A magna cum laude graduate of Yale University, Daly joined WJW-TV in Cleveland, Ohio in the early 1960s. He served as co-anchor with Doug Adair, and the two became one of the first successful co-anchor teams in the United States. In 1967, both Daly and Adair were hired by WBKB-TV in Chicago. However, Adair stayed in Cleveland for personal and contractual reasons. In Chicago, Daly began doing a solo newscast called Newsnight. In 1968, about the time the station was renamed WLS-TV, Joel was paired with Fahey Flynn, and the two became the highest-rated evening news team in the city, winning a local Emmy Award after just one year on the air. Daly and Flynn popularized a presentantion style known to critics as "happy talk". Unlike most presenters of the time, who delivered the news in an austere, authoritative fashion, Daly and Flynn mixed in playful banter as they segued from one topic to another. Daly later recalled, "We came down from Olympus, and we just became regular people talking to regular people. It's the best form of communication." News presenters across the country soon began emulating Daly and Flynn, sometimes to the duo's chagrin, as when other presenters became too jokey or unfocused. Daly himself did not use the phrase "happy talk" to describe his style, noting, "We always took the news seriously, if we didn't always take ourselves too seriously".
After Flynn's death in 1983, Daly briefly co-anchored the 10:00 news with Mary Ann Childers. Daly then joined Oprah Winfrey to co-anchor WLS-TV's 4:00 PM news broadcast. Winfrey was replaced by Linda Yu after only weeks on the air. Daly remained there until May 2005, when he announced that he would step down as anchor to pursue other interests. Since then, he has occasionally appeared on newscasts to report on legal matters, and has also hosted parades for the channel. Daly was inducted into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame in 2001 and received the first Illinois Broadcast Pioneer Award in 2008. He won five Emmys over the course of his career.
Outside of the news
In 1988, Joel Daly received a Juris Doctor from Chicago-Kent College of Law after four years of taking evening classes. He became director of external relations at the John Marshall Law School in 2005, and also taught some classes there. In 2007, Daly was named a spokesperson for the U.S. District Court in Chicago.
One of Daly's hobbies is acting. In 1994 he played Atticus Finch in a stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, and in 2000 he starred as Patsy McCall in a production of William J. Kennedy's Grand View. In addition, Daly appeared in the 2006 film Death of a President, in which he played a news reporter. The film portrays the fictional assassination of George W. Bush and generated much controversy, although Daly said he did not regret his involvement. "It's a gutsy undertaking to do the fictional assassination of a living president who's still in office. It's something that's in the American psyche. So dealing with this in a fictional forum -- albeit a realistic one -- is perhaps a purgative," he told the Chicago Sun-Times.
- O'Malley, Kathy; Dorothy Collin (August 20, 1993). "O'Malley & Collin INC.". Chicago Tribune. p. 20.
- "Television". The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. July 2003. Retrieved on July 30, 2008.
- Ted Cox. "Daly's news: In a career that spanned the decades, Joel Daly helped change the face of TV news". Daily Herald. May 3, 2005. 1.
- Brenda Warner Rotzoll. "Sun-Times journalists enter Hall of Fame". Chicago Sun-Times. March 31, 2001. 11.
- Craig Allen. "Happy News". Encyclopedia of Television News. Ed. Michael D. Murray. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999. 95.
- Robert Feder. "'Happy talk' - Variety's Chicago bureau chief coined local news catchphrase". Chicago Sun-Times. June 17, 2008. 43.
- Robert Feder. "This just in: Joel Daly to leave Channel 7 on top". Chicago Sun-Times. March 9, 2005. 75.
- Ted Cox. "St. Patrick's parade gets big TV cover". Daily Herald. March 16, 2007. 39.
- Robert Feder. "Tracking". Chicago Sun-Times. April 9, 2008. 47.
- Emma Graves Fitzsimmons. "Ex-TV news anchor changes sides". Chicago Tribune. March 15, 2007. 7.
- Bob Herguth. "Joel Daly". Chicago Sun-Times. June 6, 1988.
- Robert Feder. "Joel Daly courts 'Chicago Justice'". Chicago Sun-Times. May 17, 2005.
- Lon Grahnke. "Joel Daly states his case onstage". Chicago Sun-Times. February 20, 1994. Show, 2.
- Mary Houlihan. "TV anchor stars in Pegasus play". Chicago Sun Times. April 14, 2000. Weekend, 16.
- Bill Zwecker. "Daly has no regrets over role in controversial movie". Chicago Sun-Times. September 15, 2006. 46.
- Biography from ABC 7 News