Steve Rhodes, reacting to the decision by the Illinois Supreme Court this morning calling Mayor Emanuel’s pension plan for City workers unconstitutional, tells us -“Now there’s no wiggle room whatsoever. Now there’s no negotiation that can take place.”
The Editor and Publisher of the Beachwood Reporter says the decision certainly wasn’t surprising.
“Every indication is that they knew this was going to go against them,” he explains. “So what you have is a couple of years, really…of just wasted time in which the hole has been dug further instead of finding some way to bite the bullet. And a lot of that, I think, is political theater. It’s so we can say, well, we tried. And I said I wouldn’t raise property taxes…unless it was a last resort. And even if you know that’s what’s coming down the road, playing out the string like this was kind of reckless, really.”
Rhodes also has some thoughts about the Illinois Primary, in which Governor Rauner’s heavily-backed candidates lost very badly.
“Bruce Rauner thought, from his comments in the past, that he could create enough misery by holding back spending on social services and not getting this budget passed, to drive a wedge between Michael Madigan and Democrats who would finally say – we give up, because we need to take care of these people and these constituents of ours.” But it didn’t work out that way, Rhodes explains. “Instead, he’s only united the reformers and the progressives with the establishment people. So you see Chuy Garcia backing Michael Madigan in a case like this. It reminds me of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. As grotesque as his existence is, we need him on that wall!
Rhodes also offers some thoughts about selecting a new police superintendent, a decision that will be among the most critical Rahm Emanuel ever makes as Mayor. “If you take a job like this you have to know that Rahm is really the show and he’s on you. He is on you every minute of the day and you’ve got to be willing to put up with that,” he says.
But, he adds, there’s another impediment facing a new chief. “With the Department of Justice embarked on their probably year-long investigation,” he explains, “That’s going to consume your first year here.…and then when that’s done chances are good that there will be a consent decree in which the DOJ will essentially run the department for a while. So it may not be that attractive of a job.”
A couple of weeks ago, Steve Rhodes authored an op/ed for Crain’s entitled “Michael Ferro is Killing Chicago Journalism.” He tells us that the piece garnered lots of positive comments. An important aspect of his contribution was a discussion of Mr. Ferro’s philosophy of appointing individuals to the position “editor/publisher.” This, Rhodes says, is troubling.
“The demarcation is pretty clear; the editor runs the editorial content,” He explains. “The editor oversees the editors and the writers and the reporters and is involved in that sort of thing. What the publisher does is so different than that. The publisher has under him or her the ad staff, sales staff, circulation people dealing with if you have a print product, all of the business functions, so they are completely different functions.”
It was the old church and state of newsrooms, he says, but this combination job “…is usually done in order to ensure that no church and state exists, in order to ensure that the business goals and the editorial goals are aligned.”
And here’s Michael Miner’s story on the editorial change at Chicago Magazine.
Rhodes has much more to say on the subject, and you can watch the entire show above or read the transcript as a Word document here: CN Transcript March 24 2016
Or you simply read the transcript in full beyond this break.
Ken: Well hi there, and welcome to another Chicago Newsroom right here on CAN TV. I’m Ken Davis. Thanks for joining us for another week, which like so many weeks recently has been a consequential week. A lot of stuff is happening all around us, and just last night I was over at the Union Hall watching the big vote of the CTU where the House of Delegates voted pretty lopsidedly to call a strike on April 1st, and it’s being called a strike by the CTU now and we’re going to get into a lot of the details about what was going on there and what this is going to look like if and when it actually happens on April 1st. But we have Steve Rhodes with us today. How are you doing Steve?
Steve R: Good, good.
Ken: Editor and publisher, no less, of The Beachwood Reporter, because it’s very in these days.
Steve R: Yeah, right. Yes.
Ken: But you were doing it way before it was popular.
Steve R: Of course.
Ken: Anyway, we’re going to be talking about something that Steve wrote for Crain’s Chicago Business called Michael Ferro is Killing Chicago Journalism. Nothing like putting it all into a headlines.
Steve R: I don’t write the headlines. [Laughs] But I’m not arguing.
Ken: Michael Ferro called by the way just before you got here and said that he was thinking about hiring you as an editor and just decided that maybe it’s not gonna work.
Steve R: Yes, I guess I’ve burned that bridge too.
Ken: Yeah, napalm I think would be more like it.
Steve R: Yeah.
Ken: Well anyway, it’s a very provocative piece and very timely about what’s going on in journalism right now in Chicago with Michael Ferro, for all effects and purposes purchasing the Tribune, but we will get into that. If you don’t mind, I would like to really start with the thing that just happened.
Steve R: Sure, absolutely.
Ken: I mean just as we were walking into the studio this morning. This is my favorite thing to read on Chicago Newsroom, from the Illinois Constitution written back then whenever it was that Rich Daley and those guys got together and wrote this, membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district or any agency or instrumentality thereof shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which, everybody say it together now, will not, shall not be diminished or impaired.
Steve R: Right.
Ken: And today, this morning just as we were walking into the studio the Illinois Supreme Court said, “Yeah, it’s diminished or impaired. We can’t do it.”
