To the editor:
I introduced Michael Miner to Leah Pietrusiak and the story of Citylink[Hot Type, July 23] because I felt it was the most recent addition to a larger chapter in local journalism. The near northwest side has lacked a proper newspaper throughout the period of the area’s greatest social and economic resurgence, between about 1988 and the present. How is this possible?
In the 1960s, Old Town was the subject and the Chicago Seed was the observer. In the 1970s, Lincoln Park was the subject and this paper was the observer. Through the 1990s we saw a number of very weak newspapers attempt to conquer West Town without success. Names like West Town Crier, West Town Free Press, the Voice, Sandpaper, and finally Citylink came and went with little fanfare.
Today, there are unusual barriers to entry that did not exist before. In our subject category, the Onion was designed for advertising and is otherwise a shell with no actual productive content. The Red Streak and RedEye are bizarre training wheels–but for what, other than Hollywood? I believe that these papers and other media distract us from local news. They show that, while there is still a place for the small tabloid newspaper format, there is a limited time in everyone’s day for media. People have to read their major newspapers and an increasingly large number of magazines and books; watch news; listen to talk radio; chat on the cell phone; do their e-mail and the Web, reboot, repeat. Only then might there be time for some attention to community affairs, and the area under discussion is somewhat too sprawled out for continuity.
None of the above examples is local-interest media, and no hot media such as the Web and cable TV has worked adequately for community news. Unfortunately, in our new near northwest side, the most dynamic and youthful area in the new city, a local newspaper seems too quaint next to the Onion and the red papers and the Web. As a result, there is no weekly or even monthly medium that concentrates on local issues. Events come and go without the participation of the folks across the street.
We are in an era where neither advertising nor editorial can rise to the occasion for these local papers. Yet success stories like the Gazette, the Reader, and others are packed with so much linage that it is difficult to find the news. These efforts began in the 70s and early 80s, before the new media had managed to agglomerate and burn through our busy retinas.
I am not the first person to have characterized the developing area surrounding the city core as a fairly contiguous and uniform demographic loop–counterclockwise covering Lakeview and Ravenswood, Logan Square, Humboldt Park and West Town, West Loop and Garfield Park, UIC and West-South, Pilsen-Chinatown, and South Loop. If, as Miner reports, Citylink’s publishers truly want to try again, and prefer content to drive, they should make their boulevard pass through these neighborhoods and expose the common community interests worth their editorial salt there–rescuing libraries, schools, and affordable housing, reducing crime, and focusing a critical eye on the rich traditional and modern arts and entertainment scenes. The same people beat a common path along this vast arc, and the Reader, though periodically going the distance on many community issues, has not been willing to put its major focus on these topics.
Over the past three or four years, I have recited this to almost every independent newspaper publisher in the area, from Inside on the north to Chicago Journal on the south. Let’s see if someone out there is smart enough to pick up on this potentially very lucrative concept. But whoever comes should be prepared to spend some real money before expecting results.