Nexstar has big plans to launch a morning news show on its flagship cable channel NewsNation — but first, it must find a person willing to lead its newsroom.
Those plans were laid out in part by Nexstar’s chief executive Perry Sook at a staff meeting earlier this week following the abrupt departure of Jennifer Lyons, a long-time newsroom executive who led WGN-TV (Channel 9) prior to Nexstar’s acquisition of parent company Tribune Media.
Lyons was convinced to move from WGN-TV to NewsNation, an experimental prime-time news block on the company’s only cable channel, WGN America. Once promised as a facts-first, middle-of-the-road approach to counter political debate programming on other cable news channels, staffers at NewsNation have expressed concerns over the last few months that Nexstar has decided to take NewsNation in another direction — one that plays favorites with viewers who hold conservative viewpoints.
As detailed by the New York Times over the weekend, several Nexstar executives have resigned over the company’s decision to hire a former Trump administration official as a consultant to the news channel and following a widely-panned interview with the former president during last year’s election cycle.
Still, Nexstar keeps chugging along, going so far as to relaunch WGN America under the NewsNation brand while modifying some of its prime-time news lineup to include a new conversation program hosted by Ashleigh Banfield and a political affairs show spearheaded by a former Portland news anchor. It even has plans to debut a national morning news program that would replace syndicated shows currently in NewsNation’s daytime lineup.
Plans for the morning show have been delayed following Lyons’ resignation, btu they haven’t been put on hold entirely.
“That’s been committed to, that’s been budgeted, the capital has been assigned for all of that,” Sook told employees on Tuesday, in reference to the morning show. “If Jen still wanted to be with us, that might have happened sooner than it might happen now.”
Now, the goal is to launch the morning show by September, at which point Nexstar will consider modifying the rest of NewsNation’s lineup to include programming that would fill the afternoon hours and over the weekend. Currently, those time slots are dedicated to off-network repeats of “Last Man Standing,” “J.A.G.” and “Daily Mail TV.”
It is not clear if building out NewsNation into a robust cable news channel will help change things at the fledgling network: It launched to somewhat impressive ratings last year — mainly from people curious to see what NewsNation was after months of hype from Nexstar — but it has struggled to sustain that momentum from that point on.