Nexstar’s NewsNation channel is in turmoil as it faces staff defections amid concerns that the outlet is being pushed by management to lean to the right in its news coverage.
The simmering controversy for the channel previously known as WGN America gained steam on Tuesday when Nexstar confirmed that Jennifer Lyons, the WGN-TV Chicago news veteran who led the launch of the primetime “NewsNation” block last September, has resigned her post as VP of news. That follows several lower-level departures last week that appear to have been prompted by concerns that former Fox News executive Bill Shine is leading a charge to steer the channel to the right. Shine is a consultant to Nexstar and NewsNation but does not have a formal role at the company.
Nexstar chairman-CEO Perry Sook held an in-person session with NewsNation staffers at the channel’s Chicago headquarters. Sook reaffirmed Nexstar’s commitment to the transformation of the former WGN America into a news channel. He told employees during a long session that included about 40 minutes of Q&A that Nexstar aims to build out NewsNation as an all-news, talk and opinion outlet by 2023.
“Jennifer Lyons has decided to leave her position as Vice President of News at NewsNation,” Nexstar said in a statement. “We thank her for her efforts in spearheading the launch of NewsNation and we wish her success in whatever she does next. We have begun a search for her replacement and hope to have that person in place quickly.”
When the NewsNation plan for WGN America was unveiled in January 2020, Sook asserted that the newscasts would lean toward breaking news and offer a down-the-middle perspective. The plan was to focus on the days headlines and compelling stories drawn from Nexstar’s stations across the country.
“Nobody’s doing news in primetime,” Sook told Variety last year. “We’ve got more journalists working for us than any other news organization in the country. We said, ‘This is an opportunity.’ I think of it as a newscast from the heartland, for the heartland.”
Sook was pressed about whether there has been a shift in philosophy for NewsNation, given that viewership to date has been week. The three-hour primetime block of newscasts bowed on Sept. 1, 2020. On March 1, the 10 p.m. hour shifted to a “Larry King Live”-esque interview show hosted by Ashleigh Banfield. Nexstar has added more hours of news to its lineup this year and is planning to stake its claim to the morning news hours soon.
Sook told staffers that the goal from the start was to produce a telecast that reflects centrist views. As such, NewsNation would naturally lean more to the right than other mainstream news outlets because, in Sook’s view, the political perspectives of journalists in most newsrooms lean to the left.
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