Monday, March 30, 2009

FDIC's Sheila Bair was here. Wasn't she?

FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair, who has emerged as a national hero in the fight against foreclosures and predatory lending, was in Chicago last week (3/26) to speak at the annual awards dinner of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago.

Wasn't she?

You're excused, dear reader, for not knowing, because there was zero (none, nada, zilch, butkas) coverage in the local daily prints.Thank you, Bob Roberts of WBBM-AM Newsradio78, for filing a little something.

Anyhow, my point is, it's time we community development wonks, activists and fellow-travelers had some kind of local news service that both aggregates and selectively reports what's going on in, and done to, the neighborhoods.

At least that's what brass are thinking at LISC/Chicago, and slowly but surely I'm coming around to their view. I work part time there as a freelancer and consultant to the New Communities Program (NCP), and at first, when executive director Andy Mooney proposed a Chicago Neighborhood News Bureau (CNNB) I gave him an eye-roll that would have made my 17-year-old daughter proud.

I'm a practical, get-it-done kinda guy who's been in enough never-ending non-profit meetings to know all things are possible ... to those who don't have to do them. Seemed like a lot of work. Seemed like running a news desk that covers 77 community areas--or even the 16 in NCP-- would require the full-time effort of at least one seasoned journalist, maybe even 2 or 3 if you wanted to do it right with lots of original reporting and high value-added content.

I still feel that way. Only now, after seeing more and more of my former Chi Trib colleagues getting axed or taking buyouts, after seeing the Sun-Times slimmed to a shadow of its former self, I'm thinking that if neighborhoods want coverage of their issues they'll need to do it themselves. And the best way to do it may well be some kind of Web-based clearing house managed by a capable journalist who knows how to separate wheat from chaff, not to mention self-serving PR from genuine news. And no, I don't want that center desk "green eye-shade" job. Done that.

LISC/Chicago is already half-way there--thanks to the generosity and experimental verve of the MacArthur Foundation--with NCP's team of 5 or 6 part-time journalists, called scribes, who write, shoot and video-produce for the site. Maybe the Community Media Workshop, a solid outfit that knows this turf, should also play a role in CNNB. And there are communicators at several of our kindred non-profits (NHS, CIC, NTIC, CNT, ETC.) who are more than capable of generating usable, reasonably unbiased stuff.

Point is, Chicago could use a community development news site ... and the production of same is well within our ken ... especially if we had a little financial support. We need a site, moreover, where we can get a bit more technical, where both writer and reader will know the difference between an RFP and an RFQ, or that a TIF district isn't someplace you go to have a fight (Or is it?)

Back to Sheila Bair: I didn't go (you don't want to know why not) but my spies said she praised NHS and promised the FDIC will be a partner in the fight to stem foreclosures, stabilize neighborhoods and make life harder for predatory lenders.

"We're going to get back on track and get back to expanded home ownership for people with mortgages they can afford," Bair said, "and we'll have homes that will serve as a source of wealth accumulation."

Not exactly stop-the-presses stuff, but I'm thinking if we had a CNNB reporter there he or she might have primed the pump and got her going on, well, who knows? Also last week, Bair was named a 2009 recipient of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for her early--and widely ignored--warnings about the sub-prime mess.

NHS gave her an award, too, the Gale Cincotta Neighborhood Partnership Award, and nine local activists received Neighborhood Leadership Awards. Check out the local winners at:

Other thoughts on creation of a CNNB are warmly invited.


sally Duros said...

I am extremely disappointed that I did not even receive an invite given all the reporting I did on NHS when I was at the Sun-Times and my interest in the subject. Come join our newsroom we're starting up, John!

Megan Cottrell said...

Hi John -
I wasn't able to attend the event, but I did write about it:
I didn't write about Sheila Bair precisely because we wanted to focus on the local activists and citizens that work in their neighborhoods - neighborhoods that we are trying to cover because they are ignored by the city's major news outlet. We don't need to create a new organization to do what you're asking for - we're already doing it.

Patrick Barry said...

