Monday, December 24, 2007

On editing

Posted By on 12.24.07 at 02:55 PM

Does anyone notice careless editing but an editor? If I thought the answer was no, I wouldn't be writing this. A badly edited story antagonizes readers even if they can't always put their finger on what's bugging them. I doubt if anyone else fetched a pen and started marking up the lead story in Sunday's Tribune, but I bet that story irritated a lot of people besides me.

Like a lot of the worst -- as well as some of the best -- writing in newspapers, "A Governor Under Siege" must have been put together in a hurry. The earliest Sunday edition comes off the press Saturday morning, which means the writing is wrapped up on Friday. And this story by David Mendell and Ray Long had breaking news to deal with: they identified Rod Blagojevich as the "Public Official A" implicated Friday by the federal government in an alleged shakedown scheme.

The result was a wheel-spinning narrative that couldn't get out of the snow bank. Paragraph 7: "These days, the governor conducts much of his public business from his North Side home, reluctant to venture forth into Springfield or other public arenas where he might feel exposed." Paragraph 11: "Blagojevich seldom works from a public office, either at the Thompson Center in Chicago or the Capitol." Paragraph 14: "Blagojevich instead spends much of his time at his home, running the state by conference call." 

Paragraph 11: "Christopher Kelly, a second member of his inner circle of political advisers, was indicted on tax evasion charges." Paragraph 20: "And Kelly, another close adviser and friend, was indicted this month on federal tax fraud charges."

Good editing is invisible, but it's expensive. It's a place where a newspaper can cut costs. But it's not a smart place to cut them, because bad editing is very visible.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Head-to-head during the holidays

Posted By on 12.23.07 at 11:39 AM

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There’s usually no deader week on the local concert calendar than this one, but for fans of improvised music there are a couple of Christmas presents: On Wednesday reedist Ken Vandermark and drummer Tim Daisy meet up at the Hideout for an evening of spontaneous music-making that will surely be akin to the fine 2006 Empty Bottle gig captured on August Music (a limited CD-R release). The two work together in several contexts these days—from the Vandermark 5 to the Frame Quartet to Bridge 61—so they have a strong, natural rapport, whether they're shaping high-octane, heavily rhythmic blasts or focusing on slow-moving textural excursions.

Then on Friday former scene mainstay/gadfly Weasel Walter will play duets with trombonist Jeb Bishop at Heaven. Back in the 90s they worked together in an early line-up of Weasel's Flying Luttenbachers, the long-running, frequently morphing project that he just recently disbanded. Since moving to the Bay Area in 2003 Weasel has maintained a hectic pace, playing with the Luttenbachers, XBXRX, and Burmese, among other groups, but the biggest shift has been his return to free jazz and improvised music, which will be the context for this gig. He’s just released three new albums on his own ugExplode label, including what may be the final Luttenbachers opus, Incarceration by Abstraction, on which he played everything himself. More germane to this gig is the scorching Firestorm, recorded live in New York and Philadelphia this past February. Some heavy hitters join the fray—including veteran Sun Ra reedist Marshall Allen, bassist Lisle Ellis, drummer Marc Edwards, and saxophonist Marco Eneidi—but ultimately this album is about the massed sound the whole group delivers, a roaring maelstrom of pure energy music. Lichens, a trio date with bassist and frequent collaborator Damon Smith and Italian reedist Gianni Gebbia, is more restrained and, dare I say it, reminiscent of the jazz tradition—swinging rhythms, walking bass lines, and postbop horn licks. It’s nice to get the chance to hear Weasel play in such a spacious, limber context.

Today’s playlist:

Paul Motian Trio 2000 + 2, Live at the Village Vanguard (Winter & Winter)
Ravish Momin’s Trio Tarana, Miren (A Longing) (Clean Feed)
Oren Ambarchi, In the Pendulum’s Embrace (Southern Lord)
Maria Rita, Samba Meu (Warner Music Latina)
Orion Rigel Dommisse, What I Want From You is Sweet (Language of Stone)

