A People with Passion series
August 15, 2011: Mick Dumke
If you have lived in Chicago for more than six months, it's possible you don't know Mick Dumke's name, but you probably know his work. Along with fellow reporter Ben Joravsky, Dumke was instrumental in guiding Chicago into awareness of our shady tax increment financing program, better known as the TIF fund, a program that in theory diverts tax money to blighted communities, but in practice diverts them anywhere the mayor sees fit. You may have also been bothered by the city's agreement to lease our parking meters to a group led by Morgan Stanley for the next 75 years. Mick covered that too.
Here in this third installation of Jack M Silverstein's Chicago journalism People with Passion series, Dumke discusses his introduction to investigative reporting, and why the Chicago dailies still matter to him.
I started reading the newspaper as a kid. We always had newspapers in my house. My mom and dad were both daily newspaper readers. We always had dinner as a family, but breakfast time, everybody read the newspaper. My dad read the newspaper. My mom, when she actually sat down for breakfast, would read the newspaper. So it was a habit I picked up probably by the time I was in junior high, starting with the sports section.
A lot of us go through this period where we’re in our teens, in high school, where you start to connect the things that you get excited about with how the world works. That was going on for me. Eventually I started reading the front part of the newspaper, and then I started reading it first. I’m back to actually reading the sports first, now. But one thing led to another, and I learned about the muckrakers, people who didn’t just go to press conferences but actually did the digging. They put a story together. That was sort of groundbreaking.
A big part of this for me, my whole life, is the ethical component. The social ethics involved. To me, the thing that was appealing about being a journalist wasn’t just the writing. The reason I got serious about journalism was that I saw it as a way to practice my social ethics. People who had used their obvious passion for creating a turn of phrase and for getting the story in the newspaper combined that with a social conscience – that really struck me at that time in my life, and it’s continued to reverberate. I consider myself part writer, part reporter, and part activist on some level.
I really started reading the Reader for the entertainment stuff. I was way into music, especially in college – I’m still into music, but that was the primary thing that brought me to the Reader. And once I started learning the city, getting off campus and exploring, it was a helpful guide to the city’s cultural life. It was probably much later that I started reading the front section a little more carefully. Graduated from college, started teaching, started seeing how the city worked from the vantage point of working with high school dropouts, kids involved deeply in gangs, violence on the streets, this sort of thing – then I started taking interest in the way the Reader covered the city, beyond just the cultural stuff.
You’ve been at the Reader, and you’ve been at the Chicago News Coop, and now back. It feels to me, when I read the Reader or the CNC, my understanding of the city deepens. When I read you and Ben, Bogira, John Conroy certainly, Jim O’Shea, Jim Warren – I feel like I’m following stories and I’m understanding how the city – you know, the big phrase – how the city works. I feel like I understand it when I read those sources, and I feel like I don’t as much when I read other papers. In your experience, are these papers doing something different? I know obviously the Chicago News Coop was founded as hard news, city hall, all that…
Right. Well first of all, thanks for including me and the publication I work for on that list. That’s actually really encouraging. But I guess, I’m a little (pause) – obviously you see the kind of stories I do. That’s the kind of stories I want to read. That’s why I do them. I think there needs to be more of that kind of stuff that the Reader tries to do, that CNC tries to do, which are both small shops, you know, in relative terms.
That said, I don’t want to dismiss what the dailies do. They provide a tremendous service. That’s the first source of news for all of us. We do reporting on topics that they don’t ever touch, but we also do a lot of stuff that builds on things they’ve gotten out there. There’s room for – I’ve said this before – different types of reporting. There’s some people who just want to know what’s happening, not just day-to-day, but hour-to-hour, almost minute-to-minute. The breaking news stuff is where the dailies are going online. I think that’s an important service. People want to know what’s going on. They like heading into work knowing that Google’s buying a division of Motorola, or whatever, the stuff that just happened that could impact how they do business, if not directly then certainly indirectly. I think that is helpful.
But I also think we need explainers. We do need people who connect dots. We do need people who discover and tell stories, and not just provide the facts as they’re emerging. I hope that we provide a compliment on what they do, but I think that they provide a valuable service. That’s how I learn about Chicago, reading the newspapers. Living here, certainly. But my bigger sense beyond my neighborhood and my job and my direct experience is reading the newspapers. I certainly wouldn’t dismiss them. That’s the reason I continue to read them.
Enjoy this interview? Click here to read more, as Mick talks about his love of reporting and what he learned during his stint at the Chicago News Cooperative.
Check back every Wednesday at Eye on Chi for more of Jack M Silverstein's People with Passion interviews with Chicago journalists. Coming up next week: Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times.
PREVIOUSLY IN THE SERIES:
December 12, 2008: Alex Kotlowitz (re-edited August 15, 2011)
August 10, 2011: Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune