Think Global — But for Crying Out Loud, Write Local

By: Mark Fitzgerald

In my little corner of Chicago, which our former alderman liked to call “the suburb in the city,” there’s plenty of extremely local news.

A builder wants to tear down a beloved drug store and replace it with a big senior citizen apartment complex. Our commuter railroad station, which was supposed to be restored to all its cutesy turn-of-the-century glory years ago, stands half-finished and idle, its exterior chipping and peeling and showing little evidence of the half-million dollars in state funds lavished on its rehab. We even have the occasional odd crime blotter item: Just last Sunday, a guy wigged out in the middle of Mass at St. Juliana’s and tried to set the church on fire with a bottle of turpentine.

So what are the columnists in the local community papers writing about? In one paper, an editor muses about some television commercials he’s seen, while another columnist writes, again, about his favorite topic: the way other people drive. (I mean, have you seen some of these people? They’re maniacs.) In another paper, a columnist reminisces about her big adventure of sneaking out of the house with her high school buddies to go to a McDonald’s in downtown Chicago.

They might as well be writing from Iowa for all the local color they reflect.

I don’t mean to pick on my neighborhood papers. I get three of them, and they all do a very good job of presenting the news that’s important only to people living in the 41st Ward. As a homeowner, I devour the real estate transaction listings. As a parent, I’m grateful for the generous space they give to list our honor rolls, our blood drives, and, especially, our fundraisers. (Save this date: April 23, 2005: the first St. Thecla School Silent Auction and Dinner Dance at the White Eagle Banquet Hall!)

But I’m appalled at how, week after week, these community newspaper columnists squander precious newsprint by writing about almost anything except my neighborhood, and the people, places and happenings that make it a community.

This is not just a problem of three weeklies on the Far Northwest Side of Chicago. I see it nearly every time I pick up a community paper these days. Even as weeklies and small dailies redouble efforts to focus their newsholes on all things local, local, local — the star columnist is indulging himself with observations about the “Sopranos” or those kids with their pants hanging down to their knees.

It’d be one thing if these were budding Mike Roykos serving out their time in journalism’s minor leagues. Instead, they offer up small ideas that are well past their sell-by date. From paper to paper, the topics never seem to change. Driving. The size of those drinks at 7-Eleven. (They’re huge, have you seen these things?) TV commercials. Radio jingles. (Geez, you can’t get them out of your head. You know what I mean? 588-2300, Empire! And what’s with that Empire guy? I mean, what major do you take in school to become the commercial guy for a shop-at-home carpet company, huh?)

All these columnists are missing is the skinny tie and the brick wall to be perfect imitations of a bad 1980s comedian working the comedy club circuit.

Readers don’t pick up community papers in search of a Dollar Store version of Andy Rooney. They want reporters who have been out in the streets and who’ve attended all those zoning board meetings to tell them what’s afoot in the neighborhood. They want to know what’s ever going to happen to that boarded up storefront at the corner of Raven and Nagle. Readers want to know about the interesting characters all around them. And nobody is better situated to tell them than a community journalist given the forum of a weekly column.

Community paper columnists should leave all that other generic stuff about drivers and commercials in their desk drawer … along with their novel.

‘Hoy’ Has Got Some ‘Splainin’ To Do

For alert readers of Hoy who may have wondered why that impressive circulation number disappeared from the masthead a few weeks ago, the Tribune Co.-owned Spanish-language daily finally got around to explaining it all last Tuesday. Well, maybe not all of it.

An unbylined article started with this decidedly low-key interpretation of the Audit Bureau of Circulations’ highly unusual censure of Hoy and its sibling Newsday for what the ABC chairman called “fraudulent behavior” and misrepresentation of circulation: “For the next year, the morning dailies Newsday, the Chicago Sun-Times and Hoy will be audited twice as a result of errors in their respective circulation numbers.”

Nothing in the rest of article clarified just what those “errors” may have been. The headline was similarly crafted to encourage a reader to move on to more interesting reading: “Newsday and Hoy will be audited twice a year.”

In its short history, Hoy has become known for its bold and catchy tabloid headlines. In the same issue, for instance, the single-word front-page headline referred to an incident at O’Hare International Airport — but it could have been used over the circulation “error” story as well. “Apag?n,” it read. “Blackout.”

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