2009 | Chicago Reader at Forty | Chicago Reader

2009 

The year in Chicago history via the pages of the Reader

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"Out there you were born with the winning stub in your diaper pocket. Here in his own patch between billboard and trolley, everyone tried, their whole lives long, to be somebody they never were. Somebody they'd read about, someone they'd hear about, someone they never could be. . . . It was a world full of big shots where everyone saw clean through everyone but himself." —Nelson Algren, from Entrapment, an unpublished novel excerpted in the Reader.

My meat minced and my cider boiled, I combined these two ingredients with a mountain of chopped and peeled apples, a foothill each of raisins and currants, two cups of molasses, and a terrifying three-quarters of a pound of suet. —Cliff Doerksen, author of "The Real American Pie," died unexpectedly a year later, and the table at his memorial service groaned with old-fashioned mince pies prepared by friends.

"What's Black and White and Dead All Over?"

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February's Chicago Journalism Town Hall was called to deal with the sadness and panic gripping the business. What good did it do? Well, it inspired Whet Moser, then working for the Reader, to post a long essay online so lucid and perceptive we immediately republished it on the cover of the print edition.

Some of these people writing for free are better at writing than many of the people who are paid to write . . .

Take David Brooks. The New York Times, a while back, thought people might want to pay to read David Brooks, and then they thought otherwise. Here's the thing about him: he's a journalist who writes about economics and politics. This is in fact what most journalists are: they are journalists, by training, who have trained to write about specific areas of expertise. On the other hand, Brad DeLong is an economist who writes. (If Brad DeLong is too liberal for you, there are more conservative economists who write, too.)

It turns out writing is the easier thing to learn. It is the less valuable commodity.

Most journalists are loath to admit this. . . . A lot of the people newspapers pay to write are not just competing against people who write for free, they are competing against people who write better than they do.

Pay and pay and pay to park

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A billion dollars sounds like a lot of money—unless reporters tell you the deal to privatize Chicago's parking meters might have brought $3 billion. The city wound up with jacked rates, furious drivers, and a mayor who decided it was time to leave office. Ben Joravsky and Mick Dumke were all over the story and wrote three long reports.

That afternoon Morgan Stanley was declared the winner with an offer of $1,156,500,000, topping the Macquarie group's $1,019,022,803.

[Former Cook County CFO H. Woods Bowman] says his "back of the envelope" calculations suggest the city might have been able to get as much as $3 billion for the meters, though he admits there are so many variables that projections are basically a "crapshoot."

And he says that just proves his point that the city shouldn't have privatized this asset at all. "What the investors are interested in is the ability to set fees. The city has traditionally had trouble doing it," because it's politically unpopular to raise meter rates. But that's hardly a reason to sell the whole system off. "There's nothing that the lessor is going to do to raise money that the city couldn't do itself without a little moxie," says Bowman.

Looking for Michael Jackson—age nine

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Jake Austen was working on a piece about the Jackson Five's early years in Chicago. His big news was that there'd been a 1967 recording session at One-derful Records almost no one knew about. Just before publication he nailed down even bigger news—a tape of that session survived!

What you're about to read is not only a detailed account of the Jackson Five's Steeltown session but also convincing evidence that by then the group had already been in development with one of Chicago's most important black-owned labels—an episode previously completely lost to history. More compelling still, this label's efforts included an even earlier recording session. My efforts to jog the memories of the people closest to that session have resulted in the discovery of what many of the King of Pop's fans will consider the ultimate artifact: a studio master, by all appearances recorded by the Jackson Five, that predates the sides that for more than 40 years have been considered the group's earliest. In other words, Michael Jackson's first professional recording.

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