As a student at St. Ignatius College Prep in the 1970s, every day Dan Haley saw the decline in the surrounding Chicago neighborhoods as crime blighted public housing projects in the West Loop, and abandoned manufacturing plants left the South Loop simply empty. “When I was a young man going to Ignatius, it was an odd, fascinating, and somewhat dangerous place,” he recalls.
But as the publisher of a handful of successful weeklies in the city’s suburbs in 1999, Haley began to see the stirrings of a comeback in the neighborhoods. A community was taking root there ? and Haley wanted to publish the newspaper that would give the nascent neighborhood its identity. “We think of ourselves when we’re doing it well as playing the role, we think, a good local paper has always played in creating the community,” he says.
The result is the Chicago Journal, a feisty tabloid that provides sharp writing and reporting on neighborhoods overflowing with all the issues that accompany urban pioneers: questions of gentrification, appropriate development, competition for city services, and schools flooded with children of a changing demographic group.
“It’s a mix of hard news reporting, a little boosterism, some editorial leadership, some calling people out,” Haley says. “We’re not apart from the community, we don’t hold ourselves apart or above [it].”
Young adults are filling the condos, boutiques, and restaurants that fill the once-empty lots, so the Journal takes a young tone without resembling an alt-weekly. “Our sense from the beginning was that it was going to be hard to nail this sense of community in a compelling way,” Haley says. The solution was to hire a few good writers who focused on the street-level manifestation of the big urban forces at work. “So we’re going to write about the alderman, but not the City Council,” he adds. “We’ll write about Jones Prep (public school), but not the Chicago Public School system.”
Eight years after its launch, the Chicago Journal is as ubiquitous in the neighborhood as True Religion jeans. A slowed but still active real estate market fills the tab with ads, but industry forces have had one visible effect on the paper: it’s no longer printed on eye-catching salmon newsprint. “Everybody had their own name for the color,” Haley says. “We called it peach. It was a cost issue, solely.”