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Human teflon in the flesh

Posted By on 12.23.07 at 11:32 AM

Well, Hopper's recent prediction isn't completely accurate. R. Kelly did in fact see the inside of a courtroom, but he managed to basically breeze through and say, "Hey guys" before going out for some McDonald's. At this point I'm seriously beginning to wonder if Kells has some sort of Jedi training. I think it's highly likely that if he ever catches a conviction he's going to pull a classic disappearing-in-a-cloud-of-smoke thing and from then on out the closest thing to an R. Kelly sighting we'll hear about is someone hearing the phantom sound of expensive jewelry clinking before their Big Mac Value Meal inexplicably disappears and Kells starts showing up in Mysteries of the Unknown books filed between the Mothman and the Taos hum

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Fearing Big Media

Posted By on 12.21.07 at 07:01 PM

I've given it a couple of days and it's still hard to work up the anger I'm supposed to feel over the arrogance of FCC chairman Kevin Martin. His critics are saying Martin, a Republican, delivered the store to Big Media Tuesday when the FCC, by a 3-to-2 party-line vote, gave single owners permission to go on running both newspapers and TV stations in the same markets, and made it easier for such arrangements to be made in the future. Said Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, a national advocacy group that that bitterly opposes Martin's change, "The waivers and giant loopholes contained in these new rules could spell disaster for citizens everywhere." On its Web site, Free Press has set up a form letter asking Congress to step in and "take action." With a couple of clicks, an angry citizen can tell Washington that "the FCC has turned its back on its mission and its mandate. Their decision to let Big Media get even bigger will erode localism, diminish minority ownership, and decrease competition."

But the Big Media Free Press is describing isn't the Big Media moaning and groaning here in Chicago -- among many other places. Here in Chicago the FCC vote (preceded several days earlier by a waiver intended to let Sam Zell's deal go through) lets the Tribune Company's new owners get off to a running start. "The ruling keeps our employer from having to dump several properties at fire-sale prices during a de facto media recession," allowed a grateful Tribune editorial Wednesday. That "media recession" is actually a change in the business so transformational that most journalists whose paychecks are issued by Old Media -- Big Media is, by and large, Old Media -- have no idea what that business will look like and whether it'll have a place for them in five years. The Tribune Company's biggest and most rebellious paper, the Los Angeles Times, reported Friday on the consummation of Zell's deal with a story that began: "For the second time in eight years, control of the Los Angeles Times changed hands Thursday, passing from a staid Chicago conglomerate to a private company headed by an unpredictable and colorful billionaire, in a debt-heavy deal that creates tremendous opportunities and risks for one of America's top newspapers." "Tremendous opportunities"? They hope. That whistling in the dark is a subconscious expression of faith in a colorful billionaire who doesn't sound scared of the future.

Look around. The Sun-Times is planning wholesale layoffs and could be gone in a year. Blame Conrad Black, David Radler, and RedEye if you will, but if Radler did one good thing in Chicago it was to assemble the "Chicago group" and gird the Sun-Times with a hundred smaller titles; and if the Tribune hadn't launched RedEye someone else would have, probably the Metro chain -- free rapid transit tabloids weren't a new idea. The Tribune Company, if Zell hadn't taken it over, would have continued on its path of slow, hapless decline. It might anyway.

The city's flailing mastodons aren't keeping tomorrow's journalism from being born around them. It might turn out that the only thing the FCC just did for Big Media was buy it a little more time before it bites the dust. 

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The bully pulpit

Posted By on 12.21.07 at 04:19 PM

He didn't call them racists this time.

But this week Mayor Daley chastised Gold Coast opponents of a helipad Children's Memorial Hospital wants to build as part of a new facility on Chicago Avenue east of Michigan. Some area residents have raised concerns about the safety of helicopters taking off and landing from the area, which is packed with residential and commercial high-rises. The mayor, though, insinuated that their questions were petty next to the possibility that kids could be saved, according to the Sun-Times. "So, once in a while, we have a helicopter landing. Why? To save your child -- not your child, in a sense. But your child really. Another child coming from another city [who] does not have a Children's Memorial Hospital. ... We will look back in 20 years what we did with this new and wonderful hospital."

The area's alderman, Brendan Reilly, says he's tried to serve as a moderator between the hospital and the residents. Last week Reilly signed off on the helipad plan on the condition that transportation and safety specialists for the hospital and a residents' group sit down and talk. The construction schedule for the new facility won't need to be changed regardless of how the helipad issue is resolved, he says. 

