This is my last day at the Reader, and my last post. I was hired as a Web editor, but I wanted to work here—as much as any other publication I’ve ever read—for the writers I’d read in it. Since I got the job, something I remain stunned about, my great joy has been sharing the work of my colleagues and peers; my grandfather worked the presses at the Lynchburg News & Advance, so my love of publishing others’ work was something I inherited. The technology’s changed, so that’s meant everything from guiding people through content management systems to tweeting to uploading tagged-text file after tagged-text file, but it stems from the same respect for the written word.
I’m deeply grateful to my colleagues (and our readers) for everything over the past few years. To express my gratitude, I’ve compiled some of my favorite pieces from the Reader. For those of you with e-readers or iPads, and as an excuse to mess around with e-book production, I’ve compiled them as an ePub file as well. (I think it works.)
It obviously can’t reflect everything I love about it—there’s only one piece from John Conroy’s extraordinary reporting on Jon Burge, and none from Ben Joravsky and Mick Dumke’s tireless investigations of tax-increment financing and the sale of the city’s parking meters, which are both best appreciated in full—but that’s editing. Which is a hard business, and involves cutting a lot of stuff and fixing a lot of things in exchange for all the public credit going to the byline. A lot of great editors worked on these pieces; I’m grateful to have worked with them as well.
There’s also nothing before 1987—that’s when our online archive stops, more or less, though Michael Miner’s slowly working through the yellowed paper archives to bring you highlights from the paper over the past four decades—which leaves out about half the paper’s history. But I’m a child of the computer age, and that’s the medium I see a lot of the world through.
The first piece, Bob Mehr’s lengthy, compelling profile of the late Arrow Brown, was probably the piece that really got me to apply to work at the Reader . . . and fail, and apply again. The last, if I had to choose, might be my favorite thing I’ve read in the paper, and one of my favorite pieces of writing, ever. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
The Godfather of King Drive Arrow Brown wanted badly to be a player—he wore a black hat, packed heat even in church, and exploited a houseful of wives and concubines to finance a record label. But his tiny empire wouldn’t last.
Bob Mehr, April 21, 2005
Where’s a Place for Us? Three young mothers and their children came together in a shelter on 63rd Street. In mid-1988, they left to find places of their own. Here’s what’s happened to them since.
Steve Bogira, April 11, 1991
Here Lies the World’s First Nuke After producing the first atomic chain reaction at the University of Chicago in 1942, it was buried in Red Gate Woods near 95th and Archer. May it rest in peace.
Harold Henderson, April 30, 1987
Collision Course Some big thinkers want to take team demolition derby into the big time, dressing it up for television and corporate sponsorships. The ugly ducklings of Team Havoc aren’t helping much.
Mike Sula, August 14, 2003
Everybody’s Mayor The media pundits believed that Council Wars was the fight of Harold Washington’s political life. But a truer test of his skill was the balancing act he had to perform to keep his diverse coalition together.
Gary Rivlin, March 19, 1992
Tools of Torture Though he continues to deny it, Jon Burge tortured suspects while he was a Chicago police detective. Now his contemporaries from Vietnam reveal where he may have learned the tricks of his trade.
John Conroy, February 03, 2005