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A Q&A with WTTW News Director Jay Smith as Changes Come to 'Chicago Tonight'

Julia Maish
WTTW News Director Jay Smith on the Chicago Tonight set
"We will report stories you won’t see anywhere else, stories that directly impact lives and move the dialogue forward on local issues of consequence and concern," says WTTW News director Jay Smith

UPDATE: Beginning May 1, Chicago Tonight airs at 5:30 pm, Monday through Thursday, with an encore presentation at 10:00 pm. Chicago Tonight: Latino Voices airs Fridays at 5:30 pm with an encore on Saturdays at 6:00 pm, Week in Review airs Fridays at 7:00 pm, and Chicago Tonight: Black Voices airs Fridays at 10:00 pm with an encore Saturdays at 6:30 pm.

As Chicago Tonight prepares to move to 10:00 pm weeknights beginning January 23, we sat down in WTTW’s Crown Studio with news director and Chicago Tonight executive producer Jay Smith to talk about the local news business and plans for Chicago Tonight and WTTW News.

There are some big changes planned for Chicago Tonight. Can you tell us what viewers can expect?

In the coming year, in addition to our time change, Chicago Tonight viewers and visitors to will see us doing more investigative reporting, essential community-driven storytelling, and real-time solutions-oriented journalism. We will report stories you won’t see anywhere else, stories that directly impact lives and move the dialogue forward on local issues of consequence and concern.

On January 23, you’ll move to 10:00 pm. What drove this schedule change?

We know viewers in Chicago and the surrounding communities are looking for and are watching local television news at 10:00, and that there is an opportunity at that time to provide a high-quality news program that takes viewers deeper into the stories behind the headlines of the day.

You recently debuted a new studio set, theme music, and surrounding technology. How is the new environment enhancing your storytelling?

Our new space and the technology that supports it is flexible and dynamic, and paves the way for presenting complex stories in a digestible, engaging way. The surrounding monitors and visuals on the new set serve as a backdrop that can change depending on the story, the time of year, the number of interview guests, and what we want the viewer to take away. We’ve been in the redesigned studio for a few months, and we’re already seeing the impact on the viewer experience as we evolve how we use the space.

Are there examples of the kind of investigative work that you’ve done of which you are especially proud, and that we can expect to see more of?

Chicago Tonight co-anchor Paris Schutz and reporter Nick Blumberg recently produced and presented a series of stories about the Republican gubernatorial primary that uncovered information about candidate Richard Irvin that we thought was important for voters to know about before the election. Nick also produced a story that looked into CTA overtime records and understaffing and their impact on passenger safety.

What does a typical day in the newsroom look like?

There is no typical day. The editorial team, which includes our supervising producer Crystin Immel and our digital editor Dan Lambert along with some of our anchors and reporters, meets in the morning to discuss what’s planned—and unplanned—for the day. From there, we are all in touch throughout the day to continue reporting, producing, and filing stories as news happens.

What do you most hope viewers take away from watching Chicago Tonight?

I would like our audience to feel that they can’t go to bed at night until they have read our daily newsletter, checked in on the stories we’re producing throughout the day on our website, and watched Chicago Tonight at 10 pm. I hope they come away with an understanding that we are thinking about them and their communities in everything we do.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.