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.
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 newcommunities.org 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: http://nhschicago.org/content/page.php?cat_id=0&content_id=94
Other thoughts on creation of a CNNB are warmly invited.