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by Christopher Brinckerhoff

"Sidewalks II: Reflections on Chicago" author and photographer Rick Kogan and Charles Osgood pause for a smile. Kogan will speak in Kankakee Library about the work. Later this month the library will host a discussion about another one of his books, "America's Mom: The Life, Lessons, and Legacy of Ann Landers." Photo by Chris Walker.

The Kankakee Public Library will have an unusual patron in-house this evening. And some might only be able to recognize him by his distinct voice, which floats on an octave so low it generates gentle rumbles on eardrums.

Chicago Tribune senior staff writer and WGN radio host Rick Kogan will be on-hand Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. to talk about his latest collaborative effort with former Chicago Tribune photographer Charles Osgood, “Sidewalks II: Reflections on Chicago.” This is the second collection of their well-known Sunday paper columns about intriguing people and places around the Windy City, and Kogan agreed to the engagement, in part, because he loves libraries.

Copies of the book, which will be officially released Nov. 13, will be available to purchase for the first time at the event. They will be offered at a discounted price, $30 instead of $40, and Kogan will be signing books after speaking about the work.

The Sidewalks column stories are primarily about the little things, everyday characters and peculiar locations that form the cultural textures of Chicago.

“The thing about Sidewalks is the stories are not stories that deserve front-page news,” Kogan said. “I just think that they’re stories that deserve to be told because they do address the sort of fabric of this area.”

The event is the third of six in the Kankakee Public Library’s current author and artist series. The library’s assistant director Allison Beasley said people will turn out for the event because they know Kogan and Osgood’s work, but they will be pleasantly surprised to learn how interesting and relevant the Sidewalks books are to any city in America.

“It’s certainly about Chicago and Chicago’s people, but I think it’s about human nature,” Beasley said. “It’s about the interesting kind of quirky side to people.”

Osgood, former Chicago Tribune photographer, will not attend. He said one of his favorite stories in “Sidewalks II” was “Honor Flight,” which was about an event where World War II veterans were flown from Midway Airport to Washington, DC for the day to tour monuments and other significant spots as a way to show gratitude for their service. A crowd gave them a warm reception upon their return.

“It was one of the more interesting situations I’ve been in because I had never heard of this thing before, but a lot of people have,” Osgood said. “So you have people of all ages from all walks of life that are standing cheering the Marines or the former servicemen as they get off the plane.”

“Sidewalks II” is the first offering by Sidewalks Book Company, which Kogan and Osgood formed this year. Kogan said if “Sidewalks II” is successful, their next release might be a collection of images from newspaper photographers, which he called “the most anonymous artists in contemporary America.”

The vibrant front cover of "Sidewalks II: Reflections of Chicago" by Rick Kogan and Charles Osgood is the first offering by the publishing company they began this year for the purpose, Sidewalks Book Company. Graphic courtesy of Sidewalks Book Company.

An exhibition including more than 60 large reproductions of Osgood’s Sidewalks photographs and Kogan’s stories opens Nov. 19 at the Chicago Tourism Center Gallery downtown.

The next featured author or artist at the Kankakee Public Library will be Chicago filmmaker Andrew Surprenant in January, known for his work producing the documentary “The Atom Smashers,” which aired on PBS in 2008.

Copyright 2009

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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 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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