News Bites

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Remembering Chicago Tribune reporter Steve Crews

Posted By on 11.24.16 at 06:00 AM

Steve Crews with wife Evelyn and children Sam and Meredith - POLLY C PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Polly C Photography
  • Steve Crews with wife Evelyn and children Sam and Meredith

At a Christmas party several years ago, Steve Crews sat down beside me and asked me what I thought about Tajikistan. I had no thoughts (I bet you don't either). It's one of the Soviet Socialist Republics that got away from Moscow, Crews explained, and it's one of the poorest, most backward, and repressive places on earth.

That's where I'm going next, Crews told me.

I usually know a pipe dream when I hear one, and this sounded like one. But the fact that we were having any conversation at all confused me. Not long before, Crews had moved from Chicago to Arizona, and I'd never expected to see him again. He'd been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer then, as sure a death sentence as you'll find in the Merck Manual. He had come back to Chicago, intending to die with his friends and family around him.

Yet here he was, talking up Tajikistan!

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The AP—how will it ever learn without its director of training?

Posted By on 01.27.15 at 02:30 PM

Years ago, when I went to work for UPI in Saint Louis, my in-service training consisted of a demonstration of how to operate the teleprinter. Most of the time an operator would be available; but on Sundays, and also on Saturday and Monday nights, it was up to me to do everything myself.

My advanced in-service training consisted of learning how to save time by keyboarding stories on the teleprinter as it transmitted, staying a few seconds ahead of the tape. This was a skill I taught myself.

Knowing how to type with more than two fingers was handy but not a requirement. It was a primitive business.

Journalism no longer is. In this century the demands on journalists have increased almost exponentially. I don’t know what UPI has done to keep up (years ago it was taken over by the Unification Church and virtually disappeared as a domestic news service) but our bigger, richer rival, the Associated Press, developed a training program that became a model for the industry.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Wholesome entertainment

Posted By on 02.27.12 at 04:49 PM

Francis Ouimet
  • Library of Congress
  • Francis Ouimet
The other day I had what I briefly thought was a pretty good idea.

I happened to turn on the TV and catch the last half hour or so of The Greatest Game Ever Played, which is a Disney movie about an underdog who prevailed. Our underdog was a young, unknown American amateur golfer named Francis Ouimet, who against all odds competed in the U.S. Open for the first time in 1913, took two top British professionals, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, into a playoff, and beat them both. Vardon was a previous Open champion considered the greatest golfer of his era. Ray was the defending British Open champ and he'd win the U.S. Open a few years later.

As I watched, I wondered. Was Ouimet’s caddie actually ten years old? Yes. Did Ouimet actually defeat Vardon by a stroke, steadying his nerves and sinking the decisive putt on the 18th hole of the playoff round? No. Ouimet won by five strokes. Oh, and the girlfriend was made up. In other words, the facts were often true but improved upon where necessary, and sweetened. The Greatest Game Ever Played is heartwarming, it's inspiring, it's the kind of feel-good movie for the whole family that no one makes better than Disney.

But the competition is keen. And this led me to my idea for the next great heartwarming movie.

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The right move

Posted By on 02.27.12 at 10:56 AM

  • Joshua Eckert
It takes a big newspaper to admit a colossal boner, but the New York Times was up to the task yesterday:

The Chess column last Sunday, about Justin Sarkar, a New York international master, gave an incorrect move in a recent game between Adam Hunt and Mr. Sarkar. Black’s eighth move was h6, not h4.

What a relief this was! The move to h4 had befuddled me all week. If you caught the previous Sunday's story by chess columnist Dylan Loeb McClain—and I know you did—I don't have to tell you that Hunt was employing the Panov-Botvinnik Attack against Sarkar's Caro-Kann Defense. As McClain noted, this "can lead to complicated positions."

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Byline: Madame Butterfly

Posted By on 02.27.12 at 09:00 AM

What's a responsible newspaper to do when somebody writes for it who has so many conflicts of interest there's no way to keep track of them all?

The Tribune's solution is to add this declaimer at the end of Candace Jordan's weekly column:

"Freelance writer Candace Jordan is involved with many local organizations, including some whose events she covers."

