WTTW promotes veteran producer Jay Smith to news director

Window to the World Communications

In what may be the least surprising promotion of the year, Jay Smith was named news director of WTTW-Channel 11 and executive producer of “Chicago Tonight” Wednesday.

Smith, a 32-year veteran of the Window to the World Communications public television station and senior supervising producer of WTTW News, has been serving as acting executive producer for nine months.

Jay Smith

He replaces Hugo Balta, who was forced out in February following a staff uprising over his use of social media to express personal views, in apparent violation of WTTW news standards. Balta had held the job for one year.

“Jay is an experienced and innovative leader and journalist with a deep understanding of the responsibility WTTW has to inform and engage the public about the news and issues that matter to the Chicago region,” Sandra Cordova Micek, president and CEO of WTTW, said in a statement. “It is gratifying to be able to promote someone of his caliber from within the organization to lead WTTW News successfully into the future.”

Smith's appointment was hailed by Joseph A. Morris, chairman of the WTTW Community Advisory Board.

"Regular viewers of 'Chicago Tonight' and consumers of the continuous WTTW News newsfeed on WTTW.com will acknowledge that under Mr. Smith's leadership in a year made doubly difficult by turmoil and turnover in the news department's leadership (including not just the Balta kerfuffle but the retirements of veteran reporters and on-air hosts Phil Ponce and Carol Marin) and the ongoing vexations of the COVID-19 pandemic, the news department has continued to function well and to generate news products of great value to the Chicagoland community," Morris told the board.

"I think that the CAB will welcome the announcement of Mr. Smith's appointment as the news director of WTTW, not only because that betokens stability and continuity of leadership in the department, but because Mr. Smith himself is a superb journalist with a serious commitment to journalistic ethics and the WTTW news standards."

John Callaway

Morris noted that Smith spent his first 20 years at WTTW working closely with the late John Callaway, the revered broadcast journalist and founding host of "Chicago Tonight."

"The Callaway approach to journalism is one of which WTTW and Chicago can be justifiably proud, and it is nice to know that one of his prize students of long-standing now effectively occupies the executive chair that John Callaway pioneered," Morris said.

Straight out of Indiana University, Smith joined WTTW as a production assistant in 1989 and moved up to producer in 1990 and supervising producer in 2005. For his work he has received six Chicago/Midwest Emmy Awards, two Peter Lisagor Awards and numerous other honors.

“I’m excited to have the chance to lead and collaborate with WTTW’s outstanding team of journalists as we report on stories with care and depth, reflect the voices of our region, and serve as an essential source of trusted, independent news and information for the community,” Smith said in a statement.

Wednesday’s comment of the day: Michael Vicari: Want to really underline the current state of our local media? [Chicago magazine], the onetime proud invention of WFMT, is now owned by a hedge fund.