Steve R: It’s remarkable. That seems to be pretty clear-cut language, and we have had attempts now, a couple of attempts that the Illinois Supreme Court has ruled on that has said you can’t diminish or impair…
Ken: Our job is to interpret.
Steve R: It is clear that what in this case the Mayor and previous to that Governor Quinn I think and the legislative leaders tried to do were clear impairments and diminishments of pension benefits. And in this case you had the Mayor and his people arguing before the court, well, sure it’s going to be less, but it’s going to be… Somehow that’s not impaired, it’s going to be better because it’s secured.” It means it’s going to be there, which doesn’t… I mean it’s no surprise that it doesn’t stand the test of recent…
Ken: Maybe the argument is that it’s somewhat diminished but it’s less impaired or something. I don’t know exactly how that worked. But I mean it is such an amazing situation that we’re in here in Illinois, and I always wonder and I keep promising myself that I want to do this someday, somebody should write the story, go back and find some of the original framers from 1970 wasn’t it?
Steve R: Right.
Ken: No less than Richard Daley himself. And it’s like what were you guys thinking when you wrote this and why did you do this?
Steve R: Right, right.
Ken: Because it couldn’t be clearer. It’s like no, you can’t do this. So today the Illinois Supreme Court has said that Rahm Emanuel’s attempt to… Now we have to keep all these things straight, this is not the teachers. This is not the firefighters and cops, this was the city workers, right?
Steve R: Right, right.
Ken: And they came up with a deal where a bunch of the Unions actually agreed.
Steve R: Actually agreed to this, and there were some trade-offs I think. If you let us cut your pensions in this way we will boost your pay in this other way, and I think that’s the way also the City tried to make this argument, but it still can’t stand the legal test. It doesn’t matter what you do over here, because that language that you read only applies right here. And it is interesting, what did the framers…the founding fathers of the Illinois…
Ken: Or second founding fathers.
Steve R: The second, the refounding 2.0 founding fathers what were they thinking? I mean on one hand you could say… It must have been some sort of …you had to sop to the Unions back then, right, and because did they not foresee that there might be a time when you might want to diminish or impair that, or where this maybe should be more part of the bargain. It shouldn’t be in the Constitution, but should be more a part of bargaining and that sort of thing. I don’t have the history to know if that’s the case. And I’m not arguing, when I say that I’m not saying that the people in the Union shouldn’t get what they were promised, but now there’s no wiggle room whatever.
Ken: There is none.
Steve R: There is no negotiation that can take place, so.
Ken: And like you I always feel a little awkward in this conversation because you don’t want to be saying that Union workers are not entitled to the rights which they have negotiated in their legal contract.
Steve R: Right.
Ken: But of course there are all… One of the things that kind of cracks me up, it came up last week, we had Mary Ann Ahern on this show from Channel 5, and she brings up as a lot of middle age reporters and legacy news organizations often bring up, “Well we lost our contract when ABC Company came in and bought over Disney or whatever it was came in and took us over, they just said, ‘Screw this we’re not paying these.’” But the government workers they’ve got it different.
Steve R: Well, the reporters weren’t smart enough to get themselves enshrined in the State Constitution I suppose. That would be the difference, right.
Ken: So anyway, it’s a very interesting situation that Rahm Emanuel finds himself now, and I guess, I mean Rahm Emanuel certainly must have known that this was going to be the result of this, right? Wouldn’t you think?
Steve R: Every indication is that they knew that this was going to go against them. And so what you have is a couple of years really. I don’t know when that agreement was made off the top of my head, but between this and the previous case we’ve gone at least two years of just wasted time in which the hole has been dug further instead of finding some way to bite the bullet.
Ken: The deficit just grows every day.
Steve R: Yeah, and a lot of that I think it is political theater. It’s so we can say well we tried, and I said I wouldn’t raise property taxes, which might be something that would happen to help unless it was a last report. And even if you know that that’s what’s coming down the road, playing out the string like this was probably kind of reckless really.
Ken: Yeah. And it’s also interesting to sort of imagine how this plays in the Governor’s Mansion because there’s nothing I think Rauner would rather do than diminish and impair, but apparently I guess maybe he’s reading it the same way.
Steve R: He wants to diminish and repair them right out of business, right out of existence.
Ken: Diminish to zero, yeah.
Steve R: This again is, Rauner already has had kind of a bad month with the primary results going against him.
Ken: You know that’s funny you say that; it doesn’t appear that he’s had a bad month. He doesn’t seem to be in any way humbled by what’s happened to him.
Steve R: It doesn’t appear to have affected him somewhat. He seems to be living in some sort of alternate universe where he pours millions of dollars into these legislative races to get friendly legislators elected or re-elected to help try to shift a balance so he can get his way, and fails, and fails miserably and then turns around and says, “Oh, I don’t think those results have anything to do with my agenda. I don’t think that was a referendum on my agenda. The taxpayers really got screwed here.”
Ken: Everybody was making it very clear that it was a referendum.
Steve R: It was clear. This was a proxy war for Rauner versus Madigan essentially, and Rauner lost and he’s…now he’s well the results are in, are you ready to compromise Mike? It’s like, “Well…” [Laughs] In what world? I don’t understand it.
