The much touted death of print journalism is well underway. Large wealthy papers have reduced staff, reduced coverage, and tried other ways to monetize their content, all in the hopes of saving their business model and preserving their status as the protectors of the public trust. Nationally, The New York Times announced that they will start charging for their online content within a year. Locally, Tribune Media, owner of the Chicago Tribune, barely avoided folding altogether and has tried expanding into the Internet’s niche markets with ChicagoNow with limited success. But other outlets and journalists have stepped up to cut through the anemic local political coverage that is so often relegated to mere boring paragraphs deep in the Tribune or Sun-Times next to a Macy’s advertisement. These outlets promise to take the local food model to journalism and it might just work. In Chicago there are now at least three excellent sources for this kind of information born in part from the dross of other print publications, the Chicago Reader, Chicago Current, and Chicago News Co-op.
Ben Joravsky and Mick Dumke of the Chicago Reader have consistently been reporting on the Tax Increment Finance (TIF) districts and their shadowy use as a slush fund for Mayor Daley. In some small part because of this work alderman are starting to speak up and passed the TIF Sunshine Ordinance, an experiment in governmental transparency that has yet to be fully embraced.
A brief tour of the Reader tells me a myriad of things that I hadn’t known about and that other outlets simply wouldn’t have provided. For instance, since the city sold all of our parking meters to a consortium of companies including “Morgan Stanley, which controls the meters for the next 74 years, is happily raking in more than a million bucks a week, and the financial and law firms the city hired to work on the deal made more than $7 million to make it happen.”
And then there is this from the Chicago Current, an online and print journal of Chicago politics and government, largely made up of former newspaper beat journalists. Current and incumbent Cook County Board President Todd Stroger has been telling people that the county needed a sales tax hike in order to save the county-run hospitals from closing or reducing service, and he got the tax hike, bringing sales tax to 10.25% for most purchases and earning Chicago the dubious distinction of having the highest sales tax rate of all major U.S. cities. But the county hospitals have finished the year with a $42 million dollar profit!
But while the political enthusiasm following Barack Obama’s election is rapidly waning on a national level, as “death panel” and “socialist” bogeymen haunt segments of the country, here in Chicago the enthusiasm won’t be wasted if it can be turned towards local awareness and engagement with city, county and state politics. As our political corruption and stupidity reaches legendary proportions (Blagojevich) hopefully our awareness and participation increases as well. With the local Democratic primary only days away there are more resources to make informed decisions now more than ever before.