WBEZ plans satellite news bureaus

Chicago Public Radio unveiled a new community journalism initiative today, along with scheduling changes that do away with much of the station’s music programming in favor of news and public affairs shows.

The organization, which operates WBEZ 91.5 FM, is in the process of opening six satellite bureaus to better cover local news. Executives are scouting locations for three new offices, and have already secured storefronts in Englewood, Humboldt Park and Chesterton, Ind.

“We hope to make a connection with people in those communities and begin to tell deeper and more relevant stories in those communities,” says Ron Jones, vice president of programming at Chicago Public Radio. “This gives folks an opportunity to develop some trust and confidence in talking to us about stories.”

Each office will be staffed with one reporter. The offices will also serve as a focal point for a new WBEZ journalism internship program.

The most significant programming changes planned for 2007 involve the evening and early morning hours.

WBEZ currently airs jazz from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. Beginning early next month, the station will feature rebroadcasts of its local arts and culture program, Eight Forty-Eight, as well as Fresh Air and Worldview.

After midnight, the station will air a collection of news and cultural broadcasts entitled Global Overnight. Programming includes contributions from Radio Polonia, Voice of Russia, and the BBC’s World Service.

On Saturday mornings, the station will feature Smart City, a new program devoted to the people and ideas shaping urban life. Also debuting next year at 2 p.m. weekdays is The Story, devoted to examining issues in the news through the eyes of people affected by them.

WBEZ officials said the programming changes are intended to offer a broad range of programs that appeal to Chicago’s increasingly diverse population. But the new programming comes with a drawback.

“The format where we play back-to-back cuts of music is gone,” said Jones. “We are hearing from music lovers who are concerned.”