A quick scan of the website home pages of our city's most respected news sources show their differences in approach to news coverage. As of 9 a.m., the Tribune is leading with a national story about a 2% drop in the Dow, followed by an interactive census map that shows Latino children "on rise in Cook County," followed by reports on this weekend's Lollapalooza music festival. Rounding out the top headlines are mostly stories about specific violent incidents, most local, some not: the trial of a Kane County woman who hit her "son's rival" with her car; two kids hit by a Mag Mile taxi; an off-duty officer injured by a truck in a hit-and-run; an unsuccessful carjacking; police questioning a 19-year-old in the non-fatal shooting of a 12-year-old; a court hearing for a man who murdered a 7-year-old girl in 1957.
A helicopter crash in Afghanistan and a mass-shooting in Ohio make up the non-Chicago violent stories, while the obituary for former Oregon senator Mark Hatfield and a story about Kanye West concerned about his public image and perceived association with Adolf Hitler are the non-violent non-Chicago stories.
There was also a story about CPS kids going back to school today, which, again, as of 9 a.m., was the only non-violent Chicago story in the top headlines. That story has now been bumped from the running scroll, and I can no longer find the link.
As of 9:20 a.m., the Sun-Times's lead story is a "Watchdogs" report on the relationship between Rod Blagojevich and former alderman Ed Vrodolyak. The story details a young Blagojevich graduating law school with, apparently, minimal knowledge on the law ("I can't say I came out of law school really knowing the law," Blagojevich says), and then getting a job at Vrodolyak's law firm in which the future governor "didn't do a lot of law." Fast Eddie promised to help Blago get a job in the city corporation counsel's office, but ultimately welched, offering a job in the state's attorney's office or attorney general's office instead.
Why is this a lead story at SunTimes.com? Because it came from recent Blago testimony? It's not news that Blagojevich and Vrodolyak knew each other once upon a time, and the story doesn't deepen our understanding of that relationship, so why?
This story bumped a story about a federal investigation into scholarships awarded by Rep. Robert Molaro; currently filling out the Sun-Times home page, as of 9:30 a.m., is a story about the Dow drop, a fatal car accident on I-88, a 6-year-old girl killed by gunfire while sleeping in her home, the Field Museum's search for volunteers, and the Dan Ryan off-duty cop hit-and-run.
To me, the most important stories here are the shootings of the 6-year-old girl (found at the Sun-Times and not at the Trib), and the shooting of the 12-year-old girl (found at the Trib and not at the Sun-Times), as well as the Molaro investigation, because these hit upon larger issues of gun violence perpetrated by and against children, and of Chicago's elected officials exhibiting potentially shady practices.
As I wrote on July 25, I believe a newspaper or news source should give readers a clearer understanding of how the city works and what trends in event and behavior are shaping lives and communities. To me, the best news reporting and city coverage comes from the Reader, especially from Ben Joravsky and Mick Dumke, and the Chicago News Cooperative. Over the past three years, Joravsky and Dumke have helped shape the city's understanding of the TIF funds and the parking meter deal, while the CNC continues to give readers stories of true depth and value.
Check out the CNC home page, and you'll notice that the headlines range from yesterday back to August 1. They have a breaking news scroll on the right in which the CNC staff pull Chicago stories from other news sources, and other than that they let their reporters, writers, and photographers shine with a focus on city hall and community trends.
As of 9:50 a.m., the name "Emanuel" does not show up on the home pages for either the Tribune or Sun-Times, despite the fact that we live in a city in which the mayor holds a great deal of influence over businesses, schools, employment, and funds.
Meanwhile, four of the nine stories featured on CNC right now include mention of the mayor in either the headline, picture, or lead graph, while a fifth focuses extensively on Emanuel's influence and decision making.
These five stories cover Chicago's TIF spending (Aug. 7), CPS pushing for a property tax hike (Aug. 5), a Roseland pastor forming a group of "God's foot soldiers" to patrol the neighborhood and help curb violence (Aug. 4), Emanuel shutting down overnight homeless care (Aug. 3), and union reps filing a grievance against Emanuel for recent layoffs (Aug. 2).
Sure, the union story is now nearly a week old. But the mayor laying off 625 city employees is more important to my day-to-day and my understanding of the city than each individual act of errant driving or criminal trials of individual citizens guilty of personal attacks, fatal or not.
My favorite story here -- and a great example of why the Chicago News Coop is so important to Chicago's news gathering landscape -- is the story about the Roseland pastor. Writer Don Terry introduces us to Pastor Greg Livingston, a man who leads a group of men in action around the neighborhood. The men take to the streets and sidewalks on foot, greet the people they see, lead prayer sessions, and challenge youth (either directly or simply with their presence) to resist crime and violence.
The story details Pastor Livingston's search for an increase in bike and foot police patrols in the neighborhood after Mayor Emanuel announced a neighborhood increase in police. It shows us the relationship between and difference in action and mindset between community members and their government, either on the local level or city level:
Indeed, the patrol is part neighborhood watch and part political theater. “We’ve got to shame the city into action,” Livingston told the men before going out for the first time. He intends to gather information and report back to the mayor.
The area’s alderman, Anthony Beale (9th Ward), is not a fan of Livingston’s tactics.
“Reverend Livingston has to understand there are ways to get things done,” Beale said. “Trying to strong-arm the mayor and the superintendent is not going to get it.”
I googled "Pastor Greg Livingston Chicago Tribune" and "Pastor Greg Livingston Chicago Sun-Times" without any turn up. The story did run in the New York Times as part of the NYT's partnership with CNC for the former's Chicago coverage, which means that readers at a Manhattan newsstand get a story that readers at a Chicago newsstand miss.
Also noteworthy about the CNC's coverage? Their human-interest stories often include a documentary-style video component that goes beyond the usual talking head reporting included on other news websites and brings us interviews and images that increase our understanding of and interest in the story we have just read. Take a look again at the Pastor Livingston story and see for yourself -- this is the reporting and storytelling I want from my papers.