Everyone loves a great story. But they aren’t free. Whether it’s being crafted by a public relations person or a journalist, a story costs time and money. And these days, there isn’t nearly enough of the latter to ensure that every story worth telling gets told.
I remember one morning, not too long ago, hearing from an acquaintance who works at the Mercantile Exchange. He had been chatting up a Chicago cop who works security there and she had complained that the computer system for booking the bad guys had been down for 2-3 weeks. Thing were getting backed up, stuff was probably falling through the cracks, etc. She said neither of the town’s newspapers seemed to care. So I, sitting there at my day job having nothing to do with reporting or news gathering of any sort, got to work on running it down. Why? Because if I didn’t, it was plainly obvious that no one else would.
On another recent day, a commenter over at the Windy Citizen was concerned about a new initiative in a local school district. There was a meeting with parents that night and she was concerned that no one would be there to cover it, much less do a story on the thing and stick with it to see what would happen. She had tried to cover some of these issues herself a few years back, but being unpaid and unsupported in the task proved difficult and she couldn’t keep doing it. Having contacted paid reporters about these education issues in the past, she lamented that even they were too busy and overwhelmed to really do justice to all that needed to be covered and investigated.
Yet another time, another Windy Citizen regular posted a story about a local flophouse for the poor and indigent where a drug arrest had recently been made. Privately she told me that the living conditions in this “hotel” are apparently deplorable and the owner is, as is the custom in Chicago for many a slumlord, heavily connected. Would I want to maybe do some digging on this? I read her message and sighed sadly. Yes, I would love to do some digging. But see, I’ve got this part-time job and also a little paid freelance work and job listings to comb through and furthermore, would anyone even care?
Finally, as the founder and public face of the Daily Daley, I get people contacting me every so often with ideas on stories. You should look into this or that they advise. I smile ruefully and tell them that I’ll see what I can do when all the while I know very well that what I can do is nearly nothing. I used to feel terrible about it, but now I just shrug and think, if paid journalists are having trouble covering even the most high-profile shenanigans, why should I, an unpaid regurgitator of the news, feel badly about not covering them?
There’s no other way to put it: this is a crisis of epic proportions. Consider that for each of these untold stories, there are surely ten more that no one will ever hear about. Consider that it takes a foreign reporter to do a longer, more thoughtful piece about murdered children on Chicago’s very own south side. Consider that there are many people like me who yearn to report and to inform, but we cannot or will not do it for free even though that’s what some prominent people with book deals want.
I repeat: this is a crisis. Sadly, I don’t have the solution. Increasingly, it seems that no one else does either.