A newspaper should provide pertinent information about the community it covers, facts and stories that will give its readers a complete understanding of the processes and events that shape their lives. It should, in short, provide nourishment for the mind.
And along with nourishment, a print newspaper -- at least for me -- always provided a binding community experience. The Bulls won a championship, and the newspaper front page told more than just the story: it gave us an image and a headline to remember, words and pictures we memorialized on t-shirts. High Five! Bulls are champs! or Two for two: Bulls still champs! or even the goofy, Pat Riley-induced Three-mendous!
Now, with the Tribune in tabloid format and the Sun-Times in even worse shape than the Trib, our city's newspapers no longer give us front page nourishment for the mind. With that gone, the paper's value continues to decrease, as does the circulation, and suddenly there is little reason to reach for the newspaper in its hard form.
Take a look at the image above, for instance. Those are today's papers as found on the newsstand. On the left is the Sun-Times, and their continuing watchdog coverage of the David Koschman case, the story of a 21-year-old Chicagoan who, after leaving the bars at Division and Dearborn in April 2004, got into an altercation with another group of drinkers, one of whom threw a punch that, 12 days later, killed Koschman. The Sun-Times has been chomping at this story since March as part of its Watchdog investigating, because the man who allegedly threw the punch is one Richard "R.J." Vanecko, a man with his own criminal history and, more significantly, nephew to our former mayor Richard M. Daley.
The Sun-Times' front page coverage of the Koschman case stops with the headline -- there is no actual story anywhere, which is standard operating procedure for the Tribune as well. The front page of these tabloids are merely the newspaper cover, with no amount of actual news required. The rest of the Sun-Times' front page is a two-inch headline reading STILL NO DEAL, referring to the White House debt negotiations between President Obama and John Boehner; a two-inch headline reading IT'S OFF?, referring to the engagement between Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and television personality Kristen Cavallari; and two advertisements.
The lead story on the Tribune is a vigil for a Lake Zurich teenaged girl who was killed last week in a hit-and-run, for which we are given a photo of two grieving girls accompanied by a headline. That accounts for most of the front page. Above it is a longer headline about the debt talks, and beneath it is a speculative headline reading Will Chicagoans show Obama the money in 2012?
There are important stories in Chicago today. You just can't find them in what should be the most obvious place to look, that being the front page of our two largest newspapers. At the Chicagoist, I learned that police shootings of civilians are "way up" in 2011. The Chicagoist takes their information from reporting by the Sun-Times, though that story is no longer on the home page at SunTimes.com. Also at Chicagoist is Rahm Emanuel defending his decision to lay-off over 600 city employees, another story that can't be found at the home page of either the Trib or the Sun-Times.
Over at the Chicago News Cooperative, readers can learn about the high number of "bosses" on the city payroll, a British developer's crazy plan for an old Chicago post office building, and a city council committee approving Mayor Emanuel's 20-year contract with Westfield Concessions Management to take over concessions at O'Hare Airport's International Terminal 5, among other important stories.
And by "important," I mean stories concerning people of power making decisions about money.
These stories and others like them shape our community and expand our understanding of how our city operates and where our tax dollars go. To find them, one must often look elsewhere than the two papers that are, supposedly, our biggest sources of written news. The Sun-Times does, at least, continue its Watchdogs reporting, banging away at stories like the Koschman case and the city's ongoing violence and shooting epidemic. Meanwhile, my beloved Tribune seems to give me less and less substance, the paper of my childhood becoming obsolete as I turn to the CNC, Chicagoist, and various Twitter feeds for the scoop on the Chi. A sad day in Chicago when newspapers leave us hungry for more news.