Archives for category: News

Yesterday's NewsOver three years have passed since I left Midway Games for a position at the Chicago Tribune. A lot has happened in that period of time.

The newspaper’s parent company, Tribune Company was purchased and taken private. The new management reorganized all of the various IT departments into a central service division, Tribune Technology, beneath the Tribune Company corporate umbrella. This reorganization affected my position with the newspaper.

On December 8th, 2008, less than a year after the going private transaction, Tribune Company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing a precipitous decline in advertising revenue and a credit market frozen by the housing bubble. Tribune has been in bankruptcy proceedings ever since.

As a result of investigations relating to the bankruptcy filing, independent examiners have stated they believe it is at least “somewhat likely” that the entire proceeding — from the levereged buyout to the bankruptcy protection — was fraudulent from the beginning.

In December of 2009, Sam Zell resigned as CEO but remained on as Chairman of the Board. Randy Michaels took over as CEO. This was the second promotion for Michaels within 18 months. A colony of other executives from Clear Channel joined Michaels to operate various aspects of Tribune’s businesses. Of these assorted personnel changes, the hiring of Steve Gable as Chief Technology Officer had the greatest direct effect on my day-to-day job within the company. I reported to four managers between September 2008 and December 2009. This frenetic guidance and direction — filtered through the various levels of management — set the tone for my workday: a race condition like no other I had experienced before.

Volatility became my watchword. Things changed. And things changed very quickly. One of my colleagues described the feeling as being like “working for a 143 year-old startup.” During my tenure, I participated in some incredible projects. I was tapped to be the networking support for our editorial coverage of both the DNC and RNC 2008 political conventions. I was part of a team that built a brand new national wide-area network, and the technical lead to build a brand new datacenter. Both the second and third project involved new technology, new challenges, strict budgets, and tight deadlines. I learned an incredible amount. I had the opportunity to work with some of the brightest, kindest, and most interesting people in my career.

All of this is a rather long prelude to what I’m wanting to say. So I suppose I should stop dissembling and get to the point. (During my time in the newspaper business I have learned how to bury the lede.) At the end of July I tendered my resignation with Tribune and accepted a position with the National Opinion Research Center. Established in 1941, NORC is a not-for-profit social science research organization associated with the University of Chicago. Clients include the the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Centers for Disease Control, CNN, the Department of Defense, the New York Times, the US Department of Labor and the Wall Street Journal.

I was not actively looking for another position. In spite of how it may have sounded, given all the instability with Tribune I summarized earlier, I was not looking to leave. I liked my job there. As I said, I worked with great people. I liked what I was doing. I learned. I grew. The position with NORC was an opportunity in the most literal sense of the term: a favorable juncture of circumstances. They do not come often. I took it.

My particular projects and tasks at NORC are quite similar to those I had at Tribune, but the business is quite different. And it is my sincere hope that in making this shift I have exchanged volatility for stability without sacrificing personal growth and further opportunity. I don’t think I have.

Hello, Adoring Fans! It’s Steph here once again for another evening of live blogging. It’s Oscar night, and a tradition at the Warehouse to watch the pageant of contemporary popular culture and eat round candy. Last year we added a blogging element to the festivities. A few weeks ago I was joined by several friends in live blogging the Golden Globe awards. Our cast of commentators has returned this evening and expanded to include one more. Joining me tonight we have Bingo, Smokes, niqui, Bitsy, and Princess.

The six of us will be adding our thoughts, comments, retractions and unfounded speculations to the spectacle that is the 82nd annual Academy Awards ceremony presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the Kodak Theater. Red carpet coverage begins at 6:00 pm CST. Hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin open the show at 7:30. Join us.

The Barbara Walters Special preceding the Oscars includes interviews with Sandra Bullock and Mo’Nique. Walters has announced that this year’s special will be the last one. She’s done the interview for 29 years.

