'Chicago Tonight' adds weekend shows to amplify Black, Latino voices

Brandis Friedman

One of the few bright spots in an otherwise bleak year for Chicago media has been watching Brandis Friedman's star continue to rise on "Chicago Tonight," the flagship news program of WTTW-Channel 11.

Friedman, who's been a correspondent for the Window to the World Communications station since 2013, has emerged in recent months as the face of public television in Chicago.

While continuing as co-anchor (with Paris Schutz) of "Chicago Tonight" at 7 p.m. weeknights, Friedman is about to expand her role as the station launches two new weekend editions of the show.

Starting the weekend of September 12, Friedman will host "Chicago Tonight: Black Voices," at 6 p.m. Sundays. Hugo Balta, news director of WTTW, will host "Chicago Tonight: Latino Voices" at 6 p.m. Saturdays.

The two new half-hour programs "will offer a mix of analysis and features on a wide range of topics, including arts and life, entrepreneurship and innovation, and equity and justice across the sectors of our society and in the Black and Latino communities in Chicago," according to a WTTW announcement today.

In addition to the weekend shows, a new monthly series bringing viewers together with activists and thought leaders will debut August 31. "Latino Voices: A WTTW News Community Conversation" and "Black Voices: A WTTW News Community Conversation" will air on the last Monday of the month at 8 p.m.

“Recent events have spotlighted the ways in which Black and Brown communities feel underrepresented and marginalized,” Friedman said. “These new series will allow us to explore the issues that matter to those communities, while giving those neighbors an opportunity to be heard.”

Friedman's heightened visibility on "Chicago Tonight" can be traced in part to Phil Ponce's reduced workload. After nearly two decades as anchor of the show, Ponce cut back to three days a week in 2018 and to two days a week in 2019.

"Still working Tuesdays and Thursdays but have been taking use-or-lose vacation time recently," Ponce, 70, texted me last week. "Am loving the work Brandis and Paris are doing. Lucky to have them."

Hugo Balta

Friedman has been on a fast track since Balta arrived in February as WTTW's news director and executive producer of “Chicago Tonight.” He's brought new energy and purpose to the show while continuing to benefit from the excellent work of Carol Marin and others. Under Balta's direction, "Chicago Tonight" has been laser-focused on the local impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide reckoning on social justice.

"In 'Voices,' we will do what WTTW News can do best: present trusted analysis and authentic conversations with experts, community leaders, and our local politicians about the issues that matter to the Black and Latino communities,” Balta said. “We will unpack how current events impact the diverse communities that live and work in all of Chicago’s neighborhoods.”

Before joining WTTW, Friedman was a freelance news anchor and reporter at WBBM AM 780/WCFS FM 105.9, the Entercom all-news combo. She grew up in Vicksburg, Mississippi, graduated from Dillard University in New Orleans, and received her master’s degree from The Journalism School at Columbia University in New York.

Earlier Friedman worked for WJLA, the ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C., and served as deputy communications director for the House Committee on Science and Technology.

Balta, a native of Paterson, New Jersey, and a graduate of Seton Hall University and Columbia Journalism School, previously oversaw editorial and production of weekend shows at MSNBC and was senior director of multicultural content at ESPN. He also is president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Brandis Friedman and Paris Schutz

Friday's comment of the day: Shane Gericke: "Tribune Voices" and John Kass's relocation into it is an idea whose time has come. These days, it's important for legitimate news operations to put a clear wall between straight news reporting and opinion journalism. Kass, Eric Zorn, Mary Schmich, and other columnists have always been opinion writers, and never should have been in the straight news section. So, this change is fine and dandy by me as a newspaper fan and journalist-turned-novelist. I don't read Kass because I find him tiresome — "na!" beer-can chicken, the Sox, and soccer were interesting the first hundred times he wrote about them. After that, they cloy. So I didn't see the Kass column on George Soros. I have no idea if it was Jew-bashing or not. But I can say that anyone who goes Full Soros is silly. Right-wingers drag Soros into almost every political discussion as if he's Dr. Evil. He's not. He's a billionaire liberal who is Jewish and spends money getting Democrats elected. So what? Sheldon Adelson is a billionaire right-winger who is Jewish and spends money getting Republicans elected. But nobody drags him into every political discussion. That Soros is a regular target of scorn and Adelson is not is troubling. But, no matter. Kass has not been cancelled, culturally or otherwise, and the Guild enjoys the same First Amendment freedom to speak its mind that he does. So Kass should go back to "na!" and I will go back to not caring about him.