Lots of Lifesavers, All in One Package

The first thing author Robert Fulghum learned in kindergarten was to “share everything.” The ultimate lesson he learned when he was five was: “When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.”

But as we get older we forget. A new national magazine published in Chicago and debuting this week is devoted to the proposition that Americans must share and work together. This magazine won’t be for kindergartners, or their big brothers and sisters, and it’s not for you either. You won’t see it on a newsstand, and you won’t be asked to subscribe to it.

Created around a kitchen table in Western Springs, Homeland Protection Professional observes that as terrible as September 11 was bound to be, turf wars among government agencies made it worse. “Who’s in Charge Here?”–the lead article in the first issue–recalls the effects at the World Trade Center of what the New York Times called “tribal feuding” between New York City’s police and fire departments. While “clear warnings” were broadcast over the police radio 21 minutes before the north tower collapsed and most police in the building escaped, few firefighters inside heard the warnings–not only because the fire radio network was defective, the Times reported, but also because it wasn’t linked to the police radio and the police and fire commanders weren’t talking to each other.

“That was business as usual,” says Scott Baltic, editor of Homeland Protection Professional. “I don’t think anyone’s going to stand for that in the future. I don’t think the public will stand for it. I don’t think the people whose lives are on the line will stand for it. When you lose 343 lives, that’s an indelible mark.”

From 1991 to March of last year Baltic edited the trade magazine Fire Chief. Turf wars between police and fire departments went on everywhere, and the magazine took them for granted. “Fire departments have a chip on their shoulder versus the police,” Baltic says. “Police departments are better at getting budget dollars. People are much more afraid of crime than they are of fire, though you’re much more likely to die of a fire in your home than a burglary in your home.” Law enforcement people were adept at gathering and using statistics, he saw, while firefighters were indifferent to statistics: many fires went uncounted, and no one could begin to say how many babies were carried out of burning buildings.

Fire Chief counseled its readers on holding their own in the battle for public dollars, not on burying the hatchet with police commanders. Those guys had their own trade magazines looking out for them–and so did the public health professionals and everyone else with a role in emergency services. These trade magazines might have been produced by the same shop–Primedia Inc. published a raft of trade titles in addition to Fire Chief–but each focused narrowly on its audience’s jurisdiction. Anthony Parrino, who used to be publisher of Fire Chief, calls this a “stovepipe mentality.”

September 11 changed everything. Every jurisdiction in America suddenly received the same assignment: anticipate the next attack, the better to prevent it or to react decisively when it happens–“a crisis situation and a consequence situation,” as Parrino puts it. Washington was suddenly promising communities more money for emergency services than anyone could have imagined but insisting on coordinated planning. Frank Strazzulla, a California-based ad salesman who used to represent Fire Chief, mentioned to Parrino in an E-mail last November that the new normal called for a new magazine. Parrino got back to Strazzulla two months later with a business plan.

Parrino left Fire Chief two years ago and had been knocking about ever since. Scott Baltic was laid off last July, victim of a corporate retrenchment that has slashed some 200 jobs from Primedia’s trade division in the last 17 months (and just saw it sell Chicago magazine to the Tribune Company for $35 million). Parrino has been paying to get Homeland Protection Professional up and running largely from the equity in his home in Western Springs, though Baltic, who lives on Chicago’s northwest side, has kicked in a little. They work out of their houses, but Baltic supposes that if their magazine survives past its second issue they’ll probably get a small office.

“I continue to be surprised that we don’t really have a lot of competition,” Baltic says. “There are some E-mail newsletters out there, some Web sites, a lot of products. But nobody, so far as I know, is starting up a magazine like this. I’ll knock wood as I say this, but if there were something out there we’d probably know about it–not directly, but from advertisers. We have backgrounds in writing and editing for people like this–we’re not coming out of some unrelated field–and it’s made it a lot easier. I’d hate to have to come up to speed totally on this stuff. My editorial background has been fire rescue and emergency management services. What we really want to do is reach out to law enforcement, to public health and public works, to the private sector–lots of companies are creating security-type positions.”

The premise behind Homeland Protection Professional–whose motto is “Coordinating domestic preparedness”–is that the specialists no longer can afford to disdain one another. “The notion is that the fire chief ought to know and ought to care a little bit about what the public health people are up to, and the public health people ought to know what the police chief is thinking about,” Baltic explains. “I almost don’t want the public health people to read the public health article. I want them to read everything else and everyone else to read that one. Public health people pretty much know what’s in there.”

Circulation is totally controlled. The first print run is 25,000 copies, and the magazine has promised advertisers that it will distribute 20,000 of them to “high-level managers and operations heads” of fire, law enforcement, and emergency management agencies, public health and hospital emergency response departments, and their equivalents in private industry. These are the “decision-makers and primary influencers when it comes to purchasing equipment and services.”

If, down the road, Homeland Protection Professional ever offers paid subscriptions, for security reasons “we won’t take subscriptions from everyone who sends in a check,” Baltic says. For the same reasons, the magazine has a Web site but no intention of posting editorial content on it. Maybe one day, he says, if the magazine can devise an unbreakable pass code. “Am I being paranoid?” he asks. “Yes, I’m probably being a little paranoid.”