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(Mark J.Terrill/AP Photo)

Hi All! It’s Steph here for the evening. After the rousing success of the live-blogging of the 2009 Oscar Awards I’m back to share thoughts about the first Golden Globe awards of the new decade. I’m joined this evening by four other contributors. Bingo is a would-be photojournalist with a particular penchant for inappropriate remarks and unfounded skepticism. If you were to imagine a time and place where everything were pure, and the laughter of children would fill the air like the music of angels, Smokes would be the boy clawing at the walls until his fingers bleed — then he would start biting. Only occasionally susceptible to fixation, niqui is a connoisseuse of the finer things in life, like cult TV, Scotch whiskey, and various things to be done with string. Bitsy is queen of all she surveys.

The five of us will be adding our insights into the thrills of victory and the agony of defeat wrought by those hard-hearted journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Red carpet coverage begins at 6:00 pm CST. Ricky Gervais opens the awards at 7:00. Join us.

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Ripped, Greg KotGreg Kot is joining Chuck Klosterman and Nathan Rabin at the DePaul Barnes and Nobel next week to talk about the role of music in their work and lives. I’m planning on attending for a number of reasons. Music is a topic I’m very interested in. Klosterman is an author I’ve come to enjoy a great deal over the past several years. And most coincidentally, Greg Kot is the music columnist for the Chicago Tribune where I work. But that’s not all. Kot’s latest book, Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music, chronicles the massive changes roiling through the music industry in the past fifteen years. Much of the book discusses the ways the Internet has changed music. But before that, Kot spends several chapters discussing the transformative effects of radio consolidation that gripped the industry in the 1990s: for example, the second chapter of Ripped details the practices of Clear Channel under the direction of Randy Michaels. Randy Michaels is now the current Chief Operating Officer of Tribune Company. Several other key Clear Channel executives were recruited to Tribune eighteen months ago when Tribune Company went private. Meet the new boss, indeed.

So we have a fascinating constellation of topics — personal, professional and accidental — that have come together in a book that has landed almost literally on my doorstep. And much of that, while interesting to me, says very little about the quality of research and attention Kot pays to the subject at hand. Still, I found this quote in a review of Ripped by David Thigpen, former Time music writer, particularly poignant:

Kot’s insider access and the chops honed as a music critic give this book a richness that makes it an indispensable survey of the turbulent turn-of-the-century music scene. Ironically, with the digital revolution also putting newspapers on notice, it’s unlikely the “wired” generation of legions of bedroom bloggers and earnest but unprofessional amateurs will soon produce a writer with the broad perspective and access it took to achieve this book.

Pay To Play, Elizabeth Brackett I feel I’ve been on a political roller-coaster this year in Illinois. I’m sure part of that has to do with my work at the political conventions last summer. Another factor you may have read about in the newspaper. And then there’s this story. The story about the Illinois governor arrested on on federal corruption charges last December. January 8th, the Illinois House of Representatives voted to impeach the Governor 114–1. The Illinois Senate subsequently convicted and removed from the Governor from office on January 29, 2009. The Illinois Senate’s vote was unanimous: 59–0. To add insult to injury, the Illinois Senate also unanimously voted to bar the now-former Governor from holding any public office in the state of Illinois. Ever.

All of this raises the question: How did we get here? Veteran Chicago journalist Elizabeth Brackett attempts to explain in her book Pay to Play.

From the back cover:

In Pay to Play, Elizabeth Brackett uncovers new details as she goes behind the story of the first governor to be impeached by the Illinois legislature. All the time tracing the background of corruption in Illinois politics and its implications for state government executive branches across the country, she tells precisely how Blagojevich’s personal biography and his political upbringing paved the way for his reckless fall; what the dilemma of selecting replacement senators means for other states; what secrets the federal trial of the governor is likely to produce; why Roland Burris was selected for the U.S. Senate seat for Illinois; and how a man named Obama could emerge with integrity from the swill of this same political environment.

Steph here. John K. suggested we live blog the Oscars this year and since I’ve never live blogged, I thought it seemed like an interesting thing to do. So, here goes. The Oscars 2009.

