Friday, April 25th, 2014

The Revenge of the Local Media in Chicago

In a major piece this morning the Chicago Tribune reported that the producers of CNN’s Chicagoland series coordinated the filming of the show with the Emanuel administration. This story is already hitting the national radar, on conservative sites of course, but also left-leaning ones like Politico. An embarrassed CNN was forced to rapidly issue a statement that all but admits the Tribune report was accurate. They said, “The mayor’s office was never granted editorial control over the content or the press communications for Chicagoland, and no agency was ever granted authority to offer the mayor’s office editorial approval for the content or the promotional materials for the series.” But the Tribune never claimed that CNN gave editorial control to the mayor, only that there was coordination.

This follows closely on the heels of part one of a major Chicago Magazine investigative piece showing showing that the Chicago Police Department massaged the numbers on crime that has also continued to garner national attention.

The CNN piece isn’t surprising at all. I said in my review of the series that “CNN’s actual journalists will be seething at seeing their network and its relatively strong reputation being used for what is clearly not the type of work they themselves would undertake.” I’m not sure what Zucker is up to over there, but this is clearly not Bernie in Baghdad anymore.

Regardless, is anyone surprised that CNN would tout their show as an opportunity for the mayor to showcase himself positively? They were trying to make the sale after all. You can be sure that when I asked, for example, Mayor Cranley of Cincinnati for an interview, I made clear the potential this offered for him to reach an audience for this city he might not ordinarily have. There’s nothing wrong with selling yourself or some degree of coordination. Nor can you blame Rahm in the slightest for taking advantage of the opportunity. What else is he supposed to do, try to make himself look bad? He’d be a fool not to take advantage of every opportunity he gets to sell the city and himself. So while I’m not defending what happened, I do think we need to look at this in context. Not all coordination is necessarily bad, so we should take a fine grained look at the specifics.

But this does get to something else I mentioned in my review, namely that Rahm has kept the local media at arm’s length while focusing his attention squarely at national and global media to sell Chicago in the marketplace. I found this sentence from the Tribune article revealing: “Local media rarely are granted behind-the-scenes access to the mayor.” Do I detect a bit of pique?

It seems pretty clear that local media in Chicago aren’t happy about the current state of affairs. They must find many of the various fawning sit downs Rahm has done with global reporters particularly galling. While they would certainly try to do investigative work anyway, this direct look at the Chicagoland series by the Tribune seems to be to be a bit of a shot across the bow to Rahm to remind him not to forget about local journos.

With the national attention garnered by both this Tribune piece and the Chicago Mag story in quick succession, I think the local media have proven that they have the ability to make their presence felt outside the local market. Perhaps this will cause Rahm to recalibrate his strategy a bit and spend more time cultivating relationships with the local press.


Cities: Chicago

24 Responses to “The Revenge of the Local Media in Chicago”

  1. Lynn Stevens says:

    I’m not surprise by the coordination in the least, but I think people outside of Chicago may have been a little less discerning. Even in Chicago and Chicagoland, most people don’t dive deep enough. They take their news in the shallow end. But the more you know, the worse it is. Ignorance is bliss in this sense.

    Local media serve this regularly regurgitating press releases from the mayor’s office, so I’m glad to see when they show backbone.

    I can blame Rahm for only being about spin. I can blame Rahm for consistently using children as props. I can blame Rahm for lying.

  2. It’s a really interesting dynamic with the role of Chicago media versus national coverage. We’ve seen it play recently out in sports, as well – local Chicago beat writers, for instance, got *extremely* perturbed when Derrick Rose opted to grant interviews to national outlets like ESPN and USA Today while not giving much access to the local media.

    I wonder how much this plays out in other large US cities (excluding NYC, DC and LA, as there really isn’t a blur between the national media and local media in those markets). Chicago is large enough that it garners a fair amount of national attention, so Rahm does have a certain level of engagement with the national media that you don’t necessarily see in all cities. To be fair, Daley courted the national media just as much, too, so this isn’t just a Rahm-centric issue.

