Thought Police: Olden Daze

By Hildy Johnson

With the nation awash in the lingering effects of war and recession, it’s boomtime for nostalgia in the cultural world. “The Artist” and “Hugo,” two films that romance the very earliest days of cinema, won big at this year’s Academy Awards on Sunday. And here in Chicago, recent publication launches give credence to the notion that there’s no time like the past to seek the future of print media. Couple that with the concurrent demise of the Chicago News Cooperative, an attempt to develop a new model for creating journalism, and we’ll soon be firing up those old linotype machines.

The two new undertakings—the rebirth of The Chicagoan magazine, from the creator of the now-defunct Stop Smiling magazine, and Printers Row, a new literary weekly from the Chicago Tribune—fall under the influence of Dave Eggers, a onetime local who turned bestselling riches from his novel, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” into a mini-empire of publishing enterprises known for creating outstanding literary works that often combine clever ideas with a highbrow smirk and a lush, retro design. Continue reading

13 Ways of Looking at Occupy Chicago: The Aesthetics of the Movement

Photo: Erica Weitzel

By Monica Westin

1. “Grant Park: three years later” was the initial vision for this article—a snapshot of the stark difference in Chicago’s political and emotional temperature between the downtown celebration of Barack Obama’s election night in 2008 and the Grant Park arrests in mid-October of this year. But this comparison doesn’t begin to get at what’s interesting about Occupy. Because of what I will call its “aesthetics” as well as its size (at last count, more than seventy American cities have an Occupy protest, not counting the strength and scope of related protests abroad), the protest, or movement, depending on how you look at it, is very much that—an amorphous, sprawling political form that looks different from every angle and every subject position, like Wallace Stevens’ blackbird. That American mainstream media is unable to cover Occupy in any kind of coherent, proficient way is well-documented, but even as a single observer it was nearly impossible for me to take any kind of clearly articulated position about Occupy Chicago without immediately realizing I could make a strong case for an opposite view of the phenomenon (and usually I had heard someone do so in an interview). Continue reading

Government 2.0: How Mayor Emanuel is Using Social Media to Engage Chicagoans

Kevin Hauswirth/Photo: Brooke Collins

By Ella Christoph

Even before he took office, Mayor Rahm Emanuel knew he wanted a social media director—a position Richard M. Daley did not have. Appointed on Emanuel’s inaugural day, Kevin Hauswirth was not hired to earn votes for Emanuel during the election. Hauswirth, formerly an instructor of communications and advertising director for Roosevelt University, was tasked with the job of supplying Emanuel with a constant digital pulse—a live feed, so to speak—on the city. Rather than just tweet updates and YouTube press conferences, Emanuel wanted to hear what voters had to say over the Internet as well.  Continue reading

The Leaning Tower: Can journalism survive the newspaper’s tribulations?

Illustration: Jeremy Sorese

By Brian Hieggelke

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
—Flannery O’Connor quote chiseled into Tribune Tower inner wall, as quoted, twice, in “The Deal From Hell”

What would it mean if history lost its first rough draft?

The inevitable doom of the great American newspaper seemed imminent just a couple years ago, as company after company tumbled into bankruptcy, or worse, turned out their lights for good, many with legacies longer than a hundred years. Even the mighty New York Times was teetering, grasping at a quickie loan from a wealthy Mexican billionaire, and finding itself the source of speculation that its lifespan was measured in months, rather than years.

Here in Chicago, the bloodbath was a flood, with the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Reader and, most astonishingly, the Chicago Tribune all filing for bankruptcy within a six-month period straddling the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009. With the entire economy teetering on the brink of depression, it was a surreal time.

An interesting confluence of events this month brings the recent past and uncertain future of journalism back into the spotlight, with the release of the acclaimed documentary film, “Page One: Inside the New York Times” and, most notably in these parts, the release of James O’Shea’s “The Deal From Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers.” As if on cue, the Chicago Tribune graciously launched a major redesign on June 15, undoing many of the most egregious affronts to its audience perpetrated under the regime of its notorious former CEO Randy Michaels. Michaels himself even jumped back into the news hole last week, resurrecting what seemed to be an already decomposing career with a buyout of local radio stalwarts The Loop and Q101. Continue reading

Reinventing Journalism: Inside the Chicago News Cooperative

James O'Shea/Photo: Jose More

By Brian Hieggelke

James O’Shea’s new book, “The Deal From Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers,” chronicles his career at the Tribune Company, where he rose to managing editor of the Chicago Tribune and, finally, editor of the Los Angeles Times. We spoke at length about his book and, in a section too long for print but published here, about his latest endeavor, the Chicago News Cooperative.

Let’s talk about the Chicago News Cooperative. It will be two years old this fall.
You know, this in a way is sort of an R&D experiment. How can you finance quality journalism? Some people pay $2 for the New York Times on weekdays and $6 on Sunday, they aren’t the problem. It’s how are you going to cover City Hall and how are you going to pay for it because nobody’s going to say to you ‘I’m going to buy an ad on an exposé on Mayor Emanuel.’ They want nothing to do with that. We did find out people will pay for information. We did that ‘Early and Often’ political site for the election cycle. You paid 175 bucks for online reports delivered to you via email that you didn’t get if you weren’t a member. We got advertising revenue, we got maybe 300 or 400 people to pay for it—which wasn’t as high as I wanted, but when I tell people that number they say ‘well that’s pretty good.’ We’re now building an education site. We’re going to start trying to get some advertising revenue, but we’re still a nonprofit 501c3 heavily dependent on donations. If you cannot figure it out within a three-to-five year period, some way of sustaining yourself or taking fairly steep leaps toward self-sustainability, foundations and nonprofit is not the answer. You’ve got to get to the point where you’re going to have multiple streams of revenue, but foundations are not going to underwrite you for five years to produce news. They’re just not going to do it. Continue reading