Monthly Archives: August 2011

Are we getting the whole story? Join us for this important event.


I hope to see absolutely everyone invested in Chicagoland media, good government and government transparency at this event! I can’t stress enough how important this is. Please spread this far and wide, because we want to have as large a crowd as possible.

This message is from the Chicago Headline Club president, Stephen Franklin. As you can see at the end, he’s happy to take your questions. I’m happy to take them as well. Find me at tooter2 (at) gmail (dot) com or 773-844-6302.



You know what happens when reporters can’t get information they need. Their stories are incomplete, delayed or worse yet, they die. That is one of the reasons the Chicago Headline Club undertook a sweeping survey of the state of journalists’ freedom of information and access rights. 

I’m writing to you because I hope you will join us on Sept. 17 when we discuss the findings and results of conversations we have had since with public officials. We will report on some improvements on the situation as a result of our talks. But as you will learn from the report, serious obstacles exist across a wide range of agencies.

Officials from several of the agencies highlighted in the report will discuss the findings along with journalists.

We will meet from 9:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, Sept. 17 at the Lewis Towers at Loyola University’s Water Tower campus, 820 N. Michigan Ave. Our meeting is in the Regents Ballroom on the 16th floor and the entrance is on Pearson at Rush Street. A continental breakfast will also be provided.

The McCormick Foundation supported our work on the survey, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

This is one of the most important events that the Headline Club has undertaken in the last few years. And so, I hope you will take part as well pass the word along about this event.

We hope to hold a follow-up workshop soon on how to use your Freedom of Information rights and officials from the state Attorney General’s office will help conduct the workshop.

If you have any questions, suggestions, stories to tell, whatever, please let me know.

Stephen Franklin, President of the Chicago Headline Club
steve (at) chicagoistheworld (dot) org


David Simon story from 1995: Metal Men

I got into a convo on Twitter the other day, as I am wont to do. This time it was with Craig Pittman. I quipped that a story about metal scavengers was the real-life Bubs in action. He proceeded to tell me about this story and I, being a Wire fanatic, asked him to send it to me. Here’s how it kicks off:

Kenny wipes his mouth, passes the wine and stares into the shopping cart, his mind managing a quick calculation. Five or six lengths of good No.1 copper. Those cast-iron security bars. A window grate.


“Enough for a run,” he tells his brother.

“I want to finish this length of pipe,” Tyrone says.

“Man, we can come back on that.”

But Tyrone is already shaking his head, tossing the bottle, stepping back through the rear door with his hacksaw. Get the metal now or someone else comes behind you to grab it. He disappears into the wreckage of the broken Fulton Avenue rowhouse, emerging minutes later with pieces of a light-steel gas line. By then, his brother has the cart balanced for the run.

“Let’s get paid.”

They shoot down Fulton and cross Fayette where the corner boys are touting a fresh heroin package. The two shout to each other above the rattling wheels, talking about dope and coke and a couple of radiators that Kenny has his eye on. There’s no way to sense the speed involved unless you’re with them, cantering beside a full shopping cart, making for the scales in absolute earnest. The scrap yards close at 5; wasted time means one less run at the end of a day.

“With the copper,” says Kenny, guessing at the weight, “I’d say $ 20.”

” ’bout that,” agrees Tyrone.

Want to read the rest? Email me at tooter2 (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll send it to you. I’d post it all here, but ya know, it’s copywrited and even though I’m sure they have bigger fish to fry, I don’t want the Baltimore Sun pissed at me. 

Speaking of the Sun, this story appeared in the Sunday final edition on September 3, 1995. Further fodder for the journo nerds: Simon once recounted editors fighting over publishing it. In fact, the top editor initially spiked it because Simon witnessed illegal behavior and didn’t report it. Luckily, more sensible heads eventually prevailed and the new features editor revived it because he felt it was a great story, unreported criminal behavior notwithstanding. Naturally, I agree. 


Chicago Tribune is developing their own tablet. Why?


  • This will not be a tablet built from the ground up specifically for Tribune. It’ll be a simple subsidy. However, actual specially-built hardware was the plan for a full year and Microsoft was to have built it (and perhaps did) before it was scrapped in favor of using an Android OS. So let’s try to imagine how much money, time and energy was spent on this over the course of a YEAR.
  • The company has not been chosen. So while they’re allegedly talking to Samsung, it might not be them in the end.
  • Nothing has been fully decided, but this modified tablet will possibly have some apps you can’t remove, others you won’t be able to download, etc. In other words, a partial walled garden.
  • From the beginning, the subscription period that has been discussed in order to get the tablet has been 2 years, as I suspected.


I’ve known about this for a while now (nevermind how) and now that CNN has the story, I guess we can discuss it.

Sort of.

Because as you can see, no one would be quoted by name in this story.

The person who is credited with being the driving force behind the project wouldn’t be interviewed.

Tribune and Samsung refused to comment.

What is this, the Manhattan Project? No, this is just the way big media does things. It is an operational philosophy directly in contrast with the way things operate in the digital realm. If anyone in the executive offices of the Tower is unfamiliar with what I mean, they can talk to some of their own employees to get an explantation.

See, the way us crazy online people do things is that we share as much information as possible about what we’re working on with our core consitituencies. Lots of wonderful things can happen that way. We can get early word-of-mouth on new products. We can get valuable feedback that would shape the development of our products and initiatives. We can show ourselves to be leaders in our industry by trying something new and innovative. We can inspire our employees.