    Part of it is that the media landscape in Chicago has changed quite drastically over the past decade or so. You can get most of the critical Chicago news (unless you consider “it bleeds, it leads”-type stories as critical) just relying upon the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNN and ESPN in a way that may not be possible in other markets, so the Tribune and Sun-Times may see the national media as much greater threats to their livelihoods. I wonder if Rahm’s counterparts in, say, San Francisco, Boston, Houston and Atlanta take the same approach toward the local press compared to the national press.

  3. John Morris says:

    Rahm became mayor as a national figure tied to a Chicago linked president. Situation not very similar to other cities.

  4. @John Morris – Yes, that’s part of it, but what I’m saying is that Rahm’s attitude toward the local media vs. national media isn’t that much different compared to Daley before him or outside of politics (i.e. sports). There’s certainly an element of Rahm’s national profile involved, but that’s connected to the overall changes to the media dynamic.

    For instance, in the newspaper industry, the ones that are surviving the best are the big national names (WSJ, NYT) and the hyper-local ones (i.e. papers focused on small cities and communities). However, the ones that are suffering the most are the very large metro newspapers that are just under the national tier (i.e. the Chicago papers). They’re not national enough to get to the NYT/WSJ tier, but too broad to compete with the hyper-local papers. As a result, they’re the ones bleeding readers the most and aren’t getting enough online revenue to compensate for it. I just speak from my own experience – I’m able to obtain the vast majority of Chicago news (beyond Rahm) from national news outlets. Therefore, even if Chicago’s mayor didn’t have the prior national profile that Rahm had, he/she would need to deal with the national media regularly out of necessity.

  5. John Morris says:

    Good point, but Rahm is in a sweet spot in terms of national interest, for better or worse. The Atlanta or Houston mayor couldn’t get the attention as easily.

    I say for better or worse. Chicago/Illinois is on the media map for political scandals and car accidents.

  6. Eric says:

    Politico is center-right.

  7. John Morris says:

    Today a Federal Arrest warrant was issued for the former Chicago City Controller in a corruption case.

    He is also wanted for charges in Ohio, but no doubt the Chicago connection will make news.

  8. wkg in bham says:

    corruption in chicago!!!!i’m shocked. shocked i tell you.

  9. John Morris says:

    Actually, this warrant has to do with corruption charges he pled guilty to in #Ohio.

    Here is a local one.

    Former Stroger Aide Gets 6 ½ Years In Prison In Cook County Corruption Case

    Chicago is big enough to be of interest but foreign enough to coastal media to play the bad “other” city.

    No need to check out the facts if almost all the audience immediately believes the worst is true.

  10. John Morris says:

    Also, Chicago has enough fancy safe areas for film crews to stay while doing stories on Chicago crime.

    This is probably why Braddock, PA outside Pittsburgh gets so much press. It’s not really that dangerous anymore and a short drive from nice hotels, museums and dining options.

    Easier than going to Flint, Michigan.

  11. Jon Seisa says:

    Since when is media and news in America NOT ‘coordinated'(euphemism for propaganda), especially from CNN? LOL! No surprise here.

  12. wkg in bham says:

    @Jon: Sad to say but true. MSM little more than a propaganda arm of the Feds. It’s a sad state of affairs when you can’t believe much of anything from an “official source”. I’m not saying that is always wrong. It might be right or it might not. About the only thing you can be assured of is that it’s self-serving.

  13. Harvey says:

    We’ve got a pretty ornery, two-fisted media most of the time. This is the tip of the iceberg. In spite of its Republican bent, or maybe because of it, the Tribune is actually the most friendly to Rahm and his programs. The Chicago Reader’s got some real fangs. Chicago media breaks a major investigative story pretty much every week, not that they have to flip too many rocks to find a scandal.

    Like you’ve written before, there’s a lot of unwarranted myopia about Chicago’s future and plenty of chumminess with the political and business elites, but Chicagoans also got a deep, dark well of cynicism the papers are only too happy to tap.

    And in that spirit, CNN and TV news in general has been running stories that are basically he-said-she-said interviews with PR flacks and ‘sponsored’ medical and product segments for years. Is this really such a shock?

  14. Anonymous says:

    Chicago’s “local media,” sadly, is but a shadow of its former self. Once upon a time Chicago had three great daily newspapers with an army of local reporters. Yes, there was a lot of pro-Daley reporting and editorializing, but there was also muckraking and in-depth, intelligent investigative reporting. Cheez, the daily Trib used to be an inch thick, and Sunday edition 2-plus inches. And a lot of it was not advertising. With the demise of these great powerhouses and the staff and reporters that they supported, investigative journalism in Chicago has eroded to the point where public officials have far less accountability to their public. I’m not saying investigative journalism in Chicago is dead. There are some notable exceptions. But they just don’t have the same the resources to do the job right and the platform to circulate stories. Man, this is one real casualty of the internet age, and we’re all the poorer for it. Obviously, this isn’t just a Chicago problem. It’s everywhere.

  15. Robert Munson says:

    I agree with Aaron that The Tribune feels a little dissed. But I also want to follow on Anon’s point about the worsening shortage of investigative journalism. Both point to how the media’s relations to the public is changing; in fact, becoming less relevant. While the internet can fill some of the gap, the gap of uncovered corruption is widening. That problem can only be solved with the most effective form of accountability: cleaning up elections.

    While I believe the “Chicagoland” series is an overall improvement in making media’s analysis less superficial, local government’s inability to cope with problems (a key takeaway of Aaron’s March 6 series review) is the key governmental problem that media does not address; possibly because it takes too much time to explain… or too much work to explain simply.

    And where is this discussion taking place about we need regional coordination to solve problems? Right here, on websites like this.

  16. wkg in bham says:

    @robert: I know very little about Chicago. I’ve was there once for an afternoon to make plane connections. From what I gather its biggest problems are:
    – It’s broke
    – Crime
    – Schools
    Things I suspect but don’t know
    – Delayed infrastructure maintenance – public works
    – Poor maintenance of transit facilities
    – Operational efficiency
    Of these only transit might be a regional issue.

    When the city finally goes broke, with any luck the bankruptcy court will dissolve the whole mess.

    I’m a contrarian on city matters. I think Chicago is just too big to govern. I’d be better off if it were five to ten smaller cities. Truly regional issues such as transit would have their own organizational structure – with true accountability and funding sources.

  17. Ziggy says:

    Anyone paying attention to how the country / world really works should not be surprised that an establishment foot soldier Rahm utilized a mainstream propaganda tool to burnish his image. That’s why “news” organizations like CNN exit.

    That said, if this toothless expose helps to alert a few more folks to how the system is really working these days, then that’s great. Nothing can change unless main street understansd what they’re up against.

    What the normally pliant Trib was really saying is, “Hey, we wanna be in the club, too!” Flex a little muscle and see if their phone call get returned a bit sooner.

  18. John Morris says:

    Has anyone bothered to watch the the whole show? It seemed like a staged promo film, not worth the effort.

    The whole idea of constructing a show around access to a single politician is crazy. He didn’t create Chicago, it shouldn’t revolve around him and the city will be there long after he is gone.

  19. wkg in bham says:

    What was CNN thinking? It’s not news. It’s really not even that interesting. Its the sort of cluelessness that seems to infect the company these days.

    It is quite telling that Ted Turner let slip at a press conference that then worst business decision he ever made was to sell out to time-warner.

    time-warner: where all good companies go to die.

  20. MD says:

    I don’t think I realized how influential & controversial CNN’s Chicagoland series would be. I thought of it as just an ordinary TV documentary like I’ve seen a million times, but it seems to be creating some real ripples in society here.

  21. John Morris says:

    Probably a good sign that people are interested enough to be angry.

    Brick City was probably a similar shallow extended ad for Cory Booker but few people with power and pull know or care what happens to Newark. It’s an abstraction- poor, majority black & still largely unknown territory to elites living across the Hudson.

    The perfect media stage set and stepping stone for an ambitious politician.

  22. Steve Popolizio says:

    CNN isn’t selling Chicago, it’s selling Rahm, as a Democrat national political figure in advance of the 2016 election. Need a diagram?

  23. urbanleftbehind says:

    Waste of dollars by CNN and the Democratic Party. Illinois is the new Massachusetts and if Rand Paul runs, you wont need anything special to keep Jewish Amercans in the D column.

  24. Eric says:

    This is not shocking. The south side walmart scene was basically a campaign ad. Read Esquire’s “Rahm the Impaler” for the true mayor, a man that makes south side churches pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for access to lake water.

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