NewsNation VP, longtime Chicago media exec becomes third top leader at little watched network to quit

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Experienced Chicago TV news executive Jennifer Lyons has quit Nexstar’s foray into cable news, NewsNation — meaning the network has lost three of its highest ranking news executives.

Her resignation was announced March 9, 2021.

“Jennifer Lyons has decided to leave her position as vice president of news at NewsNation. 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,” Nexstar said in a statement.

Lyons had spent about 27 years with local station WGN — save for a brief absence — last leading its news department.

WGN was purchased by Nexstar in 2019 as part of Tribune’s broadcasting efforts.

That purchase included WGN America, the separate cable channel Tribune also owned that Nexstar renamed “NewsNation” March 1, 2021.

Nexstar promoted Lyons to vice president and tasked her with heading up the launch of a three hour primetime newscast then known as “NewsNation.”

The show launched in September 2020 and has failed to garner any significant ratings.

On Feb. 2, 2021, Sandy Pudar, who was also a WGN alum and served as news director for “NewsNation” quit.

The effort has also lost its managing editor, Richard Maginn.

No reason was officially given for any of the three top leaders of the venture quitting, but insiders say the resignations are at least partially linked to increasing efforts to turn the show (and channel) into a right leaning network — while publicly billing it as a “no bias” network.

According to Chicago media reporter Robert Feder, Lyons told staffers “There are going to be changes. I’m fighting for you guys,” after Pudar turned in her resignation.

Nexstar took heat earlier this year when it was revealed that Bill Shine, a former Trump adviser and Fox exec, had been hired in the summer of 2020 to consult on the launch.

The company insisted its news product would remain unbiased.

The operation was also the subject of a critical New York Times report Sunday, March 7, 2021.

Nexstar spent an estimated $20 million to launch “NewsNation,” which was touted as a way for it to pool resources from its nearly 200 local newsrooms across the country.

Because execs billed it as a way to repurpose existing, original content already being produced, media watchers noted the effort could potentially be profitable even without huge ratings, especially given the network was airing most syndicated programming that can, even when it’s reruns, be quite pricey.

However, the effort has been met with dismal ratings. The original newscast hovered around 100,000 average viewers, but that has since dipped significantly, often around 50,000.

As part of the March 1 rebranding, the network also relaunched its schedule, cutting back the primetime newscast, now known as “NewsNation Prime” to two hours and adding an hourlong interview show hosted by former NBC and CNN anchor Ashleigh Banfield at 10 p.m. eastern — which drew just 17,000 viewers on its first day.

NewsNation also added an analysis show at 7 p.m. and an “early edition” at 6 p.m. — but also managed to spell an anchor’s name wrong in a tweet promoting the new lineup.

Ratings are also down across the board for the syndicated reruns the newscasts replaced.

Meanwhile, the company appears to be marching forward without the three who quit and despite the bad ratings.

“While the search moves forward, Nexstar’s executive vice president of station operations and content development, Blake Russell, assisted by members of our local content development team, will be responsible for overseeing NewsNation,” the statement added.