Of course a company can’t talk about everything it’s doing. A foods company wouldn’t want all the other foods companies to know about its new potato chip for instance, because the idea could be stolen by a direct competitor. In some industries, it’s vitally important to be the first product to come to market. I don’t believe news is one of those industries, but please let me know if I’m mistaken.

Why else wouldn’t Tribune want to talk about this and why does no one still want to talk about it now even when this tablet is on the brink of testing? I hope you can come up with something, because the only things that come to mind for me are:

  • This is a terrible idea and no one (save for a few top people) is keen to discuss it in advance of its possible failure. (By the way, this would be a bad, bad reason not to talk about it since even failures can be instructive and there’s nothing wrong with failing if you learned something valuable in the process.)
  • This is the way big media is accustomed to doing things: just dropping things in the marketplace without any input from anyone. (Because it’s always worked so well in the past, right?)
  • They are under the impression that this would “give something away” to competitors. (I don’t see how this could be valid. I can’t imagine anyone else in the Chicago area with the resources ro undertake a similar project and even if they started it immediately, they wouldn’t be able to be done first.)

Beyond all this, I have to wonder who exactly this tablet is aimed at. Because you can only get the tablet if you sign up for an extended subscription (what does that even mean?) to the paper, so I guess it’s aimed at people who value having a newspaper subscription. As has been well documented, the number of such people continues to drop. Moreover, the demographic that subscribes to the paper is getting older and not being replaced by younger subscribers. Meanwhile, 63% of iPad owners are under 35 years old. Granted, iPads aren’t the only tablets out there, but Apple is so far the dominant, most user-friendly tablet brand so I think we can safely generalize about other devices especially given the fact that only 8% of the public has any kind of tablet at all.

So we have a mostly older population that values having a newspaper subscription and a mostly younger population embracing tablets. How does the Tribune expect to marry the two?

Now, a current print subscriber who reads the paper on actual paper might be enticed to get the tablet for free or a deeply discounted price because the only barrier would be to sign up for the paper for, say, a few more years. They already get the paper so perhaps they will opt in for this electronic trinket even if they don’t see the need for it. It’s like when you open up the checking account for the free gift. Maybe you don’t really need the item, but hey it’s free and they’re giving it away so why not?

As for the younger, under 35 folks who we have seen subscribe to newspapers in very small numbers but are the group using tablets the most, what would entice them to go with the Tribune tablet rather than an iPad or some other brand? The discount on the tablet itself would quickly be wiped out by the committment to a one or two year subscription to the paper or whatever time period “extended” refers to. To say nothing of the fact that when someone decides to shop for a tablet, they aren’t exactly thinking hmmm, Apple, Samsung, BlackBerry or… Chicago Tribune!

Thus it seems clear that this initiative is aimed at retaining those older subscribers who have not yet abandoned the print paper. If so, it seems an awful lot of time and money and staff energy to spend on holding on to the past instead of planning for the future.

Inability to link runs amok in Chicago Reader media story


UPDATE 4:32PM EST: The Reader tweeted me to say this was a “mistake” that has been fixed. If you view the story now, all the links I suggest have been inserted. The exact ones. 

It all began when I saw a tweet to a Romenesko post on Twitter this morning. 

The topic was investigative reporting websites and how they manage to get daily traffic while also working on long-term, lengthy investigations where they may not have something to publish for months at a time. Very interesting! I was especially delighted when I saw that the story appeared in my very own hometown alt weekly, the Chicago Reader. I eagerly clicked over from Romenesko’s summary to get the full story. What I found was astonishing.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good piece on an interesting topic by the Reader’s media reporter, Michael Miner. But this story on a topic which is, again, WEBSITES contained not a single link. Now, as anyone around Chicago media will tell you Michael is a bit of a digital curmudgeon. He’s not exactly a big believer in this brave new world of digital media and fine, that’s his prerogative. But surely there are at least a few people on the Reader’s staff who are more forward-thinking and could have inserted some links into this piece before it went up on the site? For heaven’s sake, at least toss a few links to the sites being explicity talked about here while you’re writing about their struggles with getting traffic:

Voice of San Diego


Better Government Association

Investigative News Network

There now, was that so hard? 

While you’re at it, you might also want to link to major investigative stories you mention, like this one:

The BGA’s first truly long-term investigation under Shaw was the analysis by senior investigator John Conroy and the Center on Wrongful Conviction’s Rob Warden of the high cost to taxpayers (at least $214 million) of wrongful convictions in Illinois. Months in the making, it was published in June.

Oh really? It was? Hmm, where can I read it? I mean, if I’ve read this far in the story, I must be someone interested in investigative reporting to some degree. Perhaps I’m just the sort of person who might want to read this story that the BGA apparently labored over for months. But I guess the last thing I would want to do while bemoaning the fragile state of investigative reporting online is to actually link to a great example of it. I wouldn’t want to reward the hard work of those journalists with a few more eyeballs on their story now would I? And I certainly wouldn’t want to advance the cause of democracy by creating a more informed public. 

For those interested by the way, the story in question can be found here.

Finally, I want to be clear and say that the Reader is hardly the only publication that is guilty of this lack of linking and if you’re reading this, you’re probably aware that this conversation goes on all the time in news nerd circles. I’m only singling out this particular example, because this is actually a story about digital media that so obviously cries out for links; their omission is thus all the more glaring.