By Laura S. Washington
“In 1972, veteran civil rights activist John McDermott imagined a monthly publication that would investigate and analyze racial issues. McDermott and co-editor Lillian Calhoun met to plot the first issue, Calhoun recalled years later. “To save money, we decided on a newsletter, printed in good, clean Helvetica,” she said. “We chose extra-thin paper for inexpensive postage. Folded to letter size, it could fit in a busy executive’s pocket or purse.”
That little newsletter became The Chicago Reporter.
“The Reporter will try to be dispassionate, accurate and constructive in its approach,” McDermott wrote in its July 1972 inaugural issue. It would be aimed at the city’s influentials and “seek to enlighten readers, not browbeat them.” And, he added, “it will focus on the terrain where black and white intersect.”
The Reporter’s staff soon realized that the challenges of race and poverty are deeply intertwined. Since 1972, black and white has turned to multiple hues as Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, Muslims, gays and lesbians, and myriad other groups emerged on the Reporter’s terrain.
More than 700 reporters, editors and interns have toiled at the Reporter, and the magazine has won dozens of national and local journalism awards. Now bimonthly, it reaches hundreds of thousands of readers, viewers and listeners through partnerships with other media organizations and a robust Web network. Our new website will launch shortly, ramping up our capacity to report through blogs, social media, video and more.
Fundamentally, it always comes back to race. McDermott was hopeful about America’s most intractable challenge. So hopeful, I suspect, that he imagined that someday, there would be no need for the Reporter.
He probably also never imagined that the nation’s first black president would hail from Hyde Park, just blocks away from McDermott’s own home. He could not have anticipated the vast reach and influence of the Internet. Or the lasting scourge of 9/11. Or that the United States will turn minority majority in 2042, as the U.S. Census Bureau projects.
In 40 years, Chicago and the nation have grappled with exponential change. Through it all, the Reporter has monitored and analyzed pivotal questions of race and poverty with integrity and excellence.
Many of our core beats remain. In this issue, our first-rate reporting staff chronicles the history of four key areas: criminal justice, immigration, labor and housing.
But social justice knows no boundaries. During 40 years, the Reporter has covered a vast array of vital topics that intersect with race and poverty: education, politics and government, legal affairs, health care, corporate governance, the economy, community violence, and more.
The Reporter is much more than a publication. It is a community. Without that community, we would not thrive and survive today. Our deep gratitude goes to the Community Renewal Society. When McDermott asked CRS Executive Director Don Benedict to help launch a hard-hitting investigative publication that would speak truth to power, Benedict never flinched. CRS has been the Reporter’s home ever since.
We are forever indebted to the unstinting support of foundations, corporations, individual donors, policymakers, activists and our readers. And we pay special tribute to the Reporter’s heart and soul: its singularly talented staff who have toiled tirelessly, producing the finest journalism anywhere.
In 2013, there are new questions and complexities to confront. Race still matters. The Chicago Reporter will always be there to tell you how and why.