A magazine that doesn’t try to imagine how terrorists might attack before they do won’t be of much use to anyone, and a magazine that does could be useful to the wrong people. Baltic recalls how a few years ago the hazardous materials committee of the International Association of Fire Chiefs collided with the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA wanted to put up on its Web site every community’s worst-case scenario–for example, an explosion at the metal-plating plant down the road that keeps on hand a thousand gallons of cyanide solution–reasoning that the public had a right to know what danger it was in. “People in the fire service went fucking ballistic,” says Baltic. “Their collective response was, ‘Are you crazy? You’re putting a how-to manual for terrorists up there!'”

The EPA backed down. Baltic’s new job has him trafficking in worst-case scenarios that his conversation suggests he’s a little haunted by, but the principle of an informed public isn’t one he dwells on. “We should still look at it in terms of as much openness as we can afford,” he says, “but we can’t afford as much.”

Trib’s Partisan Logic

How newspapers think.

The issue the Tribune decided to address was drug coverage for seniors. Democrats and Republicans couldn’t agree, and Congress had gotten nowhere–the Democrats favored folding the drug benefit into medicare, the Republicans a system using private insurers. Either approach, the Tribune noted toward the beginning of its August 7 editorial, was problematic. “With the Democratic proposal, there’s the problem of Medicare itself, a huge, bloated and inefficient government bureaucracy.” On the other hand, “leaving it to private insurers means that your drug benefit is only as good as your company, and with open bidding for patients, many companies would be tempted to find ways to cherry-pick the healthiest seniors and cut out the sickest. The track record is not good.”

How to choose? The Tribune couldn’t very well sit on the fence: “The question of control is crucial.” So the editorial retraced its steps and took a second, longer look at medicare. “The red tape, confusion and inflexibility built into the system would be hugely magnified….Handing over the drug program to Medicare would raise the possibility that the government would eventually be forced to impose price controls…thereby stifling drug companies’ incentive for innovation. That would be a tragedy.”

So medicare was out. “For those reasons, the best alternative rests with private insurance companies.” The Tribune didn’t prefer private insurers because it eventually found some good things to say about them; it preferred them because they weren’t medicare. The Tribune’s default position is private enterprise. A newspaper with more faith in government could have come to the opposite conclusion by the same process–find a reason to disqualify the approach it was suspicious of in the first place, then endorse whatever’s left.

Look for the same logic to shape the Tribune’s political endorsements this fall. “The Democrats think they can sweep the state,” the paper editorialized Tuesday, “because so many people are outraged at the scandals around Republican Gov. George Ryan.” The Tribune’s been as outraged as anyone, but that doesn’t mean it’ll support any Democrats for high office. The challenge is to find a reason to get behind the Republicans in a year when they’ve earned a whomping.

The editorial noted that Democratic house speaker Michael Madigan has been caught sneaking $300,000 into the state budget to finance a private livestock show run by his old pal John Narmont. “First question,” commented the Tribune, “if the Democrats sweep the state in November, how many zeros will be added in the budget next year under the line item for John Narmont’s money?”

So there you are. Once the Tribune’s default position becomes stopping Madigan by any means possible from lining the pockets of his pals, Republican endorsements all around become easy.

News Bites

A solid piece by Philip Hersh on judging in sports in the Tribune’s Perspective section last Sunday was marred, as fine journalism often is, by hazy memory. Hersh asked if we remembered “the foul called against Scottie Pippen in the 1994 conference semifinal against the New York Knicks that cost the Bulls Game 5, likely the series and perhaps another NBA title? Replays showed that foul, phantom at best, also came after the final buzzer.”

The foul was phantom at worst. According to what replays showed us, at best it was a harmless slap on the wrist after Hubert Davis had let the ball go, the kind of wussy foul refs never let decide a big game. At worst there was no foul at all. More to the point, Davis let the ball go with 2.1 seconds still to play.

The stock of Primedia Inc., former owner of Chicago magazine, has lost about 90 percent of its value in the last two years, which is why one of the magazine’s writers told me it was nice “to be owned by a big, stable, prosperous company after being owned by a bunch of losers.” That said, the magazine’s purchase by the deep-pocketed Tribune Company hasn’t made the air in the Chicago newsroom electric with excitement. No one’s boasting, “Just watch us now!”

Though the editors haven’t been given reason to fear a loss of autonomy, neither do they expect the Tribune Company to soon lift Primedia’s hiring freeze. Think of Chicago as the Chicago Cubs of city magazines: a local favorite gobbled up for reasons of synergy–in this case all on the advertising end–that will never be allowed to become embarrassingly bad or expensively good. For some the sale is simply awkward. Steve Rhodes, its media critic, has been assured that “I can keep doing what I’m doing.” But like Tribune sportswriters who cover the Cubs, he now faces the problem of perceived bias, and he wonders if as a Tribune Company employee he can properly leak information to himself.

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