Street Smart Chicago

Reinventing Journalism: Inside the Chicago News Cooperative

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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. Read the rest of this entry »

Press Relief: A quick scan of the new Tribune

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By Hildy Johnson

More later, perhaps, but quick notes on the new Tribune, broadsheet edition:

It sure did feel heftier, as promised, but that sixty-two-page property-tax-sales insert added much of the weight to the ninety pages of news sections. Coincidental timing or?

The redesign is handsome and telegraphs “serious newspaper” instead of “almost like television, but…” or “almost like the Web, but…” or “almost like the RedEye but…”. The black-and-white skyline in the nameplate, a faux engraving, evokes the publication’s longevity while hinting that it, too, is a landmark like the skyscrapers. The typeface change, from Nimrod (an unfortunate name given the paper’s recent leadership) to Mercury Text is subtle but seems ever-so-slightly friendlier to the eyes of an aging population.

The absence of an ad on page one? Thank you. This page is your ad, for your product, Mr. Tribune.

The serious tenor and design of page one is partially offset by the colorful image of steak sauces above the nameplate, which reassure readers that, “Yes, we’re  more serious now, but there’s still fun content within, where it belongs.” This is probably the most carefully considered page one in years, if not decades: Investigative story to show how serious we are, check. Consumerist Metra study to remind suburbanites that we really really love them best, check. A story about moms and another about the declining life expectancy of women to appeal to the challenging female newspaper reader, check. Read the rest of this entry »

No Small Plans: Celebrating GO TO 2040, Chicago’s first major regional blueprint since Burnham

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It’s pouring, but that doesn’t dampen the spirits of a thousand sharply-dressed politicians, urban planners and other civic leaders crammed into a tent on top of Millennium Park’s Harris Theater. They’re here to launch GO TO 2040, a blueprint for making tough development and spending choices in the Chicago area’s 284 communities, for the next few decades and beyond.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) will lead the implementation process, and stakes are high. As the region’s population balloons from its current 8.6 million to an estimated 11 million by 2040, the decisions we make now will determine whether the Chicago area becomes more prosperous, green and equitable or devolves into a depressed, grid-locked, smog-choked dystopia.

The plan, developed by CMAP and its partner organizations over three years and drawing on feedback from more than 35,000 residents, includes the four themes of Livable Communities, Human Capital, Efficient Governance and Regional Mobility. It makes detailed recommendations for facing challenges like job creation, preserving the environment, housing and transportation. Read the rest of this entry »

411: A Breadline for the Byline

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"Lean on Me": Lou Carlozo, rhythm guitar; Lucy Smith, vocals; Eric Zorn, lead guitar, Jeremy Manier, bass and Mary Schmich on the piano.

It may be fashionable to say that print media is dying, but one group that is dedicated to keeping the industry alive, and to helping the casualties along the way, is the Chicago Headline Club, which recently held a fundraiser at  Rogers Park’s Heartland Cafe. The event was bursting with music and the roaring din of old friends, in the hopes of raising money to benefit unemployed journalists, going toward freelance costs and additional training.

“We’re following a tradition of journalists helping journalists,” says the Community Media Workshop’s Stephen Franklin, who organized the event.

This community isn’t one in which a journalist “leaves the profession and no one thinks about you,” Franklin says. The camaraderie amidst the dark-rimmed glasses and button-down shirts confirmed this. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Sun-Times, They Are A-Changin’

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Sources who attended Monday night’s meeting of the Sun-Times’ chapter of the newspaper guild say that, unsurprisingly, the union seems to have little information and even less power in the face of an impending cut of another seven percent in wages and benefits and rumors of outsourcing copy-editing to India. A strike against the on-life-support newspaper would likely kill the publication, leaving the union only with grievance-filing in its toolbox, and even that means little if the publication doesn’t survive. The Tribune, smelling blood, announced Tuesday that it was converting its newsstand product to a tabloid, in a move that seems to be a clear attempt at placing the dagger directly in the Sun-Times heart. Sun-Times staffers related details about Monday night’s convocation of union members of the editorial department, including writers, columnists, copyeditors, photographers, designers and some web workers. Union reps told members the proposed pay cuts would not save jobs and working fewer hours did not appear to be an option. The issue of severance arose, and a lawyer explained that fired copy editors would likely get severance, but if the company folds it’s not clear if employees would still receive that benefit. Members militated about alerting the general public about the threat of outsourcing, and picketing was discussed.

