MEDIA WATCH: Chicago magazine protects its reputation for silly lists, celebrity gossip, and gastronomic intensity by demanding that an accident of real reporting not be reprinted at Substance

On October 17, 2013, shortly after our print issue of the November 2013 Chicago magazine arrived, Substance published what amounted to a compliment to a magazine that usually specializes in Rahm Emanuel hagiography, flattery of the one-percent, silly lists, celebrity gossip, and gastronomic intensification. Chicago actually published a well researched and reported story about the corruption at the Chicago Sun-Times under its latest owner, Michael Ferro. Substance ran an article, expanding somewhat on the latest round of problems at the Sun-Times and at the end of the article printed the complete Chicago piece, so our readers could tell we weren't exaggerating what they had revealed. The republication was clearly cited and attributed at the time.

On November 14, 2013, the editor of Chicago sent a huffy emal to Substance demanding that the article be removed from After a brief exchange of emails, I decided to remove the reprint and leave up the original critique of the Sun-Times, with the requisite quotations from the Chicago article. As readers familiar with copyright law know, quoting like that is called "fair use" and is legal. What our readers lost, however, is the ability to see that our tribute to this rare instance of real news reporting in Chicago is accurate. The article itself has been removed. It's not that I agree with the Chicago editor. Fact is, there is little point in duking it out with a bunch of lawyers for a publication that specializes in stories about how rich people (and wannabes) can spent a couple of hundred dollars on a dinner for two, or what the "best" schools are as measured by the worst valuations.

And since our subscription to the print edition of Chicago continues, we may continue to read the beer, wine, restaurant and celebrity rankings at least for a time. Teachers may some day need to know where to find the city's best plastic surgeon so that their botox injections don't go awry. If not teachers, maybe the six-figure bureaucrats who have been playing musical chairs at 125 S. Clark St. Chicago is likely to be ready, within the next few months, to reveal the "Top Ten" doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs in town, as well as other really important stuff like that.

Why debate it?

Here is the Substance article (again). It originally appeared here at on October 17 and can also be found there then. Just go to "Back Issues" and scroll.

Without the Chicago magazine story which you may or may not be able to find on line.


What is a newspaper's value? Between 1992 and 2012, 1,007 journalists were killed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The largest number killed in recent years were killed covering the wars in Irag, Afghanistan, and most recently, Syria. Few reporters and other journalists have been killed in the USA, according to press reports.

But from another point of view, the most brutal attack on journalists in the United States since 2012 was in Chicago. Here, the owners of the Chicago Sun-Times fired all of the newspaper's photojournalists. CEO Michael Ferro claims that reporters and citizens could provide photo "content" using camera phones. Reporters are no longer professionals -- they are content providers. And photo journalists are no longer needed at all.

After the firing, the hyperactive owner of Chicago's Number Two morning newspaper added insult to injury. Ferro proclaimed that those photojournalists who brought the news to life with photographs were as obsolete in the "new economy" as the drivers of horses and buggies.

[img=6641]I am very sympathetic toward [the photographers]." Sun-Times owner Michael Ferro told Chicago magazine recently. "If I were in their shoes, I would feel bad too. It would be like youre a carriage driver and the cars come and youre really upset that you cant have your buggy whip and hit your horse anymore.

As the Ferro story in Chicago magazine demonstrates, Ferro views himself as an innovative Silicon Valley style entrpreneurial visionary, while the old fogies of traditional reporting are simply as obsolete as the horse and buggy. The Sun-Times is no longer 'The Chicago Sun-Times.' Attentive readers have noticed that the masthead now reads 'Chicago' The Chicago article makes clear that Ferro intends to figure out how to create some kind of buzz around his new property, then flip it (much like "Flip This House") selling it for a profit.

The lengthy report on the Sun-Times owner, which appears in the November 2013 edition of Chicago, makes it clear that the owners of Chicago's second-in-circulation newspaper is a "tech entrepreneur" (although is corporate track record is spotty) not a newspaper guy. Ferro believes that the time of print is over and that the purpose of his reign at the Sun-Times is to use the property as an "incubator" for Web projects. His property will incubate, according to the Chicago article, until the incubated products takes off, Silicon Valley style. At that point, Ferro says, the entire property can be unloaded at a huge, Silicon Valley type, Wall Street profit. Chicago has been used to newspaper owners who abused their public trust, but Ferro has become the first in Chicago history to buy a newspaper precisely because he hates newspapers and wants to destroy the one he had the money to buy. Thanks to his own spotty track record as an "entrepreneur" in other fields.

As careful readers have noted, Sun-Times reporting has been in decline for years. Ferro's attack on photojournalists was not the first major gutting of the newsroom. For the past decade, the Sun-Times has added punidits, page after page of opinion columnists. At the same time, the newspaper has subtracted actual reporters and destroyed many "beats" so that those who know, say, City Hall, the school board, or Cook County are an endangered species. The Sun-Times has also outsourced much of its investigative reporting to the highly compromised "Better Government Association" under former pundit Andy Shaw.

But all that was almost foreplay. Under the newspaper's current owners, it's not even safe to say there is any reporting left. As reporters have been dumped, opinionists and celebrities have proliferated. Many of the newspaper's "investigations" have been outsourced to the so-called Better Government Association, where former TV news celebrity Andy Shaw presides. And on any day, the Sun-Times has twice as many pundits punditing than reporters on the streets covering the news. It's not even clear that the new owners of the Sun-Times care about the integrity of their little remaining reporting, datelines, or even fact checking. The only section that seems to have continued clear and straightforward news reporting is "Sports", which is also the last part of the Sun-Times that hasn't been renamed in some cutesy fashion.

