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by Christopher Brinckerhoff

This image of a keyboard was done by Alessandro Reginato in Pove del Grappa, Italia, and posted on Flickr. He calls it "writing in the darkness." http://tinyurl.com/44x57p9

The greatest words are those that we connect with; they are our favorites.

Picking out favorite words can be as careful and thoughtful a process for writers and other language aficionados as describing favorite songs can be for musicians and disc jockeys. Like favorite music, when it comes to selecting favorite words, it’s not only about what you like, it’s about why you like it.

For fun I made a list over the course of about a week with a dozen or so words on it. Legion, quibble and spatchcock were among the first to be added. I picked words that I felt were fun to say and spell and, oftentimes, uncommon.

It occurred to me others might have made similar lists, so I searched and found a site listing more than 900 of people’s favorite words, as of May 27, with short explanations. Jackpot!

Entries for ethereal, shenanigan, circumlocution, persnickety and extravaganza are a small sample of the vocabular bliss that can be enjoyed at My Favorite Word. Looking through the entries is a lot of fun and a fantastic waste of time.

There are many reasons why people like specific words. The sound of the word, the way a word is spelled, its definition, and a person’s experience with the word or what it represents are all takes on what is important to us about words.

Alexi Maxwell wrote on My Favorite Word that she loved the sound of amoeba [uhmee-buh].

“Aside from sounding wonderful, I like the word because saying amoeba at random is a good way to throw my friends,” Maxwell wrote. “I’ll be talking about the latest bestsellers, and I’ll pause to gather my thoughts. And then, out of nowhere. I very carefully pronounce ‘Amoeba,’ just for the joy of saying the words.”

In another entry, Melanie wrote she fell in love with the word plethora while working at her college newspaper.

“Plethora seemed to be such an elegant, intellectual word,” Melanie wrote. “Instead of saying many, a lot, or several, there is the beautiful plethora.  How could you not love it?”

Other entries also lauded lesser-used words.

In her submission to My Favorite Word, Neren wrote she loved the word adore for several reasons. Adore looks good when it’s written, is sweet sounding and has a meaning greater than love.

“And [adore] is also much less overused than the word ‘love,’” Neren wrote. “Hearing someone say ‘I adore you’ is actually nicer, for me, than hearing someone say ‘I love you’… Keeping in mind that nothing can really replace those three words.”

I plan to continue collecting favorite words. Perhaps my favorite word is the one that I haven’t thought of in a while, and will occur to me next. Or it could be the next word I learn about for the first time.

At the same time, I concur with my colleague Tim Bearden’s response to the favorite word question I posted on Facebook. He is a writer too.

“Well mine is two words,” Bearden wrote. “It’s ‘steady employment.’ Those are a couple of the best words in the English language.”

Copyright 2011

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by Christopher Brinckerhoff

chicagojournalismtownhall

On Sunday, February 22, I rode a rumbling Metra train into a soggy, gray, goose-pimpled Chicago, en route to the Chicago Journalism Town Hall. Along the way I skimmed John Callaway’s book, “The Thing of It Is,” lent to me by my mom.

One of my favorite parts of the book includes Callaway’s first days in Chicago trying to find something to eat, somewhere to sleep and a job to do. One of the things he did after his regular nine-to-five job was act in and write plays. He was passionate about his acting and play writing, but his peers did not share appreciation for his work.

Young Callaway often shared anecdotes with his friends about what it was like to work for a newspaper, something he had marvelous stories about because both his parents produced a newspaper in his small hometown, New Martinsville, West Virginia.

One day one of the actors in Callaway’s play-producing crowd told him his acting and scripts were lacking. His peer said since he talked about writing for newspapers so much, that’s what he should do. And that’s exactly what Callaway did, working his way all the way from a cub reporter at the Chicago News Bureau to a lead anchor on the WTTW Chicago Tonight nightly broadcast.

Callaway has always been able to move my blood, even before journalism became my passion. He’s an excitable nerd with an everyman shtick. When you watch him work you get the sense he fuses the important hard questions with the intriguing soft ones.

The Chicago Journalism Town Hall was a panel discussion on the future of news in Chicago hosted by the Chicago Community Trust at the Allegro Hotel, formerly the Bismarck Hotel. There I met Mr. Callaway, one of the event’s panelists, for the first and only time when he arrived with a snot-covered upper lip. He had an alert, rushed look on his face, and I said, “Good morning, Mr. Callaway.”

He said, “Hello” with emphasis, and was then briskly ushered away.

