Newspapering was still a man’s world in the 1980s so I didn’t know what to make of my first female boss. But a few things became obvious. She knew as much as I knew about how the city-that-works really works … and a lot more about the internal workings of the Chicago Tribune. I was…
CHICAGO – Back in the early ’70s, as a cub working off the overnight city desk at the Chicago Tribune, you learned fast that all murders were not equal. Sure, all were listed methodically on the deputy superintendent’s logbook at the old police headquarters at 11th and State streets. But while killings on the city’s predominantly white North Side were almost always pursued by our small band of nocturnal newsmen, the more numerous homicides in the black neighborhoods of the South and West Sides most often were ignored. There was even a winking code word for the latter category. They were “blue.” Blue, as in “cheap domestic,” where a drunken live-in boyfriend kills his common-law mate. Blue, as in someone shot in the face after a street-corner dice game gone awry. Judging by how the other four daily newspapers (yes, four!) covered and displayed their homicides, it’s safe to assume the same double standard applied.
There’s nothing like a bitter teachers’ strike – and one chockablock with national ideo-politico implications – to bring out the best, and not-so-best, in the newsrooms of the Midwest’s largest media market.
Is he a hyper-efficient reformer using corporate management techniques to shape up a city grown lazy and weak from decades of old-fashioned patronage politics? Or is Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel a calculating maestro of Beltway spin and the dark art of “controlling the narrative” … if not the reality?
News media here in the Midwest’s largest city agonize daily over those two questions. Nobody wants to be too cynical, or, worse in the journalism profession, even a bit naïve. But after a half-year of covering this wiry whirlwind of a mayor, the answer for some is turning out to be “yes” on both counts.
Some of my best friends are investigative reporters, so what follows is argued with no small amount of trepidation. My friends are a bit thin-skinned, you see, because their work is constantly criticized by those they investigate. But they are the stars of our profession, so they almost never get criticized by those of us…
Guilty as charged!
That’s the ultimate news Illinois voters and news media need to take away from the big federal corruption trial in Chicago this summer.
No, not the fact that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was found guilty. That wasn’t news, really. Anyone who followed the interminable trial and re-trial, and who listened to the FBI wiretaps of Blago attempting to auction off the “F—ing golden” U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama, knew he was going down.
Just when it looked like the Chicago news media were fixing to focus on the issues – wham! – the Illinois Appellate Court tossed the frontrunner in Chicago’s mayoral race off the Feb. 22 primary ballot. True, that appellate decision only lasted for three days—on Jan. 27 the state Supreme Court restored Rahm Emanuel to the ballot. But the off-again, on-again battle of the ballot has made it hard for everyone—press and public—to re-focus on the stuff that really matters.
With so much sloganeering and mud-slinging leading up to the Nov. 2 mid-term elections, the challenge for Chicago’s news media—print, broadcast, online—was whether to echo the races’ shallow bombast … or cut through to the issues. By and large, the metropolitan press held to the latter, more difficult course. Which is saying something, given the staff cutbacks and news hole shrinkage of late.