Jennifer Lyons, the VP of news at Nexstar’s rebranded cable news channel NewsNation resigned Tuesday amid concerns it will take a right-wing turn because of low ratings.
When Tribune Media was acquired by Nexstar, Lyons, a long-time, well-regarded local news executive with Tribune’s WGN-TV in Chicago, was put in charge of creating a national newscast for WGN America, the cable channel Nexstar acquired along with the Tribune TV stations.
NewsNation was billed as being unbiased, but the revelation that former Fox News president and Trump administration communications director Bill Shine has been consulting with Nexstar, reportedly alarms some staffers.
Lyons’ departure was announced by Nexstar CEO Perry Sook, according to Robert Feder, who writes about the Chicago media business.
“We thank her for her efforts in spearheading the launch of NewsNation and we wish her success in whatever she does next,” Sook said. “We have begun a search for her replacement and hope to have that person in place quickly.”
Blake Russell, Nexstar’s executive VP of station operations and content development, along with members of Nexstar’s content development team will oversee NewsNation in the interim.
Sook was in Chicago, where NewsNation is based, and met with the NewsNation staff, according to a Nexstar spokesman. He said he is more committed to NewsNation and its mission of delivering fact-based news without bias, the spokesman said.
He also said Nexstar to expand the news operation by launching a morning show by September, according to Feder.
Lyons’ departure was preceded by two other senior news managers leaving. Those departures followed the disclosure about Shine’s involvement and nervousness about a change in direction at the channel.
After the second departure, Lyons told staffers "there are going to be changes. I'm fighting for you guys," according to Feder. Many of those same staffers had been relieved that Nexstar had acquired Tribune rather than Sinclair Broadcast Group, which was known for insisting that local stations broadcast conservative commentary segments.
NewsNation was originally launched Sept. 1 as a three-hour national newscast on WGN America that relied on reports from Nexstar’s hundreds of stations.
Nexstar decided to rename WGN America as NewsNation. It replaced one hour of the three-hour newscast with Banfield, a talk show hosted by Ashleigh Banfield, and added two more hours of news programming in the evening on the channel. There will be a second expansion of news programming later on in the year, Sook said on Nexstar’s earnings call last month.
NewsNation debuted to 130,000 viewers, well below the entertainment programming it replaced. According to a story in the New York Times, the show averaged 58,000 viewers the week of Feb 8 and 37,000 on March 1.
According to the Times, NewsNation staffers said an early sign the newscast was moving right came during an interview with President Trump on Sept. 22. The NewsNation staffers said that anchor Joe Donlon hadn’t sufficiently challenged false claims by Trump.
The interview was arranged by Sean Compton, president of Nexstar’s networks division, which oversees NewsNation. Earlier in his career as a radio executive, Compton helped boost the career of Fox News host Sean Hannity and signed Trump to be a commentator on radio shows across the country, the paper said.
On the earnings call, Sook said that NewsNation is aiming an unbiased news operations.
“Well, our focus, as you know, is on being down the middle, unbiased, presenting both sides of an issue, balanced coverage, and I think we've accomplished that,” Sook said. “There is something called the Media Bias Chart, which is put out monthly by an organization called Ad Fontes Media. And in January of 2021, we were exactly on the middle of the unbiased line. And it has every news organization from left to right. And so third-party observers think that we are holding true to our mission of being down the middle.”
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