What followed was one of those experiences in life you remember forever.

Callaway, Eric Zorn, Michael Miner and Carol Marin, among others, presented some of their ideas about what new media is, and means, for established journalists like them and new journalists like me.

Ken Davis, former program director at WBEZ-FM, moderated the discussion. At the outset the group discussed how success could be had in new media. Is it a question of altering current business models? Is it a question of reinventing a business model from scratch?

There is a problem with theft in online news, according to Callaway. Contrary opinions were that it is more a case of extending the reaches of information for the benefit of the public, writers and information distributors.

Mr. Callaway proposed, for the purposes of our discussion, let us presume newspapers no longer exist. Then, what happens, and how soon?

“Newspapers essentially don’t exist,” Callaway said. “What do you want to see? Who does it? Who pays for it? And what’s the transitional timeline to get from here to there? One of the people missing from the panel, I’m assuming, want to hear an advertiser. They’re never discussed about in the context of journalism. What’s the purpose of a publication Mr. Zell? It’s to sell advertising and make money. Zell isn’t here either. Conrad Black, thank God, isn’t with us. But the point is there are some elephants that aren’t in the room. Advertisers… hell, they can’t get their message across online. What are they going to do? These are people that have real goods and services that they’re going to sell. The hell with journalism, we just want to peddle something.”

The following video I took at the Chicago Journalism Town Hall.

Below is a complete audio recording.

Four months later, almost to the day, John Callaway passed away. At the Chicago Journalism Town Hall he said when newspapers cease to exist, except for an expensive commemorative edition, our experience of news will never be the same. Now that he’s gone, I think the same could be said of him. I miss John Callaway. I hope we remember his excitable nerd spirit and everyman shtick.

Copyright 2009

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by Ian Lopez

The Coalition on Contingent Academic Labor demonstrate their dissatisfaction in Chicago in 2004. As higher learning institutions increase employment of adjunct faculty opposition to current contracting practices is building. Image courtesy of AAUP.

The Coalition on Contingent Academic Labor demonstrate their dissatisfaction in Chicago in 2004. As higher learning institutions increase employment of adjunct faculty, opposition to current contracting practices is building. Image courtesy of AAUP.

Educators of the Me Generation are getting shortchanged. Some say the students are too.

A lack of benefits, security, health insurance and a paycheck one-third the size of your full-time peers aren’t the most enticing benefits when scanning the job market.

It is, however, the reality faced by many of the hundreds of thousands of adjunct college professors across the nation.

“Without a contract, the college can literally do to adjuncts and full-time faculty as it wishes,” said Harper College Adjunct Faculty Association President Ilona Sala (HCAFA). “There is totally the feeling that adjuncts are treated as menial laborers who can be bumped at a moment’s notice.”

The HCAFA formed in 2005 in an effort to protect the job security of adjuncts who have taught at least a three-credit course for four consecutive semesters, and holds 460 professors under its umbrella. With this union in place the college can no longer just get rid of adjuncts for no reason, according to adjunct mathematics professor and HCAFA Treasurer Janice Cutler.

“Most of us are just as qualified as any of the full-time faculty,” Cutler said.  “I know a whole lot more [adjunct professors] with more letters behind their name than most [full-timers].”

Across the nation there are currently 800,000 adjuncts, two-thirds of all professors in the United States.  Over the years the numbers have been moving up too, with as much as 46 percent of all faculty being adjunct in 2003 and 22 percent in 1970.

“It’s definitely a trend,” said John Curtis, research director for the American Association of University Professors.  “It’s been going on for three decades, and current economic situations will make things worse.”

Curtis shined light on points made by HCAFA members as well, saying that choosing faculty members standings between full and part time doesn’t come down to qualifications, but is just a matter of fortune.

Adjuncts don’t go through the usual process associated with loosing a teaching position – a board meeting, review process, etc. – and don’t technically get fired. Instead, Curtis said, most just don’t get hired back as one semester progresses to the next, and this can be done without a reason being offered.

While most full-time faculty receive salary with health benefits, most adjuncts are paid on a course-by-course basis, according to Curtis.

The difficulties resulting from institutions relying on part-timers poses threats beyond the realm of the worker, crossing over into the learning experiences of students enrolled in courses taught by part-timers.

Adjunct teachers may not be able to raise issues or challenge students because a college or university can get rid of a part-time professor, according to Curtis. This job insecurity increases particularly in cases where too many students pass or fail.

“It’s a lesson learned quickly – [adjuncts] can’t challenge or be too demanding,” Curtis said.