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Friday, February 24, 2012

The Daily Illini in trouble

Posted By on 02.24.12 at 12:58 PM

Lil Levant
  • Lil Levant
There's a new normal in print journalism and college papers are not immune to it. I’ve just had a conversation with Lil Levant, publisher of the Daily Illini and general manager of Illini Media Company, the not-for-profit that controls the student-run newspaper and radio station (and other properties) at the University of Illinois.

The company’s in a lot of trouble. A month ago it owed the News-Gazette Inc., which prints the Daily Illini, about $250,000. It was an old, intractable debt, and because of declining ad revenues and a big mortgage on the new four-story headquarters that Illini Media built in the mid-2000s, when it was a lot flusher, it was a debt that threatened to shut down the 141-year-old student paper and put the company out of business.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

James O'Shea announces a halt

Posted By on 02.20.12 at 02:49 PM

James OShea
  • James O'Shea
James O'Shea, founder, editor, and CEO of the Chicago News Cooperative, announced Monday that CNC was suspending operations because of a lack of funds. This decision was reported over the weekend by the Reader. O'Shea's letter to readers:

As you might have heard or read by now, the Chicago News Cooperative is suspending its contributions to the Midwest pages of the New York Times and its website effective February 26 so we can reassess our operations and determine if there is a more sustainable path to the future.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

CNC shutting down

Posted By on 02.17.12 at 05:02 PM

James OShea
  • James O'Shea
UPDATE: For a more recent and fuller account of the closing of the Chicago News Cooperative, please follow this link.

The Chicago News Cooperative will cease operation February 26, founder James O'Shea told his staff Friday afternoon. CNC, which has contributed four news pages a week of Chicago news to the New York Times and maintained a news-centric website since O'Shea launched it in the fall of 2009, asked the Times for financial support that would allow it to continue, O'Shea said, but the Times refused. There's been no quarrel in New York with the quality of the report that CNC provided, but it didn't increase circulation or draw advertising to an extent that made the Times willing to commit more money to it.

CNC's financial crisis came to a head last week, O'Shea explained, when the IRS issued a ruling that compromised the level of corporate underwriting and foundation support CNC could expect in the future. According to the IRS, tax benefits that would be received for funding particular projects would be denied if the funds were simply intended to sustain the operation. CNC's primary financial lifeline has been the MacArthur Foundation, which has given it a million dollars.

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Once upon a time in Chicago

Posted By on 02.17.12 at 12:48 PM

Andrew Jones had me with DoubleTake. DoubleTake was the sort of failure you’d rather have on your tombstone than almost any ten successes—it was an astonishingly handsome, beautifully photographed, and elegantly written magazine that Dr. Robert Coles founded at Duke University in 1995 and that died ten years later.

“[It will be] a home where image and word have equal weight,” said the editors in the first issue, “where photographers and writers have equal license to wander and to wonder: a home that welcomes poets and novelists, photographers and journalists, short-story writers and essayists, some of whom are known, and some of whom are unknown, and all of whom recognize the power of narrative to reveal and then to transform.”

Andrew Jones, e-mailing me from San Francisco to ask me to give his new monthly iPad magazine, Once magazine, some attention, referred to DoubleTake as a touchstone. Because the new issue is his fifth, and he sent along glimpses of earlier issues, I can take the comparison seriously. “We publish the best photographers in the world,” he asserted. “ Two of our contributors won World Press Photo awards a few days ago.”

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The show's aged better than the write-up

Posted By on 02.14.12 at 04:02 PM

Show Boat first opened on Broadway in December 1927. The (unsigned) New York Times review began with this:

The worlds of Broadway and Park Avenue and their respective wives put on their best bibs and tuckers last night and converged at Mr. Ziegfeld’s handsome new playhouse on Sixth Avenue. There they milled about elegantly in the lobby, were pictured by flashlight photographers and finally got to their seats and on to the business at hand. That was the inspection of the news offering from the workshops of the maestro, the much-heralded musical adaptation of Edna Ferber’s novel, “Show Boat.”

We would flatter this passage by calling it merely archaic.

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