Steve Rhodes Leaves NBCChicago.com | Bleader

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Steve Rhodes Leaves NBCChicago.com

Posted By on 12.22.09 at 08:45 AM

Steve Rhodes has resigned from NBCChicago.com, where he, also the editor and publisher of the struggling Beachwood Reporter, has posted three stories a day for the past year or so. "It wasn't necessarily a lot of money, but this was what really paid my rent every month," Rhodes tells me, "and it was good for me to have something i could do for a couple of hours a day. I'm leading a rather meager existence, so this was good thing for me."

In a long post on his Beachwood site, Rhodes explains why he left. It came down to a lack of trust and a lack of respect; Rhodes focuses on one post, about Randy Michaels succeeding Sam Zell as CEO of the Tribune Company, that he says NBC took down, and another post, about the suicide of Michael Scott, that it never put up. He writes that he couldn't get a straight answer about what the problem with the Michaels post was, but an NBC exec said the Michaels post "didn't meet the standards of the NBC brand." The post recalled an old lawsuit that alleged Michaels "roamed his old Clear Channel offices with a 'flexible rubber penis' tied around his neck" and accused him of "a host of other crude rituals."

Didn't meet standards? Rhodes doesn't buy that. He writes, "The Michaels post was partly about sexual harassment, not sex. It wasn't arted with yet another montage of cleavage that has become so familiar on the [NBC] site over the past few months."

As for the Scott post, Rhodes writes that he told it was "scotched because [Scott] was a friend of a high-ranking station official here in Chicago who had been 'ruffled' by the coverage of Scott's death."

Rhodes being Rhodes, he writes with a lot of heat and a fair amount of invective. He asserts at one point, "I didn't use names in this piece because I don't really intend this as a 'tell-all;' instead, to me, it's another in an incredibly long line of tales about journalism and its discontents. It's a sick, diseased industry that can't seem to get past the basics of what it is and what it's supposed to do."

Beefing to me about NBCChicago.com, he's found a sympathetic audience. I slammed the site in September for posting on its homepage a slapdash, inaccurate rewrite of a story that had appeared exclusively in the SouthtownStar.

"It's a very sloppy site," Rhodes continues. "There's been this pattern that put me on edge—too many errors and screw-ups." He says he got along well with Lora LeSage, NBC Chicago's director of integrated media, but says after the site was redesigned in July and, he believes, went south, he sent her a note. "I said, 'This site's for 12-year-olds, right?' I felt like I was writing for RedEye. It just became an avalanche of horrors and I've struggled with it ever since. It's a shame—things were smooth for a long time."

Meanwhile, at the Beachwood Reporter, Rhodes just deposited a $35,000 check from the Chicago Community Trust, so things could be worse. "The writers have stuck with us," he says. "It's not hard to find writers—there are too many for me to manage. But I haven't been able to keep a tech person on board, and I'm not a tech guy so we need somebody. To do the things we want to do requires a tech person." What things? Rhodes says he has a couple of sites in mind that he thinks would pay for the commentary at Beachwood—the same way, he says, newspapers' travel and food section ads pay for the metro coverage. "The one I really want to do would require four full-time people to get it started," Rhodes says.

What do you need?

"Five-hundred thousand dollars, ideally," he says.

Is it out there?

"I think it is, but it's really difficult for me to get," says Rhodes.

I've been trying to reach NBC but the only response I've received came from Toni Falvo, vice president for research, programming, and the press. "This was an internal editorial decision made by the local team in Chicago," she replied, leaving me wondering what decision she was talking about.

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