But now and then the new owners get a real SCOOP! straight out of "The Front Page."

[img=6642]Take October 17, 2013. The Chicago Sun-Times ran a major story, an international scoop. The Sun-Times reported a fact that all of the world's other newspapers missed the heroic work of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (a millionaire buddy with the owners of the Sun-Times) in helping the President of the United States end the debt ceiling crisis. The story of Emanuel's modest heroics was not in The New York Times (print or digital). Rahm's work on the debt ceiling compromise didn't receive notice in The Wall Street Journal either. The Financial Times and even the Chicago Tribune also missed the story.

Exclusively on October 17, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the guy who helped the President of the United States clear up the mess in Washington was one other than...


Readers of the October 17, 2013 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times may have been surprised to learn, thanks to the newspaper's most important gossip columnist, Michael Sneed, that the deal that ended the government shut-down in Washington, D.C. resulted in a large part from the brilliance of Rahm Emanuel.

Sneed's scoop appeared on Page 4, which has been given over to Michael Sneed, the gossipist. Sneed's typical reporting was mostly as follows: "Hear ye! Hear ye! Singer Beyonce needs her dressing room temperature to be exactly 72 degrees..."

But in the same page as the Beyonce revelation, there was another item. In that one, the Sun-Times proclaimed that Rahm Emanuel was busy this week multi-tasking. Not only was Rahm running the City of Chicago-- at the same time he was saving his former boss, President Barack Obama, from the Republicans who had shut down parts of the federal government and were threatening the world economy by refusing to lift the debt ceiling.

[img=6639]The scoop was right there on the gossip page:

"Word is Rahm has been in frequent contact with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is being credited for her role in helping to get a deal to end the shutdown..." Sneed reported. Notice that Sneed doesn't quote Pelosi saying that Rahm helped save the President's peanuts. Earlier in the same column, however, attentive readers learned: "Sneed hears Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was President Obama's former White House guard dog, a.k.a a Rottweiler, and most effective chief of staff... has been a hush-hush top point man for his former boss on the government shutdown..."

Typical of the reporting about Rahm, the Sun-Times has declared that the two other White House chiefs of staff since Obama was elected, one of whom was Bill Daley, were just not the men for the job. Rahm was the man. And if the Sun-Times is to be believed (exclusively among the world's large newspapers), Rahm was there -- and here in Chicago, too.

Since the Sun-Times descended into the hands of its new owners (a group), the paper seemed to be vying for two Pulitzer Prizes that don't exist: Pulitzer Number One: The newspaper that publishes the most front page photographs of the city's mayor smiling and surrounded by a diversity of people, preferably smiling black and brown children.

[img=6640]Pulitzer Number Two: The newspaper that published the most semi-literate celebrity "columnists" after having stripped its press room of veteran reporters and photo journalists.

Even the Pulitzer Committee so ably satirized in the fifth season of "The Wire," is not that crude -- yet. But then, the owners of the Chicago Sun-Times, as now is made clear, don't believe in news in their newspapers. To them, a newspaper is a property by means of which they get to experiment with "entrepreneurial" gimmicks. The idea, according to their owner, is that innovation keeps being tired until one of the innovtions, thanks to the "innovation" economy, brings a payday for the owners.

Three years ago, a massive expose on the front page of The New York Times exposed the degeneracy at the Chicago Tribune as it went bankrupt under the ownership of Sam Zell. Anyone who thought it couldn't get worse in Chicago journalism was wrong. The Sun-Times is being led by a man who makes professional journalists long for the way the Tribune was operated during the brief period it was run by billionaire Real Estate guy Sam Zell and some former radio disk jockeys. Could it get worse for news reporting in Chicago after Sam Zell at the Tribune?

It could.

It's not (yet) The New York Times, but the new issue of Chicago magazine -- which usually devotes itself to style, fashion, food, and fun -- has one of the most serious articles regarding Chicago news media published in recent months. Everyone who has followed the news knows that the new owners of the Sun-Times eliminated "photo journalism" by firing more than 20 photo journalists (including one Pulitzer Prize winner), insulted print reporters on a daily basis by making punditry rather than news the main content of the paper's daily fare, and has been insulting the paper's regular readers with increasing doses of propaganda on behalf of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. But it was worse than what people on the outside suspected. [img=6638]The article is below here:

CHICAGO MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2013. Michael Ferro Isnt Worried, BY BRYAN SMITH; PHOTOS BY RYAN LOWRY, PUBLISHED FRIDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2013, AT 12:26 P.M. Article appears in print edition November 2013.

TO SUBSTANCE READERS. On November 14, 2013, the editor of Chicago magazine demanded that Substance remove the article about Michael Ferro from our website because, she claimed, we would face legal action over "fair use" questions. Rather than argue about this rare instance where Chicago magazine was caught practicing journalism -- as opposed to Hagiography of the rich and powerful; or mindless list making (from beers and steaks to doctors and lawyers and schools); or silly celebrity gossip -- we removed the article about Ferro and the most recent degeneration of the Sun-Times...

Chicago's editor recommends that readers find a link to read the article.


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