Thanks, Megan, for pointing us to your NHS story, which focused, quite appropriately, on Angela Hurlock of South Chicago and others who are doing the grunt work at the community level.

You and your colleagues are doing solid work at Chi-Town Daily News, but we can do more and better as we shape the emerging news ecosystem (or whatever it is). There's a nice comment string going over at Windy Citizen:

Valerie Denney said...

I am entirely with you on this idea. For years, as a publicist for nonprofit issues, I have been going to events and thinking, "if only a reporter would have been here, they would have loved it."

And I don't mean on my do-gooder, wonky, nonprofit terms. I mean in terms of genuine newsworthiness, human interest, etc., etc.

But then there was the competition of "mainstream" news outlets. Those outlets are now delivering next to nothing.

Good recent example -- big news story on how "community groups" reached a settlement on Olympics 2016 issues. As far as I can tell only Ben Joravsky at The Reader picked up on the fact that this was a total front group led by long-time mayor allies Michael Scott and Terry Peterson.

No offense to those guys -- but they aren't representing community groups by any means. But you had to know something about community issues and who the players are to know that, which, of course, Joravsky does.

The good thing is there is no real competition for some type of community development news -- no one else is reporting on these issues and there are a good group of seasoned journalists our there that understand them.

But, where's the money to do it? The financial model -- that's the problem everyone is tripping up on.

Maureen Kelleher said...

Over at the Windy Citizen, someone asked if this kind of reporting would be an ultra-niche because it could get really dry, and who wants to read about housing? While I actually think that most people want to read about housing (most of us live in houses, and most of us who don't would like to), there's a question behind that question that I do think is much more important.

How do we get the stories to the people who want and need that information the most? I really liked a study from the Annenberg School of Communications at UCLA that said the most important source of news in neighborhoods is what gets talked about over people's backyard fences. How do we make sure whatever gets written becomes part of that conversation?

I used to think about this a lot when I was at Catalyst. Parents are dying for good information about their local public schools, yet our readership was pretty darn tiny compared to the 400,000+ kids in the system.

Paul Baker said...

I don't know if you guys have seen this

". . .a nonprofit, five-day-a-week online journal that covers Minnesota politics with support from major foundations, wealthy families and roughly 900 member-donors contributing $10 to $10,000. But even our friends at MinnPost acknowledge that their project is not filling the void in a metro
area that still has two large, if struggling, daily newspapers. Just about every serious journalist involved in an online project will readily concede that even if these ventures pan out, we will still have a dreadfully undernourished journalism system with considerably less news gathering and
reporting, especially at the local level."


(I saw the link in the news section)

Paul Baker said...

Here's a link to the original Nation story that I referenced above.

Gordon Mayer said...

Thanks for the shoutout guys. As several of you know, CMW is coordinating some thinking around what to do next, and we're wearing 2 hats in the process.

First, as a major cheerleader for what Trib reporter David Jackson called at our recent awards event "public service, social justice journalism" -- which contains but goes beyond, I think, the wonky, we are working on a study that will reflect some thinking on the "news we want and need"--since as I blogged recently, the press, at least, has been offering less of this kind of coverage for a long time.

As you guys also know, (by you guys I mean most everyone posting and commenting here), the Workshop (as Thom is always reminding me to call us) is also working on a business plan along just these lines for a "Community News Project."

In general, I would say that as Ken Davis pointed out at the Chicago Journalism Town Hall, online did it to the travel agents, to real estate and to lots of other institutions... leaving behind DIY travel, banking, etc. etc.

No question in my mind, we are going to see the rise of DIY news and nonprofits that work in our neighborhoods are going to have to play this game at a higher level than they already do. But there's still, always going to be some need for a third party **news** site -- ideally with the widest possible audience -- to drive metropolitan agendas (for example to help us decide policy).

Whether that's a specialized local policy and neighborhood news site or something more general... remains to be seen. Props to them, Chi-Town Daily News is already doing a good job at this, as witness that they had NHS dinner covered, per Megan.