Reilly's had an intense first six months leading the 42nd Ward. This summer, over the objections of some powerful real estate and business interests, he effectively killed the plan of one of the ward's key institutions, Northwestern University, to sell its historic Lake Shore Athletic Club building to a developer that wanted to tear it down and build condos. Earlier this month Northwestern announced it would sell the property to another developer that will turn it into upscale residences for seniors. 

And earlier this fall he sided with nearby residents and announced his opposition to the plan of the Chicago Children's Museum to move from Navy Pier to Grant Park. The museum, he said, would create traffic problems and use up park space that's supposed to be forever "free and clear" of development. In response a worked up Mayor Daley ripped into Reilly and other opponents, suggesting they were really concerned that minority kids would be visiting their neighborhood: "You mean you don't want children from the city in Grant Park? Why? Are they black? Are they white? Are they Hispanic? Are they poor?"

If the museum scrap is any indication, Reilly shouldn't expect the mayor's help in smoothing out differences over the helipad.

Museum officials continue to lobby other aldermen to support their plan, Reilly said in an interview, while he's made it clear he'd like to sit down with Daley and come up with alternatives. "We've heard nothing from the mayor yet," Reilly said. "We've reached out to his office on three separate occasions, and we still haven't had any response." 

Jacqueline Heard, the mayor's press secretary, shrugged off Reilly's comment. "I'm unaware of that," she said. "I can't respond to something I haven't heard about."

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Did WTTW commit censorship or something less sinister?

Posted By on 12.21.07 at 09:23 AM

"Censorship" is a fighting word. It's what WTTW was accused of in my December 6 column. Chasnoff's the executive director of Beyondmedia Education and the director of Turning a Corner, a 53-minute film on prostitution in Chicago that Beyondmedia completed in early 2006. My story was about a 14-minute version of Turning a Corner that this fall won a documentary competition sponsored by the Chicago Reporter yet wasn't given a screening on WTTW's Image Union as expected. Chasnoff thought a screening had been promised the winner and that WTTW reneged: "If public media isn't a place where these women can have a platform for their message, that's censorship," she told me. "If they're not considered part of the constituency for public media, that's censorship to me."

But neither the station nor Image Union had ever committed to airing the winning film in the Reporter competition -- IU simply agreed to select one of the entries and show it. What's more, WTTW's senior vice president of TV content, Dan Soles, told me that if Beyondmedia sent him the full 53-minute film, he'd watch it and consider it. That's the note on which I ended.

That note didn't satisfy Beyondmedia. It asserts on its Web site that "WTTW's refusal to screen Turning a Corner exposes the underlying issues of censorship and access to public media." It site urges friends of Beyondmedia to post comments on the Reader Web site after my column and to e-mail WTTW in protest. It even provides a letter to Soles that can be sent to WTTW with a couple of computer clicks. "Public media holds the responsibility of ensuring that all community members have a space for media representation," says this letter. "By censoring the voices of marginalized women, you undermine their ability to participate fully in our democracy. I hope that WTTW will take this event as an opportunity to live up to its mission and screen work that represents all of Chicago’s communities."

Some of Beyondmedia's friends have done what they were asked. These comments  follow my column. "When you combine shameless lack of courage and programming cowardice you get censorship. Sadly, this is what we’ve come to expect from WTTW." "This is a very real story that shouldn't be censored just because it involves sex work." "WTTW, get over your puritanism and show something that matters to us." "To hear of this competition-turned-censorship-move isn't just disheartening, it's angering." 

And here's an e-mail to the station that didn't simply repeat the boilerplate: "I, and many other Chicagoans, rely on public television and radio to be objective voices in a world full of censorship and spin -- I hope that WTTW has not fallen prey to these same things." A reply from WTTW's "Member and Viewer Services Department" said that "unfortunately, 'Turning a Corner' is not currently scheduled to air on WTTW 11 as our programming director has not been given the opportunity to review the program by its producers. We will gladly forward your request to our programming director, but the program will not be aired until it can be reviewed."

That's pretty much what Soles had told me. But when I called Chasnoff and asked if she'd sent Soles a copy of the full movie, she said, yes, she had, and then she told me something that neither she nor Soles had mentioned to me before. She'd also sent WTTW a copy in early 2006. She got a reply in May of 2006 from Sarah Warner, WTTW's "community partnerships and outreach assistant," who said "our programmer" (that would be Soles, Warner tells me) had some reservations but by and large found the film "very powerful and moving. . . . He would consider airing it, if it were shorter (half an hour)."

