A New Enterprise?

At Chicago Enterprise, a time to worry?

Founding editor Alfredo Lanier has moved on. Associate editor Tom Andreoli moved on with him. The new editor of this interesting little magazine doesn’t know as much about economic development as you wish he did.

“I’m sure he’ll be a quick study,” says the publisher.

Lanier told us he left for three reasons. First of all, he’d been at Chicago Enterprise since 1986 and it was time for something new. Second, he’d been offered the attractive post of managing editor of City & State–Crain Communications’ national biweekly tabloid covering public business and finance.

The third reason is the one that concerns us. Lanier had had it with his publisher, Lawrence Howe.

“Maybe Howe was a little more cautious than he needed to be,” says Lanier. “Maybe he worried too goddamn much.”

Over the last six months, Lanier found himself on an especially short leash. He says Howe wanted to see galleys, final manuscripts, original manuscripts, even query letters.

Were stories ever killed? we asked Lanier. “There were several,” he says. Andreoli–who’s now free-lancing–says some viewpoints fared better than others. A libertarian notion such as privatizing city services would sail into print, according to Andreoli. But a quirky idea to the left of the mainstream could run into heavy weather.

We gather that Howe wasn’t always confident that Lanier bore in mind who was paying the bills. Chicago Enterprise is published by the Civic Committee, which is an arm of the Commercial Club–which is to say, big business. Let’s be careful, said Howe, a nice man who is a product of big business; but what Lanier sometimes heard was, let’s go easy. Lanier rounded up a corps of sprightly writers who regularly sounded off: Merrill Goozner, Ed Zotti, Patrick Barry . . . They knew their stuff, but they made their points pointedly. Howe agonized.

“He’s a competent man,” says Lanier, “but publishing was definitely not his bag.”

In 1984, the Commercial Club of Chicago published a hard, gloomy critique of the regional economy, “Make No Little Plans: Jobs for Metropolitan Chicago.” The economy is withering, said this report, which described an eroding industrial base and a disorganized business leadership. Given the report’s sponsor, this was a striking exercise in self-criticism; chairman of the steering committee that brought it about was Donald Perkins, a former CEO of Jewel Foods.

Perkins then persuaded the Commercial Club (which eight decades earlier had sponsored the original Burnham Plan that this new report’s title echoed) to resurrect its moribund Civic Committee, fund it, and put it to work. Various subcommittees were formed, one of which focused on communications. John McDermott, who’d created the Chicago Reporter to monitor race relations, proposed the same sort of thing on behalf of economic development–something focused, insightful, and critical, with no editorial bias other than a devotion to an economically healthy region.

Thus the origins of Chicago Enterprise–not the Civic Committee’s only achievement, certainly (its Chicagoland Enterprise Center provides small, struggling companies with volunteer managerial assistance) but its most visible. After a search, Al Lanier became the editor. He’d been a senior editor for six years at Chicago magazine, with two years at the Reporter before that. Another search brought Lawrence Howe, who’d been a vice chairman at Jewel, to the post of executive director of the Civic Committee. Thus he became Lanier’s boss.

The obvious danger in trying to make very much of Lanier’s exasperation is that you’ll quickly collide with reality. The reality is that Chicago Enterprise, though a smaller, more modest magazine than Lanier wished it, has been consistently too informative and useful to support our saying that anyone did it great harm. “I try to read it as soon as it comes in,” we’re told by Ted Wysocki, executive director of CANDO–the Chicago Association of Neighborhood Development Organizations. “It’s well read around the pressroom and other offices here,” says David Roeder, the City Hall reporter for the Southtown Economist for the past five years. “You get all sorts of publications that float in, and most hit the garbage can. But this one is pretty well received.”

Roeder’s impressions count heavily because in a few days he steps in as Chicago Enterprise’s new editor. Apprehensions about the magazine have focused on this appointment. Would Howe now play out his fears by naming a cipher who’d emasculate the project, turn it into another Commerce magazine, which is put out by the Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry and which, everybody tells us, nobody reads?

