Chance the Rapper Becomes Chance the Publisher

Chance the Rapper released four new songs Wednesday night and, in one of them, announced that he had bought Chicagoist, the local news site most recently owned by WNYC.

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Jonah Engel Bromwich
, New York Times

Chance the Rapper released four new songs Wednesday night and, in one of them, announced that he had bought Chicagoist, the local news site most recently owned by WNYC.

On the track “I Might Need Security,” Chance raps “I bought the Chicagoist / just to run you racist [expletive] out of business.” He released a more traditional statement through WNYC, saying that he was “extremely excited to be continuing the work of the Chicagoist,” which he called “an integral local platform for Chicago news, events and entertainment.”

He said that his focus on relaunching the site would be to bring Chicagoans “an independent media outlet focused on amplifying diverse voices and content.”

Chicagoist, part of the Gothamist family of websites, was shuttered in November when its billionaire owner Joe Ricketts reacted to unionization efforts in the New York offices of Gothamist and DNAinfo by terminating the parent company’s portfolio of local sites — in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington — and letting go all of its employees.

WNYC was part of a consortium of public radio stations that bought the Gothamist family of sites in February but chose not to resurrect DNAinfo. Gothamist was founded in 2003 and the sites were independently owned until their sale to Ricketts’ company in 2017.

While Gothamist started publishing again in the spring, Chicagoist has been quiet since November. Laura Walker, chief executive of New York Public Radio (which includes WNYC), said in a statement: “We are delighted that the Chicagoist assets are finding a new home in the hands of a proud Chicagoan.”

Walker’s statement said that Chicagoist would be used to support local coverage of Chicago but Chance, born Chancelor Bennett, has yet to elaborate on how he will populate the local news site. His manager, Pat Corcoran, did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

It is unusual for a star entertainer to acquire a news and commentary website. Celebrities have been more likely to help start their own properties, as former baseball player Derek Jeter did with his site, the Player’s Tribune, which runs interviews and first-person essays with athletes. Actress Zooey Deschanel was one of the founders of a website, HelloGiggles, that was acquired by Time in 2015. That year, actress, director and writer Lena Dunham co-founded Lenny Letter, a digital newsletter, with her frequent collaborator Jenni Konner.

Upon taking over Chicagoist, Chance, 25, will quickly become one of the most prominent publishers in a city that was a stronghold of black-owned media before recent acquisitions. In 2016, Johnson Publishing Co. in Chicago sold Ebony and Jet magazines to a Texas private equity firm. Oprah Winfrey is perhaps the most famous media mogul associated with Chicago, thanks to “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which was shot in the city. But the majority owner of the television network that bears her name is Discovery Communications in New York.

Munson Steed, chief executive of the Steed Media Group and publisher of the Rolling Out website and magazine, said that he was proud of Chance for the move, emphasizing that the newfound media entrepreneur could help groom a generation of journalists of color.

“They’ll gain access based on his participation,” Steed said. “That would not have happened without it.”

Asked whether he thought it was wise for a novice to get into the competitive (and perennially underfunded) business of digital news, Steed said, “I think as long as he measures his investment, Chance is young enough to make intelligent mistakes.”

Chance has emphasized his pride in the city from the beginning of his career. His parents are longtime civil servants who have worked in the city’s government, and Chance has recently become more politically engaged, appearing at a City Council meeting in November to denounce a proposal for a $95 million police academy. He has been particularly focused on the city’s public schools and in 2017 donated $1 million to the public school system to support after-school programming and the arts. The Chicago Tribune reported in December that he had raised an additional $2.5 million for the city’s schools, much of it through his arts education nonprofit, SocialWorks Chicago.

The rapper’s relationship with the news media has not always been so cozy. In 2016, he threatened to stop working with MTV after the channel’s news site posted a lukewarm review of his album “Coloring Book” and a show from its related tour. Corcoran told Spin at the time that he and Chance had “agreed that the article was offensive” and brought their concerns to MTV, where a representative “took ownership of the editorial misstep.”

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