Contacting instructors outside of class is another hurdle created by heavily relying on adjunct faculty, according to Curtis. The part-time professors often do not have on-campus offices or school email addresses.

“We often receive reports of part-time faculty having to meet with students in the parking lot,” Curtis said.

New York University graduate student employees protest disproportionate compensation in April 2006. The American Association of University Professors also participated in the event. Image courtesy of AAUP.

New York University graduate student employees protest disproportionate compensation in April 2006. The American Association of University Professors also participated in the event. Image courtesy of AAUP.

Curtis added that academic freedom in the classroom is an issue that is constantly faced, and students may have difficulty getting letters of recommendation when applying to graduate schools because of how easily institutions can let part-timers go.

Furthermore, because of the typically low pay, adjunct professors usually have other sources of income – teaching at other institutions, for example– and may not be able to devote as much focus as a full-time professor would.

“Contact with faculty outside of the classroom is widely correlated to student success by a variety of measures,” said Treseanne Ainsworth, an undergraduate advisor for Boston College’s English Department.  “It also makes faculty seem peripheral to the university from a departmental standpoint.

Ainsworth, who recently went from an adjunct to full-time position with no tenure, said   though most adjunct faculty do exceptional work under difficult circumstances, less travel time between campuses means more time spent on research, course preparation and with students.

In June Ainsworth proposed a model for adjuncts that would give them pay for services they provided to students outside the classroom including being a mentor, advising and developing courses. Though tenure may not be an option, the contracts are shooting for five to ten year agreements as opposed to the one to three year contracts already in place at some institutions.

“This plan will stick as long as contracts are honored, and faculty continue to do quality work,” Ainsworth said. “I am optimistic about both.”

Copyright 2009

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by Christopher Brinckerhoff

The 2009 "Making Media Connections" conference brought together media heavy weights and nonprofit bleeding hearts. The event reflected the change in times, not the least of which is the Trib's online avatar, Colonel Tribune. Photos by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

The 2009 "Making Media Connections" conference brought together media heavyweights and nonprofit bleeding hearts. The event reflected the change in times, not the least of which is the Trib's online avatar, Colonel Tribune. Photos by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Chicago – Teams of communications professionals gathered for the final installment of this year’s Making Media Connections conference at Columbia College June 11. Keynote speakers included Columbia College President Warrick Carter, New York Times Chicago Bureau Chief Monica Davey, and the Chicago Tribune avatar Colonel Tribune created and presented by Bill Adee.

Davey said the biggest story of the year is the recession, and nonprofit organizations are in a unique position to be able to provide the real people stories impacting neighborhoods on the ground.

Adee spoke about the new online Chicago Tribune brands he spearheaded including Chicago’s Best Blogs, Chicago Breaking News and Chicago Now. Chicago Now retains 50 to 60 blogs currently, and Adee expected that number to grow.

He said his current project involves a news applications group. Adee did not elaborate on this item.

While the previous day of workshops seemed more hands-on, this day of events seemed to include more panel discussion type of classes. Two of these sessions were “News Columnists” and “Broadcasting Online.”

The “News Columnists” breakout session, moderated by Laurie Glenn of Think Inc., focused on what people need to understand in order to successfully pitch stories to some of the most well-known columnists in the region.

Phil Kadner, Southtown Star, said he was always surprised by how much people can change the world for the better simply by communication. He said the human-interest angle is the most attractive one for stories appropriate for his column. To illustrate the point Kadner said a story about a large veterans’ event was completely different than one about a real veteran. The life story was more compelling to read, and therefore write.

Burt Constable, Daily Herald, said one of the most important factors to consider is the entertainment and interest factor. While there are many important stories out there to be told, many of them go uncovered by columnists simply because their big picture pitches are too boring.

Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune, emphasized the importance of timing and the necessity of accurate facts. Sometimes a planned column falls through at the last minute and a call from a public relations person, who at another time would have seemed less likely to yield attention, at that moment, becomes the foremost story to pursue under her looming deadline.

Schmich also said fact accuracy was essential. In one instance she actually decided to discontinue her reliance on a source because name misspellings were given on two consecutive occasions. Yes, Schmich said it’s up to her to do the best she can to check facts, but when sources provided misinformation more than once, that’s a deal breaker.

Ben Goldberger, Huffington Post Chicago, said it is okay to contact writers again when you haven’t heard back from them to let them know you are going to pitch your story to other writers. At the same time, he said tone is key. Do not take a threatening approach such as emphatically telling reporters, “If you don’t jump on this right now I’m going to another publication.” Goldberger said this kind of approach, which he was surprised by how often he received it, would inevitably meet with his answer, “Go ahead.”

