The future of local news media
By Charlie Meyerson
A decade of layoffs, bankruptcies and greedy management atop some of Chicago’s biggest media organizations lends itself to dire forecasts about the future of journalism. But much of the chaos is a function of an analog news business making the transition to the digital world. And the mayhem will end. Eventually.
A news organization freed of a daily newspaper’s legacy overhead—real estate, printing presses, distribution and the demands of predatory management—can plow much more of its resources into journalism.
A low-technological threshold for entry—anyone can launch a blog!—and a continued public thirst for reliable information foretell a new and vibrant local news ecosystem.
The decade we’re leaving has demonstrated journalists like me have no business predicting the future—so please know that these are hopes for the state of local media in 2030:
I hope for the survival of Chicago’s legacy daily newspaper organizations, even as their print presence dwindles. But if they don’t survive, the talent that has been laid off or taken voluntary buyouts over the last decade could today staff a damned good news organization or two, launched from scratch.
I hope the city’s TV and radio news operations add depth to their digital presence. Broadcast stations’ websites in particular would benefit from more polish and better editing—anything to keep their pages from looking, as they often do, like afterthoughts.
I hope for disintegration of the radio conglomerates that have strangled creativity up and down the dial. We need a renaissance of local management empowered to create more live and local content—which happens to be broadcast radio’s best defense against Spotify, Pandora, Apple and Amazon.
I hope for success of the adventures into nonprofit journalism by organizations including the Reader and the former Wednesday Journal suburban newspaper chain, now known as Growing Community Media.
I also hope the investment and advertising sectors find new ways to properly value the small but real audiences assembled by local news organizations.
I hope for continued proliferation of news sources across Chicago and the suburbs: More small and independent but relentlessly focused online services like Block Club Chicago (neighborhood news), Streetsblog Chicago (transportation), Chalkbeat (education), The Triibe (news for black millennials); and direct-to-consumer columnists like Steve Rhodes (The Beachwood Reporter), Robert Feder (media criticism) and Neil Steinberg (Every Goddamn Day).
And I hope Chicago’s local news organizations embrace a medium that is the logical successor to the historical service, function and distribution of the newspaper and the newscast, as I have: Email.
I do not hope for a return to the days when a couple of newspapers, three or four TV stations and one or two radio stations dominated Chicago’s news production and consumption. A diversity of reliable, responsible and well-funded sources is a good thing—and a big improvement over the days when a handful of organizations, mostly run by white guys, decided what was newsworthy.
Charlie Meyerson has brought Chicago the news for decades—on radio at WXRT, WNUA, WGN and FM News; and on the internet at chicagotribune.com, WBEZ and Rivet and now at his daily email briefing, ChicagoPublicSquare.com.
The future of Chicago film production
By Kwame Omauku
Director, Chicago Film Office at the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events
The city of Chicago is in the midst of a huge boom in film production. 2019 was another record-breaking year. Productions like Dick Wolf’s Chicago shows (“Chicago Fire,” “Chicago Med,” “Chicago P.D.”) have a home here and more episodic television is looking at Chicago as a place to call home. We are taking steps to create our own content, with projects like Showtime’s LGBTQ-centered comedy “Work in Progress.” It’s a unique moment where opportunity and preparation can create a recipe for success for Chicago filmmakers.
An unprecedented number of scripted shows were produced here last year. This huge boom in content creation has built up a huge demand for production facilities and crew. The Illinois Tax Credit, which provides a rebate of up to thirty percent for money spent in Illinois, has been a huge draw for major producers such as Netflix, Amazon, Warner Bros. and Fox. With additional film industry infrastructure like soundstages, the city could take the lead in production, surpassing Atlanta and New Orleans. With the help of nonprofits like Free Spirit Media, we are training a workforce of youth from underserved areas of the city to become not only film workers, but creators. I look forward to stages being built in underserved areas of the city, allowing opportunities for all of Chicago’s residents to take advantage of this upswing in work.
Thanks to the leadership of Mayor Lightfoot, Commissioner Kelly and the local industry, the future looks bright for the film business in Chicago, and not only for film workers. I believe we are at the beginning of a huge renaissance of independent film production in the city. The wealth of talent we have in front of and behind the camera can make Chicago a city to reckon with, equal to either coast. Over the next ten years, I would love to see the city develop its own brand of filmmaking. The Chicago-style feature, the Chicago-style doc. I want Chicago to be taught as a genre in film schools. We have great writers, but we need writers’ rooms here. We have more film students than anywhere else. We just need them to stay here, make this their home to create and work and not flee to either coast. In front of the camera, we have a vibrant community of both stage and screen actors. I see a day when they won’t have to leave to “make it.” I see a time when Chicago is not just a production center, but a content-creation hub. Chicago doesn’t need to ask for a seat at the table. It needs to build its own table.
Kwame Amoaku brings twenty-five years of experience in the film industry as an executive producer, director, assistant director, production manager, location manager, actor and writer. Prior to joining the Chicago Film Office, Amoaku was location manager for the NBC series “Chicago Fire” (since 2014) and for the Netflix movie based on Chicago’s hip-hop scene, “Beats” (2019). His acting credits include “Chicago Fire,” “ER” and “Prison Break.” He attended Southern Illinois University.