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Monday, July 28, 2008

The journalism hall of fame

Posted by on 07.28.08 at 10:13 AM

The other day Phil Rosenthal imagined that Chicago had a journalism hall of fame, and he stoked the fires by offering dozens of names of past and present greats that he thinks belong in it. I had two immediate reactions. One was to be touched by his column's poignancy. Rosenthal has done a hell of a job as a media writer covering the ongoing downsizing of his own paper, the Tribune, and his proposal struck an elegaic note: let's all declare each other gods while we can and maybe the world won't forget about us quite so quickly. 

The other reaction was to marvel that Rosenthal didn't know Chicago already has a journalism hall of fame. It was founded in 1985 by Jerry Davis and Jerry Field, retiring and incoming presidents of the Chicago Press Club, and though the press club collapsed two years later, the hall of fame survived, being reconstituted eventually under the aegis of the International Press Club of Chicago. The IPCC was founded in 1992 by Field, a longtime publicist, and Arnie Matanky, publisher of the Near North News. Field is a friend; Matanky, who died in 2004, was the most boorish journalist I've ever met.

Rosenthal's column drew a heavy response from readers with their own ideas of media immortality. Unless I missed a reference, none of these readers had any more idea than Rosenthal that they were conjecturing about something that already exists. They should be forgiven. The International Press Club of Chicago seems to consist of whoever shows up for lunch on Wednesdays on the second floor of the Loop's Beef and Brandy Restaurant -- visitors welcome. The IPCC's chief, perhaps only, reason for being is the annual dinner at which the ranks of the hall of fame are swelled by five "living legends" and three dead ones.

You might be thinking, no wonder Rosenthal demands a new hall of fame -- this one won't do. Actually, this one will do fine. Having no other purpose, the IPCC can focus on the question of who the worthiest worthies are, and I will personally vouch for Jerry Field's gravitas whenever he bends to that task. Compare Rosenthal's nominees with the IPCC's inductees -- each list exposes some of the other's egregious oversights, and if the IPCC has been too often swayed by cronyism, so was Rosenthal, I'd say, by sentiment and courtesy. To add my own two cents' worth, any hall of fame that excludes --as both Rosenthal and the IPCC do -- the founders of the Reader, who invented a new business model for urban print journalism that swept the country, and Reader reporter John Conroy cannot possibly be taken seriously.

Of course, I wouldn't take the hall of fame idea seriously regardless. It's a lark, a parlor game, a shuffleboard round robin to bide the time as the Titanic sinks. But calling it what it is, I'm happy to play the game. Anne Keegan has a place in my hall of fame. So does at least one of the founders of the old, trailblazing Chicago Journalism Review, Ron Dorfman. I'll stop now because otherwise I'd be just getting started.

And Phil Rosenthal -- for exceptional coverage of the hardest beat of all, his own house, plus a little balm for the soul. Now I'll stop.

Who's in your Valhalla? 

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