Chasnoff wrote back to say she'd be happy to edit a half-hour version of Around a Corner but first she wanted to find out what the programmer liked and didn't like. Warner replied, "I spoke with Dan and he would be happy to speak with you." But Chasnoff tells me that weeks later she still hadn't been able to reach Soles. Eventually she gave up on the idea of getting his feedback for a shorter version. "I felt I was spinning my wheels," she says.

So what doesn't quite feel to me like censorship does feel a lot like a runaround. Censorship's more flattering -- more flattering to Beyondmedia, certainly, but also to WTTW, which at least can be said to be acting with intent. "We get so many submissions I can't honestly recall seeing the film." Soles told me, estimating there were about 50 DVDs on his desk. I said there might be as many as two copies of Turning a Corner in the pile. "I'm glad she's resubmitted it," he said, "and I look forward to viewing it."

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Attention, shoppers ...

Posted By on 12.20.07 at 06:22 PM

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An idea that's been kicking around the Web since roughly Halloween, but--what the hell, it's Christmas, let's go for it!

From Radar Online comes the perfect gift suggestion for film aficionados (more likely aficionadesses, but you never can tell ... ): "Handbags of Horror," a mock designer collection of oversize purses that purports to channel assorted screen monsters of the past. At the head of this unruly brood is—what best to call it?—the Chucky, a patchwork of sewn leather gewgaws in bright designer colors, with "carroty tufts" that, according to Radar's description, have a "deceptive 'playful' quality" (like the Child's Play series itself, no doubt). Up next, the Mummy, a confection of ruffles and chains that presumably brings to mind Boris Karloff lurching down mausoleum corridors to harass a hysterically screaming Zita Johann. There's also the shiny metallic Betsey Johnson Terminator spin-off, a bag that only a certain governor of California would ever be caught dead or alive carrying, as well as the Reanimator, a "brutally poisoned" design of Napa leather described as an "homage to Tarman, the star zombie in 1985's Return of the Living Dead." Not to mention a fuzzy brown nuisance straight out of Gremlins, or a scaly piece of swamp salvage I'll simply dub the Gill Man: what fashionably distressed damsel wouldn't want that in her black lagoon Christmas stocking?

Unfortunately MIA from this accessory barrage is Attack of the 50 Foot Coach Bag, to commemorate the ineluctable Allison Hayes, which isn't part of the collection but obviously ought to be. Ergo, all in all, a real Christmas bonanza—hosanna in excelsis, right?

And holiday best to one and all ... 

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That's one way to get out the vote

Posted By on 12.20.07 at 03:55 PM

One side of a flyer circulating in the western suburbs boasts that Cook County recorder of deeds Eugene "Gene" Moore has brought major improvements to the office, which is responsible for documenting property transactions. Moore, the flyer says, has expanded Internet access to public records, installed an electronic recording system, and succeeded at "providing MOORE service with less employees." 

On the other side the flyer invites us all to a lingerie fashion show.

The show, promoted by Click Click Productions and presented by "The Man in Black with Mary Shorter," will take place at Mariella's banquet hall in Maywood on Saturday, December 29, from 8 PM to 2 AM.

Moore, recorder since 1999, has taken a few knocks lately. Just Tuesday the Trib cited his office as an example of wasteful, out-of-touch county government. Many Cook County voters are oblivious to the post altogether. Certainly few are anxiously wondering whether Moore will ward off challenger Ed Smith in the February 5 primary. Some might even say it's time Moore drummed up a little good publicity.

A spokesman for Moore says the recorder's campaign didn't have anything to do with the flyer and isn't involved with the fashion show.  "It's not the type of event he would associate himself with," said Askia Abdullah. "I just know that's not something Mr. Moore would support."

The man who answered one of the phone numbers on the flyer had a different story. Moore, he said, had underwritten the costs of getting 5,000 copies of the flyer made in exchange for putting his picture and message on one side of it. "We do this event every month," he said. "If you want to pay for the flyers, we'll put your stuff on it."

He identified himself as Click Click. "I've got another name," he said. "But Click Click is all you're going to get."