All times listed below are Central Standard Time (CST), because that’s our territory.

6:59pm: The sound just went out on our television, so this has potential to be the quietest Oscar eve… oh, there, it’s back. Disaster averted.

7:00pm: Robin Roberts informs us that “the excitement is starting on the red carpet,” so I prepare appropriately by fluffing my pillow. She and Tim Gunn are hosting this embarrassment.

First up, Kate Winslet. Her hair looks pretty cool – nice and sleek. The dress is gray and I’m reminded of elephants, which I like. So, I guess that means I like her dress. She’s thankful she’s not tripping. Sadly, I wish I was.

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The Nine, Jeffery ToobinBlame my increased interest in American politics on my employment by the fourth estate. Or my presence at both political conventions this year. Or the unusually close proximity of my home to the Election Night rally in Grant Park — and all that means for the junior senator from Illinois, now president-elect of the United States. Or maybe it’s just middle age reminding me that I should put down the comic books, turn off the video games and pay closer attention to the wider world around me.

In The Nine, Jeffrey Toobin, a legal writer for the New Yorker, surveys the United States Supreme Court from the Reagan administration on. During this period the justices wrestled with abortion, affirmative action, the death penalty, gay rights and church-state separation. And despite a court dominated by Republican apointees, Toobin’s picture is one not of unmitigated conservatism but surprising moderation. Toobin guides us through the last 15 years of court history by focusing on individual justices. Edward Lazarus of the Washington Post, while generally critical of Toobin’s conclusions, describes these portraits as “unspoiled by hagiography.”

Whirl recommended I read this book after she had finished it a few months ago. Toobin bases much of his book on exclusive interviews with the justices themselves and former law clerks. And by doing so attempts a contemporary profile of those justices, the institution of the court and the changes it has undergone over the last several decades. Lazarus writes,

[W]e have come to vest these unelected, life-tenured judges with final authority to interpret the Constitution as well as all federal law. Yet the justices go to considerable lengths to shroud their deliberations in secrecy, and some of them, notably the current chief justice, engage in a disinformation campaign, announcing that they are disinterested referees, like umpires in baseball, engaged in the pedestrian enterprise of calling legal balls and strikes according to a clear set of rules.

Toobin deserves credit for adding his influential voice to the chorus seeking to debunk this myth. As he observes, the justices are chosen through a political process for political reasons, and the decisions they reach are inevitably influenced by their ideological commitments, personal experiences and personalities.

News WarThis morning Whirl and I concluded watching the PBS public affairs program, Frontline, turn a critical eye on its own world: modern American journalism. “News War” is a four-part in-depth series about a myriad of issues facing journalism today. Employed as I am by a large media company saddled with debt and riding into an uncertain economic horizon, the topics of this series were near and dear to my heart.

In the first two hours of the series, “Secrets, Sources & Spin,” Frontline talked to the major players in the debates over the role of media in U.S. society. They examined the relationship between the Bush administration and the press, the use of anonymous sources. The centerpiece of this discussion was the use of anonymous sources and their consequences in the Valerie Plame leak investigation. In the second hour, the series followed this discussion into another area of journalism to highlight unnerving similarities and concerns: sports journalism. We saw interviews of the journalists facing jail for refusing to reveal their sources in relation to the BALCO investigation. San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. Their investigative reporting of BALCO made national headlines exposing steroid abuse in professional baseball.

President Bush praised their stories and commended the reporters for their public service. But in May 2006, his own Justice Department authorized the issuance of subpoenas that would compel the reporters to appear in court and to identify the source of the leak. The reporters fought the subpoenas. But this week, the leaker came forward and publicly identified himself, thus releasing the reporters from their promise of confidentiality.

Control of the message is a critical issue. And that issue can often be at odds with the public service mission of the free press. Frontline’s discussion of the development of the legal concept of privileged communication between reporter and source fascinated me. The erosion of that concept terrified me.