Rather, the Huffington editor said to politely inform writers that since you haven’t heard back from them, and if you don’t hear back from them by such and such time, you need to move onto other journalists who might be interested in your story.

Another one of the breakout sessions, “Broadcasting Online” moderated by Center for Neighborhood Technology Director of Development and Communications Nicole Gotthelf, looked at the hows and whys to broadcast messages on the web.

The panelists were Kristine Ostil of Asian American News Network, David Marques of Southwest Youth Collaborative, Carlos Mendez of Radio Arte, and Michael Hoffman of See 3 Communications.

Ostil said her advice to nonprofit communicators is to keep your information up to date. Let your users know when you update your website, and they will trust you more. She also said it’s important to create a visual manifestation of your organization’s mission. Fonts and grammar need to translate into images, videos and graphics.

Marques said hiring young people to expand techno-outreach was not only good for the community, it was also good business. He cited a successful podcast created by a teenager from the southwest side of Chicago about how many police officers are good people. In an area where crime and corruption typically dominate the reputation, a strong young voice was able to counterbalance those views with a positive and true representation of benevolent public servants.

All in all, the conference was a huge success. Like years past, nonprofit communicators connected with influential journalists and media outlets. Also, like at previous conferences, these charity champions established and developed relationships with each other.

What was different in 2009 was the ludicrous level of speed of the evolving media ecosystem. What does this mean in regular words? Technology is changing fast, and it was healthy for professionals with causes to reaffirm their commitments to the public dialogue called the news, and, perhaps more importantly, to each other.

Copyright 2009

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Police and Olympics protest photos

by Albert Corvera

No Games Protest:

Chicago police walk alongside No Games Chicago protesters at the recent rally against the citys bid for the 2016 Summer Olympic games. Photo by Albert Corvera.

Chicago police walk alongside 'No Games Chicago' protesters at the recent rally against the city's bid for the 2016 Summer Olympic games. Photo by Albert Corvera.

No Games Chicago held a rally protesting the Chicago Olympic bid for the 2016 summer games. Photo by Albert Corvera.

No Games Chicago hold a rally protesting the Chicago Olympic bid for the 2016 summer games. Photo by Albert Corvera.

Chicago police protest: 

The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police hold a rally outside Daley Plaza protesting against Mayor Daley and Police chief Jody Weis for not renewing their contract since 2007. Photo by Albert Corvera.

The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police hold a rally outside Daley Plaza protesting against Mayor Daley and Police chief Jody Weis for not renewing their contract since 2007. Photo by Albert Corvera.

Protesters and some off-duty police officers march outside City Hall to show their support. The Chicago police have been working without a contract since 2007. Photo by Albert Corvera.

Protesters and some off-duty police officers march outside City Hall to show their support. The Chicago police have been working without a contract since 2007. Photo by Albert Corvera.

Members of Chicagos police force display their feelings against Chicagos Olympic bid. Photo by Albert Corvera.

Members of Chicago's police force Jose (left) and Antonio (right) display their feelings about Chicago's Olympic bid at the CPD picket earlier this month. Photo by Albert Corvera.

Copyright 2009

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Groups protest 2016 Olympics

by Christopher Brinckerhoff

Chicago – A puzzle of social activism groups assembled next to the federal building yesterday to stage a protest to the hosting of the Olympics here in 2016. The event coincided the arrival of the International Olympics Committee’s arrival this week to review the city’s candidacy.

There were plenty of signs and posters to go around the crowd of several hundred. There were also plenty of police officers clustered in small groups at the perimeter of the gathering. One protest participant, Duncan Moore of Lakeview, said he felt the large police presence was meant to intimidate the expression of free speech.

“There must be a hundred and fifty cops around the crowd,” Moore said. “This is one of the intimidation techniques used by the authoritarian state to make sure that people do not feel comfortable exercising their civil right to protest to the people of the state.”

Seemingly on cue an officer came closer to Moore as he said this. The police staged their own protest earlier in the day around the base of city hall. At that protest there were noticeably more participants, and a fraction of the number of uniformed officers as there were at the protest coordinated by No Games Chicago.

Social activism groups handed the megaphone onstage to each other like a modern electric talking stick. Speakers said the Olympics would aggravate a host of social concerns including housing, education, employment and the environment, to name a few.

