory, News Nation is planning to roll across device screens.
Sean Compton, 46, a top Tribune Media executive was named vice president of WGN America and tasked to transform it into a prime-time live news platform.
“We’ve got to deliver,” said Compton. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re not alienating any of our audience, that everyone feels they’re getting fair, accurate reporting of the news.”
WGN-TV transforms into an all-news network
News Nation will operate out of the 60-year-old broadcast facility on West Bradley Place in Chicago’s North Center. The sleek $3.5 million News Nation studio was built in the space formerly occupied by the WGN-TV news set. It features giant movable video screens, a three-person anchor desk, and an image of the Chicago skyline as a backdrop.
Compton says that this will be a constant reminder that this news network is coming from a heartland perspective.
The network will cover weather as a current event. They have two meteorologists on staff and hundreds of local meteorologists on call. There are no plans to have regular sports reports.
In addition to Chicago-based anchors, producers, editors, and researchers, News Nation has been leveraging the resources of Nexstar’s 110-TV newsrooms and 5,400 TV journalists nationwide.
“We have boots on the ground everywhere,” Compton added, “This makes sense because we’re in Sioux Falls, and we’re in Los Angeles and Chicago. CNN doesn’t have people in Fort Wayne.”
News Nation is led by Jennifer Lyons, 52, who was promoted from news director at WGN-Ch. 9 to vice president of news for WGN America.
Her first and most important job so far is to recruit the news talent while the country was locked down due to the pandemic. Some 1,100 people applied and the vetting for the small screen was mostly done over Zoom and computer screens.
“The daunting part was finding the talent,” Lyons said. “You’re starting from scratch and you’re doing it all over Zoom.”
The highest-profile hires are co-anchors, Joe Donlon and Marni Hughes.
Donlon moved down the hallway from co-anchoring the local WGN-Ch. 9 newscasts, while Hughes was most recently an anchor in Seattle.
News Nation will go live to 75 million homes on Tuesday when the unbiased grassroots approach is scheduled to be applied to national news.
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