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Bob Spoerl.jpgThe first winner of the John Callaway Excellence in Online Journalism Fellowship is Medill School of Journalism graduate student Bob Spoerl. The fellowship was created to pay tribute to "Chicago Tonight's" founding host, the late John Callaway. The fellowship is funded through contributions from family and friends of Callaway and Chicago public television station WTTW-Channel 11 viewers. Each online fellow receives a $3,000 stipend.

During his internship, which beings Jan. 3, 2011, Spoerl will work with WTTW producers and interactive staff to create original and supplemental content for the website that supports Channel 11's "Chicago Tonight." The internship is designed to give Spoerl hands-on experience with online journalism, as well as time to sharpen fact-checking and research skills and hone editorial judgment.

Spoerl is an alumnus of Loyola University, where he studied English and philosophy, and the University of Wisconsin, where he majored in journalism. He is currently a candidate for a master of science degree in journalism at Medill.

The Rod Blagojevich trial verdict on Tuesday drew larger than usual numbers of viewers to public television station WTTW-Channel 11's nightly news digest "Chicago Tonight." The show averaged a 3.0 rating for the 7 p.m. hour on Tuesday, peaking at a 3.3 rating. Those were show's highest numbers since November, 2005.

A WTTW spokeswoman said "Chicago Tonight" numbers have been better than usual all summer, attributable at least in part to the show's ongoing coverage of the Blagojevich trial, the spokeswoman asserted. On Wednesday night, "Chicago Tonight" talked to two members of the Blagojevich jury, including jury foreman James Matsumoto (a former WTTW employee). Tonight, "Chicago Tonight" will interview Rod Blagojevich's brother and co-defendant Robert Blagojevich.

John Callaway lobby portrait.jpgChicago public television station WTTW-Channel 11 is creating the John Callaway Excellence in Online Journalism Fellowship to pay tribute to "Chicago Tonight's" founding host, John Callaway, who died of a heart attack a year ago.

The fellowship will be funded through the donations of family, friends and WTTW viewers. The fellowship will be open to graduate students at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Each school quarter, the program will give a fellow the opportunity to work with television producers and Web staff to create original and supplemental content for the "Chicago Tonight" Web site. The fellows will get hands-on experience with online journalism and learn how to work under deadline pressure. The fellowship also will give participants a chance to hone editorial judgment and sharpen fact-checking and research skills. Each online fellow will receive a $3,000 stipend.

"My sister Liz and I are thrilled that WTTW is honoring our father's legacy by creating this fellowship," said Ann Hampton Callaway, a noted singer, songwriter and actress. "He was a passionate mentor to budding journalists, and this would have pleased him immensely," added Hampton Callaway.

"John Callaway remains an iconic figure in the history of WTTW," said the station's CEO Dan Schmidt. "I can't think of a better way to honor his memory than by making this opportunity available to talented young journalists," added Schmidt.

The news was grim for public television station WTTW-Channel 11 as it prepares for a new fiscal year starting July 1. WTTW president and CEO Dan Schmidt said on Friday that the station will eliminate 12 percent of its current work force -- or between 25 and 30 positions -- in anticipation of reduced income from various sources in the coming fiscal year.

To reduce the staff head count, the station intends first to offer early retirement packages. The number of actual layoffs will be determined by how many employees accept the retirement packages. Those not eligible for early retirement will get up to six months severance and access to company-provided outplacement services.

Schmidt also said executive compensation at the station would be reduced an additional 5 percent, bringing a two-year reduction in top management salaries to 10 percent. A company-wide salary freeze initiated in 2009 will remain in effect through 2011. WTTW also will close its employee cafeteria and seek production efficiencies by maximizing use of new technology.

And even though contributions have exceeded goals in recent pledge drives at sibling fine arts radio station WFMT-FM (98.7), WTTW's Schmidt said $200,000 in expense reductions are also slated for the radio station because ad sales have been soft there over the past year.

Schmidt cited a softness in corporate underwriting and a $1.25 million cutback in state funding as two key reasons for the urgent need to reduce costs at the city's public television station. Altogether, the station expects to cut operating costs by $3 million in the upcoming fiscal year. The station still expects to generate $52 million in revenue in the next fiscal year. "As difficult as it is in the near term to take these steps, we must have a sound financial base to sustain ourselves as a vital community resource," said Schmidt.