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Lead Photo SelectionsA couple personal factors have raised my awareness this election cycle. The Illinois junior senator, Barack Obama, has been a figure in the race from the earlies days of a long campaign. I changed jobs — while within the framework of media, I moved from video games to traditional media. Newspaper, radio, television. My colleagues are the reporters, correspondents, editors, and photographers that make of Tribune Company. I don’t write this to seem boastful. Quite the contrary, it has been my association with these people that has enriched my own personal understanding of news and politics in ways that I had not previously experienced. One of my major projects this year was to provide the essential networking support for our editorial staff during the two major political conventions.

I read the daily paper. I work for the daily paper. My colleagues I work with are kind, insightful, curious, garrulous, demanding and intelligent. And despite the particular problems — from the general state of the economy to the specific challenges of print and advertisings to the very specific challenges of reinvigorating Tribune under new management and new ideas — I feel blessed to have the opportunity to work alongside these people.

Tonight, Election Night, I am working the late shift, from the mid-afternoon to the run of press and perhaps later. I slept in before voting this morning. And I tried to anticipate what might happen tonight — to the country, to the state of Illinois, the city of Chicago and to me. Election Night is about as big as it gets for news. This is the big night. This is politics on the grand scale and the small scale both. This is a two-year campaign, to research and polls and conversations both on and off the record. That this particular election has come down to a son of Chicago and is culminating in rally of hundreds of thousands in my back yard.

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John McCain Sound Check 3Tonight is the big finale for the GOP. The events tonight surround the official nomination and acceptance of the presidential and vice presidential candidates, John McCain and Sarah Palin. It’s a packed house. I can’t help but feel tonight is somewhat anticlimactic after yesterday. The tone of this past week seems to have been set on Friday with the announcement of Sarah Palin– briefly derailed by Hurricane Gustav– and then right back onto Palin. Who is she? What’s up with her daughter? Is she going to come out swinging when she speaks?

Some of those questions were answered last night and the response around the bureau today seems to be mostly of the opinion that she did well. Our journalists put together these headline stories: Chicago Tribune, “Palin fires up faithful, comes out swinging”. Los Angeles Times, “Defiant Palin comes out swinging”.

John McCain came out onto the stage early this afternoon to go through a lighting and sound check. I got the heads up from a colleague and quickly grabbed my camera to see what kind of picture I could get– if any. As I walked into the hall, my heart sunk a little bit, looking at the sea of cameramen and photographers clustered around the new stage catwalk constructed especially for McCain’s speech tonight. So I climbed up onto the center camera platform.

Nuccio DiNuzzo 2Nuccio DiNuzzo was up there in our position working out how he was going to shoot the speech tonight. He had all of his cameras and lenses with him: three bodies and about 7 different lenses. I meandered up with my Canon 40D and 24-70mm lens. Way too short to shoot anything directly. Just wide shots of context. DiNuzzo asked if I wanted to use his 400mm. I blinked and then jumped at the chance. DiNuzzo shoots Canon gear and the lenses are interchangeable among all the bodies in the EOS line. So I pulled off my lens and snapped the body onto this huge lens. The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS weighs almost twelve pounds and is monstrous. For about 10 minutes, McCain came out and took in the shape of the hall.

McCain and Lieberman 2Joe Lieberman joined him at one point and McCain took some notes from a number of handlers. I snapped away for most of it. Toward the end of the sound check, DiNuzzo asked for his lens back and I went back to my shorter portrait lens. I got a couple pictures of the photographers around the new stage and one of DiNuzzo hard at work at his craft.

I thought it was very cool to get to play with that lens. For a moment I got to be a real photojournalist. If only in my mind.

So this is it! This is the last day of the two conventions. I have one more day of work tomorrow– tear down and packing up. That should go pretty quickly and easily. It will be the last major responsibility I have for this project.

I’m looking forward to going home. It has been a long, strange, fascinating trip.