Mary Shorter, a fashion designer who's the event's other presenter, had yet another explanation. "Gene Moore is a relative of mine, and I said, 'I'm doing a party,' and I said, 'OK, we'll do a little campaigning for him,'" she said. "Gene Moore has nothing to do with our party. He's a cousin of mine, and we just want to get his name out there."

Moore has told Shorter he can't make the event because he'll be out of town, she said. "But I just want to show everyone that he's up for reelection." 

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A little Nipponese swagger

Posted By on 12.20.07 at 02:59 PM

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I haven't seen Kosuke Fukudome play, but I know his statistics make him look like a prime baseball player. Over nine years with the Chunichi Dragons in the Japan League, he hit .305 with 192 homers. Even better, he posted a .397 lifetime on-base percentage and was above .430 his last three seasons. That's the sign of a good, sound, fundamental ballplayer with a keen batting eye, something the Cubs need (as if any team couldn't use such a talent), which is why they paid $48 million over the next four seasons to bring him to Chicago.

Baseball Prospectus's Nate Silver projects him hitting 15 homers with a .289 batting average and a .400 on-base percentage next season in Wrigley Field, while noting that's held down by the season-ending arm injury he suffered this year, which should be fully healed by spring training. In a video, BP's Will Carroll likewise says Fukudome's skill set should translate to the American game, while commenting on the mysterious lack of video on him in the digital age. So for now all we have to go on is his presentation to the Chicago media at Wrigley Field Wednesday -- which was quite favorable.

Speaking through a translator, Fukudome said all the right things: that he chose the Cubs to play for a "historic team" in a "historic ballpark" before "ecstatic fans." He answered concerns about day baseball by pointing to his career, in which "I actually performed better in day games," adding, "I think I can make my adjustments as I play the game." Asked to project his own statistical goals, he said, "My only target is to help this team win a championship." Altogether, he projected a confident, smiling demeanor, with long, seemingly eloquent and well-thought-out answers. But one image struck me above all the others. When Fukudome donned a Cubs jersey (No. 1) and cap and finally had the jersey buttoned over his dress shirt and tie and the cap fitted just right, he suddenly thrust out his chest with apparent pride, as if the Cubs had finally found the man to epitomize the "Cubbie swagger" Lou Piniella said they needed when he became manager a year ago.

So here's your homework between now and spring training, Cubs fans: Pronounce Kosuke Fukudome. The last name, Fukudome, is easy enough: Foo-koo-DOH-may. But the first is just two syllables: KOH-skay. Right-field bleacher bums: time to trade the salaam in for a proper bow. 

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More holiday books: Chicago edition

Posted By on 12.20.07 at 01:16 PM

In Omnivorous this week I ran down a bunch of good food books released in time for the holidays. Here are four more with a local focus: 

Polish Chicago: Our History, Our Recipes, Joseph W. Zurawski (G. Bradley, $37.50) This is the latest in a historical series on ethnic enclaves in midwestern cities (including our own Greektown and German Milwaukee). Dense with profiles and recipes by restaurateurs and home cooks from several generations of immigrants, the collection reflects many styles of the cuisine, from solid workingman's fare (sauerkraut-rib soup, Kasia's pierogies) to Old Polish Royal (venison tenderloin) to Nouveauski (hare with sour cream-caramel sauce). 

Talk With Your Mouth Full: The Hearty Boys Cookbook, Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $27.50) This party-planning guide was my introduction to the local Food Network catering couple, and I'm surprised to find that many of their recipes are interesting and creative (tomatillo-cheddar corn bread, bacon and blue cheese meat loaf, Guinness ice cream float).

Chicago Cooks: 25 Years of Food History With Menus, Recipes, and Tips From Les Dames d'Escoffier Chicago (Agate, $30) This volume, put out by the local branch of the international association for female food professionals, is valuable not so much for its recipes but for a running history of the Chicago food scene. There's a somewhat inordinate emphasis on contributions of members, but I guess that's the point. Trib food section chief Carol Mighton Haddix edited.

The Berghoff Family Cookbook, Carolyn and Jan Berghoff with Nancy Ross Ryan (Andrews McMeel, $29.95) If you're wistful for the old Berghoff, you might like the historical forward to this book, which is illustrated with old photos, ads, and menus. But most of the recipes are about as reflective of the old place as Rachel Ray in a pair of lederhosen (Szechuan green beans?!).

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December 17
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