Ash-har Quaraishi.jpgAsh-har Quraishi is, without question, a sign of things to come in the journalism biz. He is joining the ranks of Chicago-based journalists wearing at least two hats -- TV correspondent and print reporter. Nowadays, it helps for journalists to have as many useful skills as possible with staffs at almost all news outlets much smaller than they were as recently as five years ago. Public television outlet WTTW-Channel 11 and the Chicago News Cooperative, a new local-news-oriented entity launched last fall, will share the services of Quraishi, who most recently was an investigative reporter for KCTV-Channel 5 in Kansas City, Mo. Quraishi also previously served as CNN's bureau chief in Islamabad, Pakistan. In his new dual role, Quraishi will report for WTTW's "Chicago Tonight" and for the Chicago News Cooperative, which currently provides a Chicago-focused news report twice weekly for the New York Times. "With his investigative reporting experience, his superior digital skills and the fact that he was raised in Chicago and is a product of our public schools, we expect he (Quraishi) will be a major asset to 'Chicago Tonight,' wttw.com and the Chicago News Cooperative," said Dan Schmidt, president and CEO of WTTW.

A group of Chicago journalists are joining forces to form the Chicago News Cooperative, a venture designed to provide Chicago-centric news and commentary on the Web, in print and over the airwaves. James O'Shea, a former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, is the CNC's launch editor.

The cooperative already has plans to provide content for two clients -- the New York Times and Chicago public television outlet WTTW-Channel 11. Starting Nov. 20, the CNC team will produce two pages of news and commentary for Friday and Sunday editions of the New York Times distributed in the Chicago area. Along with O'Shea, former Trib managing editor James Warren has signed on with the CNC to write a regular column for the cooperative's pages in the New York Times. In addition, CNC will provide content for WTTW's "Chicago Tonight" program, though details of that arrangement have not been fully worked out yet. CNC also is developing a Web site called Chicago Scoop that will go live in early 2010.

CNC said it is in talks with other potential partners, including public radio station WBEZ-FM (91.5). During its start-up phase, the Chicago News Cooperative will be housed in space at WTTW. The start-up news gathering venture will seek input from an advisory board chaired by Peter Osnos, founder of Public Affairs Book. Other advisory board members include Dan Schmidt, president and CEO of WTTW; Newton Minow, senior emeritus partner at Sidley & Austin; Martin Koldyke, former chairman of WTTW; Anne Marie Lipinski, former editor of the Trib, and Michael Davies, president and CEO of Alphazeta Interactive.

Funding for the launch of the CNC is coming from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The CNC is seeking additional funding from individuals, foundations and eventually membership in the cooperative.

"Best I Can," a documentary about the Special Olympics from director Miachel LaBellarte, is set to air at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 2, on WTTW-Channel 11. The documentary traces the evolution of the Special Olympics effort over some 40 years and honors the vision of its founders Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke and Eunice Shriver. What began as a Chicago Park District competition has expanded to a global effort that has touched more than 2.5 million athletes. Altar Film produced "Best I Can." The cast includes Christopher Kennedy and James Houlihan.

Respected veteran local television production executive Randy King is out as production manager at Weigel Broadcasting, where he had held that job for the past year. Weigel Executive Vice-President Neal Sabin said the broadcasting company's needs in that arena had evolved over the past year and that King, despite his excellent credentials, was no longer ideally suited to the organization's production needs. Sabin said a couple of people will probably be hired to replace King, and they will work on developing local programming on multiple platforms for Weigel.

Prior to joining Weigel, King was president of production at Rivet Animation & Design and executive vice president for television at Window to the World Communications, parent of public television station WTTW-Channel 11. At Channel 11, King oversaw production of shows such as "CEO Exchange," "Soundstage" and "Legends of Jazz." Saban said he is still looking at candidates for the productions jobs at Weigel, and indicated he would have a clearer picture of how the new production arm will operate in about six weeks.

Window to the World Communications is adding a new digital TV channel to its portfolio of television and radio outlets, which include public television station WTTW-Channel 11, WTTWHD, Create, the Spanish language station Vme and radio station WFMT-FM (98.7). Scheduled to go live on Mar. 30, the new digital channel is called WTTW Prime. The new channel is intended as an alternative to WTTW's regular programming, and will include repeat showings of some of WTTW's favorite programming, including "Check, Please!" and "Antiques Roadshow. WTTW Prime also will be an outlet for a number of public affairs programs and exclusive specials and series, in addition to new programs such as "Exchange" with Daljit Dhaliwal and "Inside Washington."

The addition of WTTW Prime is not expected to add much in the way of overhead to Window To The World's television operations. WTTW's Vice-President of Content Dan Soles will make most of the decisions about what programs will air on WTTW Prime. While the added digital outlet won't entail new staffing or added costs to produce programs, it does offer the potential for additional income if WTTW can find new sponsors to underwrite the programming on WTTW Prime or possibly increase the sponsorship fee for existing WTTW sponsors of shows that also air on the new digital outlet.

WTTW Prime will air on 11.2 for viewers with converter boxes or over-the-air digital TVs, and through Comcast on Channel 243.

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Lewis Lazare has written the Media Mix column for the Chicago Sun-Times for the past seven and a half years.

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