411: Shiny Street

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StreetWise, the general-interest paper offering sustainability to homeless and low-income vendors, is going glossy. “We have always wanted to improve the look and quality of our product,” says Ben Cook, StreetWise designer. StreetWise is a non-profit organization “designed to help severely impoverished men and women out of poverty.” Since its inception in 1992, it has employed more than 3,600 homeless men and women as vendors. By selling StreetWise each vendor is given an opportunity to learn business skills and ultimately net enough income to become self-sufficient. The former twelve-page, one-dollar paper issue yielded sixty-five cents in profit for the vendor. The sixteen-to-twenty-page glossy magazine style will allow the salesman to earn one dollar and twenty-five cents per copy.  “Customers used to give a dollar and walk off without taking the paper, assuming that it wasn’t worth reading. Now we are hoping that the customer will be interested and will actually read the paper and increase our sales,” Cook says. The magazine’s throwing a launch party November 5, featuring Chicago saxman Ray Silkman, at CloseUp2 Jazz Club, 6pm-11pm.

Raw Power: RAW TV on Chicago’s WFLD

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RAW TV on Chicago’s WFLD (FOX) brings an engaging medley of programming to late-night Friday TV (at 1am). Chicago’s own Seandale, of WPWX-FM (Power 92), boasts an eclectic and impressive entertainment background and strives to make RAW TV a local variety act, while also swanking big names, such as this week’s Twista and Mikkey. More than just a hip-hop review, Seandale and his “Diva Squad” offer a variety of entertainment, including comedy sketches, local-artist performances and interviews, on-the-street skits, “Good ‘N Ghetto” cooking demonstrations and Peanut the “Ghetto” Psychic.
While West Side resident Seandale aims to entertain, he also aspires to offer something fresh. “I want to show love to local artists on a mainstream level so they can get exposure and build their resumes.” Another segment dubbed “Doing good in the ‘hood” exposes philanthropic opportunities in the city. “I want to come out bigger than anything out there.”

411: Radio Daze with Red Bar Radio

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Mike David advises everyone to listen to four episodes of his Internet radio show before making a judgment, since “Most people hate the show upon first listen.” At times resembling a low-budget version of “The Howard Stern Show, ” “Red Bar Radio” consists mostly of David and his co-host of the day mocking public figures, callers and each other, a formula that has won them consistent placement in Podcast Alley’s list of the top-ten most popular podcasts. Read the rest of this entry »

The Perfect Shot: An amateur photographer follows the Obama trail

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By Tim Hunt

I’m huddled next to the stage of the Holiday Star in Merrillville, Indiana. My camera’s slung around my neck as I try not to fall asleep from boredom while waiting for my little sister to walk across the stage and receive her diploma. Listening to a bunch of high school kids give speeches on their accomplishments and the promise the future holds, I laugh, thinking about my newly acquired college diploma and my lack of a job. Photojournalism? Who am I trying to be? Peter Parker? Why does the profession I love have to be one of the most difficult to get into?
My sister nervously walks across the stage and with my job done I sneak outside to my car to have a cigarette. I turn on the radio to listen to the news about the final Democratic primary. I hear the results and smile. At this point I don’t even care what kind of president Barack Obama could be. I’m just happy to know my portfolio just a got a little more interesting.
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Wheel Time: Pat and Vanna visit Navy Pier

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“Vanna’s a babe,” says a male reporter as the 51-year-old Vanna White teasingly walks past a room full of photographers and print journalists, as the long-running “Wheel of Fortune” is filming at Navy Pier. When Vanna enters and flashes her flawless white teeth—a perfect contrast to her tan and barely wrinkled face—the press assails the bubbly co-host with a flurry of hard-hitters: Read the rest of this entry »