Good news for print media! Major step for the future of news gathering

If it weren’t for the joy of what had happened a few days before, the two items at the bottom corner of an inside page of the New York Times on a recent Wednesday would be even more depressing than they are.

In what often seems to be a continuing downward spiral for print and good reporting, the Washington Post announced it was closing its last three domestic bureaus, in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, due to “limited resources and increased competitive pressure.” At the same time, Barnes and Noble reported  a larger second quarter loss than expected, due in part to the high costs of creating the Nook, a digital reader designed to compete with Amazon’s Kindle.

Not to slam advances in communication technology, but can you really curl up with a good monitor? Perhaps they’ll include a chip with the warm, relaxing smell of bookiness to fool us into thinking it’s real.

So what was the positive news?

It was two fine pages in the New York Times on Nov. 20 and again on Nov. 22 of Chicago news – not just any Chicago news – but news provided by the type of organization that many say may be a way to save real, hold-in-you-hand newspapers and the investigative reporting that daily print journalism has dominated.

There was the word, “Chicago,” in a almost onomatopoetic typeface that made the most of its round letters, sitting atop page of great reporting and writing.

  • An investigative piece into the increasingly bizarre parking privatization snafu in Chicago that finally explained why I never get parking tickets while teaching a tai chi class on Montrose.
  • A biting, spot-on look at the juxtaposition of opulence and homelessness in Chicago.
  • A brief about a dad breaking the play date gender barrier.

Under “Chicago” I spied welcome information: “Produced by the Chicago News Cooperative.” Wow! That sounded like one of the new nonprofit news organizations that have been popping up. A look at the “To Our Readers” memo from the NYT confirmed my guess about the new Friday and Sunday “Chicago” pages.

The brainchild of Jim O’Shea, former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune and editor of the Los Angeles Times, the cooperative is backed by Chicago public television station WTTW and the  John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The NYT is the first paying customer of the cooperative, which describes itself as “committed to public service, reported by journalists, guided by members.”  Among its staff and contributors, I see many former friends and colleagues, all professional news men and women.

This cooperative isn’t the first of its kind.  ProPublica started in 2007, the  Nonprofit Investigative News Network was created in July, and a bill to give news outlets tax breaks if they become nonprofit organizations, introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), is in the Senate. President Obama has said he will consider such proposals.

But this cooperative’s connection to the New York Times, its roster of leading Chicago journalists, its inclusion of members in guiding its organization and its plans to have a digital as well as print footprint, means that it has taken a giant step forward in determining the future of good news gathering.

Kudos to all involved!

About jeanlatzgriffin

Jean Latz Griffin is the owner of CyberINK, a small business that produces quirky skeleton-themed products. She has finished the first draft of a historical fantasy and received comments from her agent. She has turned to Orson Scott Card for tips on the second draft. She is author of "In the Same Breath," and "One Spirit: A Creation Story for the 21st Century." She has a certificate in creative writing from the University of Chicago's Writers Studio. Griffin is a member of the growing community of former Chicago Tribune reporters, enjoys Weekend Writing Warriors and the Story Studio in Chicago. Her Sheltie, Thunder, likes to "type" on her computer keys, and Dr Wu, a Weimaraner, likes to lick her ear when she is trying to think. Her husband passed in June of 2011. Her three fabulous grown sons live nearby. She plays violin in an amateur string orchestra.

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