Ken: I don’t know if you saw it, I think it was in the last 24 hours or so, Ben Joravsky dropped a piece on how those of us of a certain age came up with this understanding that there are essentially two worlds that are always at war, the sort of the regulars and whatever you want to them, the reformers. And now all of a sudden we see that well there’s also the corporatists and there’s kind of like this. Everything has been realigned and you have Chuy Garcia lining up with Mike Madigan. It’s a fascinating world.
Steve R: Well, I think what you have there is that Bruce Rauner thought from his comments in the past that he could create enough misery by holding back social spending on social services and not getting this budget passed to drive a wedge between Michael Madigan and democrats who would finally say, “We give. We give up because we need to take care of these people and these constituents of ours.” But instead, he’s only united the reformers and the progressives with the establishment people. So you see, Chuy Garcia is backing Michael Madigan in a case like this because it reminds me of, you know, in a Few Good Men where Michael Madigan is Jack Nicholson, as grotesque as his existence is we need him on that wall.
Ken: [Laughs] You can’t handle it.
Steve R: Chuy and the progressives are like in this weird position where it’s like thank God for Michael Madigan. He’s the firewall right now.
Ken: He is the firewall. I also noticed this morning that the good people of Pennsylvania their governor gave in yesterday I guess it was.
Steve R: Yes.
Ken: So now we are the only state in the Union without a budget.
Steve R: They had kind of a reverse situation where the governor was a democrat and the republicans held the legislature, and he finally gave in by allowing… He wouldn’t sign their budget, but he didn’t veto it either, so he allowed it to pass into law. And ultimately this is the thing, whatever side you’re on, whatever your beliefs, the governor is the governor and even though in a certain sense we feel like Michael Madigan’s been the governor for a long time, the governor who is elected the governor is the guy at the top and has to be the one to solve a problem or make something happen. And if that means a compromise then that’s the guy who has to do it, and he’s the leader. So I don’t think that’s in Bruce Rauner’s DNA though, I really don’t.
Ken: No. He didn’t get to be a very wealthy man by making a lot of deeply soul-searching compromises.
Steve R: Right. Well he has said before that his best attribute is his persistence, and I think he sees this as kind of the battle of his lifetime, that if he comes out on top he will be the one who saved Illinois and changed the trajectory forever of the State. That’s the way I think he sees this. For him if he was to make the kind of compromise that’s really necessary and really ought to happen that would make him just another politician which he ran against. But you know…
Ken: That’s what politicians do, just compromise.
Steve R: Yeah, they just compromise, but sometimes you have to. You have to find a way.
Ken: I was going to say he wants to be Illinois’ Reagan, but the problem is Reagan was a compromiser too.
Steve R: Absolutely. Absolutely he was.
Ken: He was a politician. It was kind of interesting though to see how he really just ultimately in the end just did not recognize that the election happened at all. As long as we’re talking politics and everything, the Anita Alvarez thing I have to admit I didn’t see it coming.
Steve R: I didn’t either.
Ken: You didn’t? Oh good, I’m glad to hear that, because I think you’re a lot wiser in these ways than I am, but it just looked to me like she’s a credible… I mean Kim Foxx has a credible other person in the race in Donna More, and she’s going to split that vote, and Anita Alvarez, I always assumed Anita Alvarez basically when you get right down to it had a lot of support in the City from the kind of Law & Order folks who saw the City coming apart and saw her as being one of those bastions of Law & Order. But man, it was just a slaughter.
Steve R: It was overwhelming. I thought that race was going to go down to the wire, I really did, because as much as Anita Alvarez had her problems and particularly with Laquan McDonald, like you say, I thought there would be a kind of bulwark of support. She had Ed Burke and Michael Madigan behind her, so that sort of thing and those organizations and you know, the suburban vote was overwhelmingly against her also.
Ken: Which doesn’t figure.
Steve R: Which doesn’t figure. So I think it had to be the Laquan McDonald, if you were to remove that from her record in my view she still had a really horrible record. The view of some people she still should have lost. However, it seems to me that that is the sole and complete reason for that result. I think if you remove that I feel like sadly she would have retained her job.
Ken: I think that’s an excellent point Steve and I’ll tell you why, because you’re mentioning Mike Madigan. I mean I had just kind of temporarily forgotten the fact that Mike Madigan was out there working for her. So here you have Mike Madigan winning overwhelmingly in his proxy wars with Rauner, but people were sophisticated enough to say we’re not with you on this one, we’re going with Kim Foxx.
Steve R: Right.
Ken: So people were making really, lots and lots of people made fairly sophisticated decisions about how they were going to vote.
Steve R: And I think that’s the message that Bruce Rauner doesn’t appear to be getting, that people weren’t just automatons supporting Michael Madigan and his candidates. They clearly understood what was at stake.
Ken: I’ve been asking this a lot and I really want to hear what you say about this, what do you make of the rise of these groups of people like BYP 100 and Black Lives Matter who seem to be very involved in the election, although I will say that again, I was skeptical about this too. I was thinking a few demonstrations here and there and they’re going to figure out that this is not working for them. Well, the appearance is that they might have had a great more influence on the election than us old folks…
Steve R: I think they did. I think these are exciting groups of really smart young organizers who are…they are thinking strategically about what they are doing. You know I think about the Black Friday protests that they had where they actually went to Michigan Avenue and shut down the shopping and that sort of thing, which is a strategy that you think well that makes a lot of sense, but I don’t know that that had really been done before. They are using social media a lot. Timing events in certain ways or having them in certain locations and they had this whole “Bye Anita” campaign that I thought did a lot.
00:18:14 But what’s interesting to me is that these groups don’t have ties to word politics or existing politicians. This is what is refreshing to me, because oftentimes you will get activist groups or different kinds of community groups that are still tied to their local aldermen and they are interested in cutting deals and getting a piece of the pie.
Ken: Their local clergymen.
Steve R: Right. Exactly, exactly. They are coming in without any of those ties and they don’t want those ties. And in fact even in the Alvarez race they said perhaps slightly disingenuously, but they said, “We’re not endorsing Kim Foxx. We’re not endorsing anyone. We just want Anita out.” Now some people were caring Kim Foxx signs and it’s clear of course that’s who they are rooting for in their hearts.
Ken: At least one was working for Kim Foxx as far as we know.
Steve R: Right. Absolutely. Absolutely. But now they’re saying, “Okay Kim Foxx, now we’re going to hold your feet to the fire. We’re not tied to you, and if you don’t do the job we want you’re out in four years.”
Ken: We’ve said here on the show in the last couple of shows it’s like be careful what you wish for, because these folks are going to turn on her so quickly when they figure out that she’s going into a huge job in a recalcitrant office that doesn’t turn around easily with 500 lawyers who are kind of stuck in their ways and are not just going to turn on a dime because there’s a new boss at the top. And as you said, holding her feet to the fire her feet are going to get burned rather quickly I would guess.
Steve R: Right.
Ken: Now we don’t know this, and every time I try to venture into trying to predict the future even a week in advance I get burned worse than that, so I don’t know, this could be something completely different. It’s interesting to me that it’s almost… It’s not the same thing, but it is similar in a way to Rahm Emanuel. Rahm Emanuel came into office without any…and so did Rauner, they came in without the ward boss ties. They came in riding on a lot of money, but nevertheless there was this sense that hey, maybe these guys are really going to shake things up because they don’t have to play to the 11th Ward or whatever it is. I think the analogy breaks down there, but what we might all have in common is that our communications tools have changed so completely that you no longer need to require the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board to bless you.
Steve R: That’s right. The digital tools are organizing tools. I mean we even saw that with Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 that they were really the… Well, maybe the forerunner that was even Howard Dean’s campaign where they were organizing on the internet through meetups and that sort of thing. But then the Obama campaign really perfected the art of organizing online, as well as using data and all of that sort of thing.
Ken: And one-click purchasing.
Steve R: Right, and making sure you have the ask right in the emails ‘click here’. Give $3. Asking for these odd amounts which are algorithms that have to do if you’ve given before and how much. But I think you’re right that we’re seeing that here in a local sense too with how this organizing is going on.
Ken: It’s interesting too, nothing but paralleling everything else is Dick Mell’s career ended the other day, a couple of days ago, right?
Steve R: Yeah, and then all of a sudden he’s like, “I didn’t want that job anyway.” He loses in a nail biter though. He still was the ward committeeman… He was still hanging on and then he loses. He’s like, “You know that job is horrible. I didn’t want it anyway.”
Ken: It must have just been hell in all of the retirement homes in the 33rd Ward, in the lobbies people going, “Where are they? Bring me out the voters! [Laughs] I just need 60 of them. Come on.” But no, he didn’t want the job. Anyway, it’s just been a pretty amazing political week and it’s continuing on.
00:22:49 I want to talk to you about top cop and all of that, but I also want to make sure that we get some time in here to talk about the big thing because we’re both media animals and junkies. I am just floored by what’s happened in the last couple of weeks. Michael Ferro coming out of nowhere dropping $44-million on Tribune Publishing and essentially purchasing it for that amount of money, to which I say it’s like wow, couldn’t we have got a few people together and raised 44-million bucks and bought it if we had only known?
Steve R: If we only knew.
Ken: [Laughing] Really, I mean you know, that’s nothing – $44-million. We can do a fundraiser right here on this show. Anyway, it prompted you to write a very provocative piece. Have you had any response to your piece?
Steve R: I’ve had overwhelmingly positive response. I haven’t had a single death threat. Someone did try to hack into my Google email account and I immediately thought Ferro. Because I thought who would be… What? But I haven’t gotten a single negative comment on it. I’m sure there are people who aren’t happy with it, but those would probably be people in the upper reaches of the Tribune company.
Ken: And they’re not about to reach down to you.
Steve R: Yeah. I don’t think they care about me that much, so.
Ken: The thing that really prompted you to do this was the switch at the Chicago Magazine.
Steve R: Yeah.
Ken: And a new editor and publisher put in place. What I think is incredibly interesting about this is that Michael Ferro when he came on, almost from the first nanosecond on the job he had a lot to do because they were trying to buy these papers in Southern California and that wasn’t going well. I mean he’s running a lot of papers other than the Tribune. And one of the teensy teensy little things that he owns is Chicago Magazine, but all of a sudden he…
Steve R: Somehow it was on his priority list in those first few weeks when they’re trying to make this complicated acquisition of the Orange County Register which they seem to have flubbed, and not to mention that he had engineered a boardroom coup to oust the CEO Jack Griffin who was the one who brought him in. But somehow it was at the top of his mind that he had to for the good of everybody, for the good of Chicago, the City, and Tribune Publishing, he had to install Susanna Homan, the Founder of the Susanna’s Night Out column, and then later the editor of Splash, the kind of celebrity – I don’t even know if I could call it a celebrity rag because I don’t know if it got up to that standard.
Steve R: You know, featuring advice columnist Jenny McCarthy and people like that, she had to be installed as the editor and chief of Chicago Magazine, at a time when I don’t know that… You know, I worked at Chicago Magazine for six years writing about politics and you know, not all of the magazine was for me even then. A lot of that stuff I’m just not that interested in, the kind of I used to call it ode to the North Shore. But nonetheless, even the service stories and the list stories and the best restaurants and all this stuff was really I saw how professionally produced it was and how much hard work went into it and what a great job people there did, and on the kind of stories I did and other people did that were kind of the journalism piece every month.
Ken: And their online thing has really dramatically…
Steve R: Their website I think might be one of the better…maybe the best kind of legacy…maybe the best website in the City right now, which is also amazing because when I was there, you know this was ten years ago, but they just, nothing was going on there. So you know, it’s not like they are replacing a Pulitzer Prize Winning investigative reporting, you know, whatever, let’s not get that narrative too…let’s not make the contrast too big, but nonetheless Beth Fenner, the editor there, had been running a real magazine for three or four years or however long she had been there. I don’t know if there were any issues internally that would demand that she be forced out, but if there were I don’t know how it took Michael Ferro in the immediacy of him coming in to spot that. And then to put Susanna Homan in charge with her resume, I just can’t imagine her editing a story about, a deeply reported story about politics or media in this town.
Ken: And of course there’s this other dynamic that he’s introducing too, which we joked about at the beginning of the show which is this concept of editor publisher.
Steve R: Yes.
Ken: It is in some ways a joke, but in many ways I think it’s not. I mean Bruce Dold, who I have a great deal of respect for, I think will make a great editor of the Tribune, I don’t know that he necessarily needs to be the publisher too. I don’t understand that. And Susanna Homan was immediately named editor and the publisher of the Chicago Magazine.
Steve R: She’s also the publisher of Chicago Magazine.
Ken: You’re an editor and publisher, what is the difference between these two and why should they not be the same person in the same body?
Steve R: Let me just say I’m an editor and a publisher and also the janitor and they used to say the chief bottle washer just because I am a one-person operation.
Ken: Production manager.
Steve R: The demarcation is pretty clear; the editor runs the editorial content. The editor oversees the editors and the writers and the reporters and is involved in that sort of thing. What the publisher does is so different than that. The publisher has under him or her the ad staff, sales staff, circulation people dealing with if you have a print product, all of the business functions, so they are completely different functions. It’s like having your quarterback also be the middle linebacker, although back in the day I suppose they did that.
00:30:00 But the reason why this is done, and there are, at some small newspapers they do it this way, it’s usually, and I think probably in this case done to ensure, there used to be the separation between publisher and editor to ensure integrity that the publisher wouldn’t, couldn’t cross that line and muck with your editorial content to satisfy an advertiser for example.
Ken: The old church and state.
Steve R: Right, the old church and state, and this is usually done in order to ensure that no church and state exists, in order to ensure that the business goals and the editorial goals are aligned. And now if you are the one person in charge and your performance is being evaluated on that basis your compensation will be evaluated on that basis, so it’s breaching that wall right at the top.
Ken: So it’s not even really to save money. I mean it saves some money. It saves a salary perhaps.
Steve R: I think that’s part of it. I think that’s part of it too, but I think that’s a byproduct really.
Ken: Yeah. But again, I don’t want to be picking on Bruce Dold here, but he’s just the most convenient use of this, but Bruce Dold is a genuine journalist. I mean he’s worked for 30 years. I know that at one point he was out in the Suburban Trib writing about Schaumberg or something or someplace out there.
Steve R: I think he covered City Hall for a while did he not?
Ken: Yeah. So I mean this is a guy whose DNA is journalism and he rises to the point in the organization that he gets the biggest and best job that you can possibly have. He’s going to be the editor of the whole damn thing and then they say, “Oh, and by the way, you’re going to also handle printing and advertising.”
Steve R: By the way, you’re in charge of our ad sales strategy.
Ken: Right, right.
Steve R: I don’t know exactly how their… Just one of those jobs is an all-consuming job.
Ken: You would think for something as big as the Chicago Tribune.
Steve R: I don’t know how one person does both those jobs, but I don’t know if the reality is that he has the publisher title and then there’s an ad sales… There’s the second in command or the next level that does all of that stuff, but my God.
Ken: What you’re saying is so important though, is that it’s really not an organizational flow-chart thing. It is a political thing. It is saying that in this organization the advertising strategy is equally important to the journalism strategy.
Steve R: It’s aligned to that. You know there was a time, early the outgoing Chicago Magazine editor Beth Fenner, there was a time early in her time there where she was butting heads with the publisher. And I don’t know what the issues were, but it got to the point where Tribune company said, “Okay, instead of you reporting essentially to a publisher you are going to report to the editor of the Tribune,” so they kept the hierarchy that way, that her boss became someone in… The wall remained in that sense, so that’s another example of how this is just a dramatic departure from standard practice.
Ken: So as its set-up now does Susanna Homan report to Bruce Dold?
Steve R: I believe so, yes.
Ken: Still? Even though she’s a publisher?
Steve R: Yes.
Ken: Oh, okay.
Steve R: I believe that is the case. Well, she can’t report to herself. [Chuckles] In fact, my understanding is that technically Bruce Dold made the…I mean we know he was doing what Ferro wanted, but Michael Miner reported in the Reader that Bruce Dold went to the Freedom Center which is where Chicago Magazine’s offices are now, and he was the one who announced the change and took the heat I guess. So my understanding is that that arrangement still exists.
Ken: That’s another piece that’s really worth reading is Mike Miner and the Reader with kind of the sort of the backstory of how it all came down that day and it’s really – I don’t know, it’s just really weird. So we were very pleased the other day to have Bruce Sagan on the show, who has now emerged as the… well, he’s the chairman of the board of this odd little duck that has been created to run the Sun Times, so the Sun Times kind of has its own board, Sun Times Holding Company, and he’s the chairman of that. And he of course was part of the whole Ferro thing. He came in when they bought the Sun Times. He was on the board of Wrapports, but he seems like he’s been completely reborn in this role. It’s like oh no, no, we’re free from Ferro. Now we can build this and you’ve got to give him credit, within a few weeks of being there there’s a new website which is at least measurably better than the old one. They started doing this thing – I don’t know if I’ve got one here, but this is kind of an interesting new thing, where they do a page 2 thing now. Each day it’s a different columnist.
00:35:32 So I mean they are definitely trying to make the paper a little bit more readable, and I’m seeing for the first time some kind of incremental improvements in the paper. Do you believe any of this? Do you believe that the Sun Times really is independent and that it is debt-free and that it might have a chance of becoming something other than what it’s been the last year?
Steve R: Well, I believe they may be debt-free, but they are still really on edge financially is my understanding. And they’ve had some scary moments in the last year or so, where things were really…look like they could be coming to an end. Now I have to say that I’ve been in Chicago for about 30 years or so and it seems like the Sun Times has always been just about on the verge of going out of business right. [Laughs]
Ken: Every single week.
Steve R: I’m always kind of hesitant to predict its demise, but I think it’s been under more serious financial stress than it ever has been in that time recently. I think as far Bruce Sagan goes I don’t know to what degree he’s getting involved in those sorts of things, but it appears he’s done some things as you’ve mentioned. I think he has more of a journalist DNA than a Michael Ferro did who came from…
Ken: Sixty years of publishing the Hyde Park Herald.
Steve R: He knows the mindset of journalism and the rhythms of the newsroom and that sort of thing, even being on the publisher side. And so in that sense I think it’s an improvement and you’re going to see improvements. However, I also think that he might be more of a caretaker figure. I don’t see him as being a visionary who is really going to save the Sun Times. I don’t know that he’s digitally oriented.
00:37:41 I saw the interview you did with him on this show and I think he mentioned something we heard a lot about from newspaper people like ten years ago that Google is stealing our stuff, which is – I would hope people would kind of be over that at this point.
Ken: I have to tell you that the image of you popped up right over there while he was talking about that, because I know this has been an issue of yours going back years and years. And yeah, there was kind of an echo of another time there, but interestingly enough though, some of those things do still occur today that if you were to take away the cost of printing something like the Sun Times, if you could keep the level of subscriptions where it is now you could run a pretty damn good operation, you know. So it’s like… I find myself on both sides of these arguments. It’s like yeah, yeah, I’ve heard all this before, but on the other hand it’s like I’m getting to the point where it’s like okay, I want to start drinking some of that Kool-Aid. Give me a cup of that Kool-Aid because I want to believe that this could happen.
Steve R: It doesn’t have to be an either or. Newspapers are in this curious position where they have more readers than they have ever had before. I mean even the Sun Times just because of anyone who has a website you can have millions of readers when your print subscriptions are dwindling and you only have 100-something thousand. I don’t know if the Sun Times is under 200. I don’t even know what their circulation is at this point, but… And at the same time they are trying to manage this transition where print revenue, you know print ads still get a lot more money than digital advertising, but there are other revenue streams that people are working on that don’t have to do with just crappy banner ads and that sort of thing.
00:39:46 So, you know if you got rid of the print edition, yeah, you could save on all that printing and the trucks and the distribution, all of that, but then you’re also just dumping that revenue and those readers overboard too. So I think to me, I think the transition – We need to go to all digital, but to me the print product could be something different and more creative and more imaginative.
Ken: I totally agree.
Steve R: And then you can even get a different kind of advertising, a different kind of reader. There are things like that you could do.
Ken: You know it’s really interesting that we’re having this conversation now, but I don’t know whether you are aware of this or not, but in the last couple of weeks online a huge battle has broken out over public radio. My DNA is in public radio, but to try to capsulize it as quickly as possible, NPR, the network, issued an edict that henceforth the network will not promote podcasts.
Steve R: Oh right, I did hear that.
Ken: They will acknowledge podcasts. So say Melissa Jerguson is the publisher of Mommies Are Really Cool podcast, but that’s it. And of course this is weird because a lot of podcasts are produced by NPR, but NPR won’t even promote its own podcasts. And part of the reason for that is because its board is largely controlled by the station managers of the on-air stations. And so there’s whole digital versus… In this case it’s not print, but its antenna radio. And the same argument is happening here, the exact same argument, and some of us old timers are saying, “Well yeah, okay, that’s cool.” But here’s the fact, the public radio stations, especially the big ones in big markets like Chicago, they are raising 3 or $4-million a year from their listeners calling in with $50 pledges, right.
Steve R: Yeah.
Ken: When your podcast delivers $3-million in revenue then we can talk. Until then we’re going to have to either stay with what we’ve got or we’re going to have to accommodate both, but this is the exact same discussion. There are ways that we can do both. As Barack Obama once said we can do more than one thing.
Steve R: Right.
Ken: So anyway, that’s my lecture.
Steve R: Absolutely. I did see that and I thought it was kind of silly they issued the language you can use. You can say it, but you can’t tell people to go listen to it. You can’t promote it. You can just acknowledge that it’s there. No call to action, right. It seems to me that I think fighting against new technologies that are capturing at least some peoples’ imagination like this and gaining listeners or readers of their own is always kind of a losing battle. I think you should get in there and find a way to co-opt it. Find a way to make it work for you, and find a way… I think you can find a way to make it not work at cross purposes. Because I understand what you’re saying. I understand you’ve got way more listeners over here than this little thing over here, but to kind of try to pretend it doesn’t exist or pretend that it doesn’t have its own potential for revenue.
Ken: A huge potential.
Steve R: You know, why not get that jumpstarted too? Let everyone have a range of choices.
Ken: You’re absolutely right about that. One more quick thing while we’re in this journalism here.
Steve R: Sure, sure.
Ken: What I’ve found really interesting, and again picking on our friends over at the Sun Times is that all of a sudden within days they are doing endorsements again of congressional campaigns and you know, the things that Ferro decreed we no longer need to do in newspapers. So they do have some independence from Michael Ferro at least in that regard.
Steve R: Oh I think they’re independent of Ferro now. I imagine so. There was a great notice by people, us geeks who pay attention to this sort of thing that very shortly after Ferro had departed they did a very harsh editorial about Governor Rauner, who is Ferro’s guy. You know he brought back endorsements one time solely…
Ken: We’re never going to do endorsements except this one time, vote for Rauner.
Steve R: For this one guy who used to also be invested in the Sun Times and so on and so forth. So I think there’s a great feeling of liberation at the Sun Times, absolutely. I mean just reading the… You know I follow a lot of their people on Twitter, and even in response to the article, the op-ed I did in Crain’s a lot of them re-tweeted it and were kind of…
Ken: Without their own comment.
Steve R: They were kind of coy to say ‘hmm, yes, interesting.’ Didn’t want to just come out and say, “Yes!” But you could kind of tell that’s what they were doing, so I think there’s a great sense of liberation there for sure.
Ken: I’ve read some really provocative and almost brilliant editorials in the Sun Times in the last couple of weeks. It’s…my God, what’s going on here. Who knows? I just find that really very interesting and that was one thing that I really didn’t want to not talk about.
Steve R: Sure.
Ken: And of course in the mirror image of it almost immediately the Chicago Tribune decided that it could only endorse in the republican race, and that would be Marco Rubio who had pretty much already dropped out at the time they did it, and they couldn’t find anybody in the democratic field that they could…
Steve R: Isn’t that interesting? I mean I know when Bruce Dold was the editorial page editor and now of course he’s moved up, but you know, he was a staunch defender of endorsements.
Ken: Yes he was.
Steve R: And of the very existence of editorial pages and that sort of thing, and all of a sudden they couldn’t… I can’t kind of understand in a certain sense. They couldn’t come to bring themselves basically to endorse Hillary Clinton.
Ken: Right, right.
Steve R: Because they weren’t going to endorse Bernie Sanders, right.
Ken: [Laughs] The Tribune endorsing Bernie Sanders, the whole world would just collapse. I mean let’s face it.
Steve R: Right. And maybe if Martin O’Malley was still in the race, I don’t know. In a certain sense I can understand, but usually they at least pick what they think is the least worse. So I mean I think, I’m guessing this in the hand of Ferro, I don’t know for sure but I’m guessing.
Ken: Who knows?
Steve R: And you know what? Here’s why I think it’s the hand of Ferro, is because I think some of the other Tribune papers did the same thing, not just in Chicago.
Ken: Oh is that right? I haven’t heard that.
Steve R: Yeah, if I’m not mistaken.
Ken: All right. Jumping radically into something else, the issue is very much on the table right now about the new top cop in Chicago. And of course there are three people who have been submitted and City Hall seems to be sending a very strong signal that it’s got one picked already, that the guy who is black who is from out of town, as opposed to the white woman who is from out of town but her credentials aren’t as strong for a big city, and the black guy who is from the police department who doesn’t seem to be getting much love except from the black caucus and the City Council. What do you make of this? I just think that this conceivably for all the trouble Rahm Emanuel is in, this has to be the toughest decision he has to make in his entire mayoralty. I don’t think anything is going to have more consequence than this.
Steve R: Well, you may be right there, because if he gets this wrong, if it doesn’t work out, if there are problems in the first few months or the first year of a new police chief, I mean what more could Rahm withstand? There’s already been such a… How many school superintendents have we had under Rahm? It’s already been enough…
Ken: Believe it or not only… Oh, with Forest Claypool – 3. I thought there were only 2, but there have been 3, yeah.
Steve R: There’s already been a lot of instability in those positions, right. I guess McCarthy was with him from the start, but yeah, I think the question is… There’s a couple of questions, one is who wants to work for Rahm Emanuel as a police chief? It’s hard enough to work for the guy in any position, but as police chief, he called Gary McCarthy every morning, I don’t know 6 or 7 in the morning or whatever to find out what went on overnight, and he probably was on the phone with McCarthy three or four times a day and he was probably berating him over and over. And you know, one of the things I said even a couple of years ago is that one of the problems with Rahm Emanuel is he has three jobs. He’s the mayor, the police chief and the schools’ chief, right, you know. And so if you take a job like this, because I think applications were down from what you might expect.
Ken: It was only 30 something I thought, yeah.
Steve R: I think there’s a couple of reasons for that. One is if you take a job like this you have to know that Rahm is really the show and he’s on you. He is on you every minute of the day and you’ve got to be willing to put up with that. And then I think the other thing that would account for a low number of applications is with the Department of Justice embarked on their probably year-long investigation…
Ken: That’s going to consume your first year here.
Steve R: You know, and then when that’s done chances are good that there will be a consent decree in which the DOJ will essentially run the department for a while.
Ken: That’s exactly right, yeah, yeah.
Steve R: So it may not be that attractive of a job, but I think the guy from Dekalb County in Georgia who seems to be the frontrunner he seems to be a very charismatic strong personality. The question is I think Rahm’s hesitancy would be is this guy too big really of a personality for the job. He’s a CNN commentator and that sort of thing.
Ken: This is really the crux of the matter isn’t it? I mean even Gary McCarthy has made it fairly clear in these post superintendent interviews and public appearances. You know Steve Patton was running the police department. It was like he couldn’t do anything without running it past the mayor’s lawyer first, and I imagine that for a guy with an ego the size of McCarthy’s that really rubbed him very badly. And you know, if you’re going to come in and run this, what is it 13,000-member police department you had better have an ego bigger than Texas, right.
Steve R: That’s right.
Ken: You’ve got to be so strong and so confident in what you’re doing. And if you make a decision and then you get a phone call saying, “Ah, I don’t think we’re going to do that,” that’s just a deal-breaker. It’s got to be. But on the other hand, you’re the Mayor. You’re the guy who has been elected. People want you to be accountable for everything that this guy does, or woman.
Steve R: Well, I mean that’s the trick. That’s the trick of how much you delegate. You know for Rahm he sees everything through a political prism. His concern is everything that happens within the police department or with crime or how it’s going to impact him politically, and when you get that kind of hyper sensitivity and I think that results in a lot of micromanagement. You have to be willing to say, “Okay, you’re the police chief,” at least to some extent.
Ken: And it is interesting in a way that this guy who came into the job as Mayor with such blue ribbon credentials really had never run anything like this, so he was learning on the job. And that raises the final question I have for you, which is about a 90-minute discussion that we need to condense it down to about 90 seconds. Is Rahm Emanuel learning on the job? Can Rahm Emanuel be rehabilitated? Can he actually even if he’s only a two-term Mayor, at the end of the two terms is it possible that he will actually go out with some positive feeling and people will think hey, you know, he had a rough start but he ended up being a much better Mayor than I thought? Is that even conceivable?
Steve R: Um, I want to say ‘no’. I mean I know that’s a harsh thing to say, but.
Ken: It’s okay. I’ve asked this question a lot and the answer has been 100% no.
Steve R: I feel like he’s not learning at all and he’ll make some comments or give a speech and he will say all the right things, and then two days later he’s back to the same old Rahm. I think he is who he is and that’s…
Ken: When we’ve had these conversations on the show and we’ve had this brief conversation many times and the answer has always been no, my explanation is that Rahm has always been a political operative all his life but he’s never been a politician.
Steve R: Absolutely right.
Ken: And boy those are different skills.
Steve R: Absolutely right.
Ken: As Ben Joravsky once said, I can’t believe how many of my conversations now are beginning with – ‘say what you will about Daley, but’…
Steve R: [Laughs] Right. I know. I know.
Ken: Say what you will about Daley, he was a politician.
Steve R: Absolutely.
Ken: And he understood how to… Well anyway. Let’s not go down nostalgia lane. Oh things would be so much better if Mayor Daley was still alive. I think we’ve taken enough of your time. Don’t you? Steve it’s a pleasure.
Steve R: This is great. It’s always fun.
Ken: Thanks for doing this.