At the police protest representatives from the Chicago Teachers Union attended to show support. At the No Games protest CORE was in attendance. CORE member Nate Goldbaum said CORE was created to address issues they felt the CTU was not addressing.

Marisa Holmes, who is on the communications committee for No Games Chicago, said her organization is having a noticeable impact on the bid because recent polls indicate Chicago’s chances to host the games have decreased.

Copyright 2009

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by Christopher Brinckerhoff

Chicago – Community theaters attract small audiences, but their productions are no small feat. Besides the myriad of roles needed to produce and operate shows, careful content choices fill out the quality. One director selects lesser-known pieces, including “Lost in Yonkers” by Neil Simon, to run at Cutting Hall in Palatine.

Theatre Nebula founder and Yonkers director J. Spencer Greene is also the Palatine Park District’s theater coordinator. Nebula’s Yonkers ran at Cutting Hall in Palatine from October 3 to October 19.

Cutting Hall, where Greene runs operations, is one of the final remnants of Palatine High School’s building that was vacated in the late seventies. The space is a fitting home for “Lost in Yonkers,” in part, because it’s about remembering family history.

“This being a memory play,” Greene said, “we see the story through the memory of the two children. A lot of the things are somewhat exaggerated because it’s the way they remember them.”

shots of community theater in action. hear it - smell it. photos by christopher brinckerhoff.
shots of community theater in action. hear it – smell it. photos by christopher brinckerhoff.

Greene said he chose this play because the audience can relate with the characters without the characters acknowledging they are being humorous. The characters seem to be more unintentionally funny.

Some of Neil Simon’s plays had characters that went right for the laugh, according to Greene. An example of this was “The Odd Couple.” But there were others with more serious characters. Green said that is why he chose “Lost in Yonkers.”

“I love Neil Simon; don’t get me wrong,” Greene said. “But it seems to me in a lot of his plays, the earlier plays, the characters know they are being funny. You just sort of get a sense that a lot of it is played for the laugh. Whereas his more serious plays [like] “The Gingerbread Lady” [and] “Lost in Yonkers,” the humor comes out of the realistic situation of the characters. It’s real. You laugh because you’ve experienced something like that, or because these characters are people that you identify with.”

Yonkers performer and Arlington Heights resident, Tom Akouris works at a commercial collection agency by day. Akouris played the widowed father of two boys in Yonkers, Eddie Kurnitz. The Park Ridge native said his character faces challenges similar to today.

“Well, here is a guy who is very much in tandem with what’s going on now,” Akouris said. “He’s a single parent, to use a current term. He is finding himself financially strapped, and he has got to rely on the last people in the world he would want to. And that is his dysfunctional, immediate family. He has to leave his two children in the care of his mother and his mentally challenged sister.”

Yonkers was appropriate for Palatine right now because families confronted with tough decisions to separate due to financial concerns can see themselves in the characters, according to Akouris.

“These two boys found themselves in a completely different place with a completely different authority figure to deal with,” Akouris said. “The father is very lenient. It appears as though he wants to be a friend of the boys. The grandmother is not interested. She said ‘I had six kids; I don’t want two more.’ She’s very cold. And so they’re finding themselves lost.”

The characters in plays such as Yonkers captivate audiences because there is a connection, according to Green.

“The humor in it sets you up for the drama,” Greene said. “You’re laughing and then it’s just like all of a sudden – boom. It changes. And it hits you, and you’re sucked in.”

In that moment there is an emotional release, Greene said.

“And because you’re sucked into the character and the humor gets you to like these people, or, if you don’t like a certain person, you’re still drawn to them because they’re an incredibly interesting person,” Greene said. “And you’re trying to figure out why they are the way they are. And then, all of a sudden you realize you’re totally sucked into what’s happening. And the drama hits you emotionally because you care about them.”

Greene said it is important to produce plays like Yonkers in Palatine  “because [students] have not been exposed to them much, if at all in the past. They rarely do that sort of stuff in high schools.”

Palatine resident and Yonkers attendee Sheila Griffin also said Yonkers was timely for Palatine.

“With the war that’s going on, with the depression that’s possibly hitting everyone, it really hits home ’cause everyone’s got a tight pocket right now,” Griffin said. “Everyone’s wondering where they’re going to get their next buck.”

Community theater has a hard time attracting audiences, and is struggling in the evolving entertainment and media markets, according to Akouris.

“I think that community theater is in a lot of trouble, Akouris said. “And I think it’s because people do not warm up to live theater because of all the other available media or medium out there. I think there’s a lot of competition.”

Copyright 2008

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