By: MARK FITZGERALD
HIS YEAR’S DEMOCRATIC National Convention in Chicago is shaping up to be the most boring in decades.
President Clinton is waltzing to renomination without having faced a single primary opponent and with no platform fight to get the blood rushing.
Even the potential protesters ? ranging from the usual suspects nostalgic for 1968 to Chicago cab drivers demanding a fare increase ? appear unlikely to stir up much excitement, as they politely register for designated demonstration times at a designated demonstration site outside the convention center.
It promises to be a stultifyingly dull convention for the 15,000 U.S. and foreign journalists expected to descend on Chicago ? and the Community News Project couldn’t be happier.
“From our perspective, yeah, the duller the better,” said Mark Miller, the former Chicago Sun-Times Sunday editor who is running day-to-day operations of the Community News Project (CNP).
For the aim of the project is to lure reporters out of the United Center convention hall and get them to cover the interesting stories that abound in Chicago and its suburbs.
To that end, the project has compiled a thick list of story ideas ? and an even thicker list of Chicago area sources ready to cooperate with visiting journalists.
Above all, the group wants to help shape stories that go beyond the usual Chicago clich?s: Al Capone, the Bulls basketball team, “Boss” Richard J. Daley and the bloody 1968 Democratic convention.
In a letter introducing the project last spring, executive director Dennis A. Britton said journalists will find “that Chicago is a microcosm for much of urban America, and that Chicago is finding effective solutions to many of our urban dilemmas.”
Britton, who has since become editor of the Denver Post, gave the project a big credibility boost with his early participation. He remains executive director.
Community News Project is believed to be the first news information center of its kind.
“There are all kinds of garden-variety press assistance centers . . . but I’m not aware of any taking this kind of content-based approach,” Miller said.
Topics developed by the project range from Chicago’s recent radical public school reform to the growth of its African-American middle class to housing strategies to its thriving arts community and its booming Latino population.
There are more than 20 themes prepared so far, and more are being added as the Aug. 26-29 convention approaches.
The project has prepared briefing papers on each theme, listing sources, phone numbers, background reading and video opportunities.
While the project was begun only in January, it is operating under the aegis of an organization that has been working to get coverage of Chicago community groups for years, the Community Media Workshop.
Led by its president, Thom Clark, and operating from offices at Columbia College, the CMW is famous for training local activist groups in getting into the newspaper or on the air. In the process, it has developed an extensive database on both journalists and community groups.
Response to the project so far has been heartening, Miller said, although the real demands on its resources probably won’t come until a week or so before the convention.
Not surprisingly, the most frequent request by early summer was for information on the 1968 convention. It might be a clich?, but the project is ready to help on.
“That’s a good story and it should be covered,” Miller said.
Indeed, the project has gathered sources on all sides of that tumultuous gathering. Among the veterans of 1968 available in Chicago: the deputy mayor who negotiated with Yippies; former Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) leaders Bill Ayers and Marilyn Katz; underground newspaper editor Abe Peck; John Linstead, a reporter on the old Chicago Daily News who was roughed up by police while covering the convention; and legendary reporter Ed Rooney, who covered the demonstration from behind police lines for the Daily News.
Community News Project will be at the convention itself. It is co-sponsoring a formal conference with the U.S. Conference of Mayors and a nonprofit housing organization at a nearby high school. And it will be distributing a compendium of its briefing papers to all journalists at the convention.
The project is funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Woods Fund of Chicago, the Joyce Foundation and U.S. Robotics.
For information on Community News Project call 312/663-3237. Fax is 312/663-3227 and the project’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The project also recently opened a Web page at http://www.mcs.net/commnews/dnchome.htm.
?(PETER J. SCHULZ/CITY OF CHICAGO) [Caption]
?(An aerial view of downtown Chicago, where a Chicago group will be seeking to lure reporters to do stories beyond the Democratic convention hall.) [Photo & Captionn]
?(Denver Post executive editor Dennis Britton is executive director of the Chicago Community News Project. He is
former editor of the Chicago Sun-Times and retained the project’s position after taking the Denver job.) [Photo & Caption]