Roeder found himself in the same sort of situation as Lanier: several years at his old job, a solid reputation, and a deteriorating relationship with his present boss–the editor of the Economist. Roeder found Howe compatible enough, and Chicago Enterprise looked like a definite step up.

“I think I was hired for my background in journalism as opposed to economic development,” Roeder says. “I have a broad knowledge of the movers and shakers through my coverage of City Hall, a strong expertise in government, how the layers of government fit and how they’re significant. Plus, I think I have strong editorial skills in all the mechanics.”

These aren’t glittering credentials, but they’re sturdy enough to persuade us that Howe wants his magazine to march on. He may not have the ideal instincts of a publisher, but he’s discovered that if you are one you get to run your own picture and column whenever you feel like it. There’s no kick in playing pundit in a rag your peers don’t take seriously.

“I don’t think he’s looking for any tone of advocacy in the magazine,” says Roeder, but, he adds, “I think Mr. Howe realizes a mix of commentary as well as more or less straightforward journalism is a good mix. I don’t think he wants to cease running columns or more personal kinds of articles. So I feel good about this.”

Roeder says, “I think we’re on the same wavelength.”

Time will tell. We don’t think editors and publishers are ever on the same wavelength. We’d like to tell you more about Howe’s, but he fended us off. We asked him about the problems he’d had with Lanier, and he said, “Al is an absolutely first-rate editor. He’s done a great job on the publication so we wish him well.”

We took a breath and put the question another way.

“Al’s guided the magazine–he’s done an outstanding job on it,” said Howe. “We’re very pleased with the way the magazine’s come out.”

We began our third approach and Howe turned cool and short. “I’m not going to go beyond that,” he said. “The magazine will have to speak for itself.”

Spoken like a true-blue corporate bureaucrat. Or like a publisher–there are lots of these–who doesn’t have a hell of a lot of use for journalists.

Court Reporting

Ellen Soeteber, metro editor of the Tribune, has just mailed us a silent rebuke: a manila envelope containing the Tribune’s 1989 coverage of Andrew Wilson.

Wilson is the “convicted cop killer,” as the Tribune persistently and accurately identified him, who filed a lawsuit alleging that after his arrest in 1982 he was tortured at a south-side police station. Wilson’s suit came to trial twice last year and ultimately Wilson lost, even though the jury that ruled against him agreed that his civil rights had been violated.

In January, John Conroy wrote at length in the Reader about Wilson’s allegations, and similar testimony from other parties who had passed through the same police station. Two weeks ago, we said here that Amnesty International was making an inquiry in response to Conroy’s report, and we regretted that the daily press was not similarly roused to demand a full accounting. We wrote that even Wilson’s two trials (the first ended in a hung jury) had been neglected by the dailies.

We wish the Tribune showed as much concern for the city’s good name as for its own, but we have to admit that Soeteber has a point. If we left the impression that the Tribune paid no attention whatsoever to Wilson’s trials (and we probably did), then we slurred that paper’s honor. Inadequate coverage is different from no coverage at all.

Soeteber sent us 12 articles, ranging from 32 paragraphs to 3. Almost all of them concerned the six-week-long first trial; the seven-week second trial was covered when it began and when it ended, which meant the Tribune did not report such incidentals as a new witness unveiled by Wilson’s lawyers who testified that he’d been abused in the same station house by a sergeant who stood on his testicles, and a revamped defense that found police blithely contradicting the yarn they’d told in trial one.

But it’s true, the Tribune is on record with Andrew Wilson’s tale of horror, having mentioned it as recently as last August 9. That’s not exactly pounding away at the cancer in our midst, but it’s not total disdain either. The Sun-Times, on the other hand, just published two articles on a visit that Police Superintendent LeRoy Martin made to that paper’s editorial board.

Martin chatted about a range of issues. From the looks of it, police torture is a subject that never came up.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kathy Richland.