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ChicagoNo: Trib unceremoniously yanks the plug on its volunteer blogging platform
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Tribune disables ChicagoNow platform in a ‘cowardly and horribly unprofessional way.’
I sent this letter to Chicago Tribune General Manager P. Anthony “Par” Ridder at 12:46 p.m. on Monday:
I wasn’t surprised last week when Tribune Publishing pulled the plug on ChicagoNow, the company-branded blogging site that the paper launched with considerable fanfare 13 years ago this month.
Blogging as a medium has long been losing the overall battle with social media and other online sources of commentary for eyeballs and advertising dollars, and I’m assuming that, even with an all-volunteer army of writers, the company was losing money on the initiative. These are tough times in print journalism and you have to make tough decisions. Understood.
But I was surprised at how it was done — abruptly, with no notice to the writers who might have wanted to save their posts and not even a gracious “so long and thanks” on the disabled home page. Here’s what visitors to ChicagoNow.com see today:
Former site manager and my former colleague Jimmy Greenfield estimated that ChicagoNow had published well over 100,000 posts over the years. Some were deeply personal essays. Some were partisan rants. Some were highly informed and informative essays by experts in their fields. Some were amusing observations about life and the human condition. Some were — well, you get the idea. There was a lot there. In its heyday, Greenfield said the site hosted more than 300 active blogs and drew 25 million page views a month.
Ending ChicagoNow “was done in a cowardly and horribly unprofessional way,” Greenfield posted to Facebook. “The Tribune never reached out, never responded and never gave anybody an opportunity to take their content with them before taking it offline. Nobody can access the back end of the WordPress-hosted platform. It's all gone. What an awful thing to do.”
His post has been shared more than 50 times and, as you can imagine, the Tribune is taking a sound and, in my view, well-deserved beating on social media for how it handled this matter.
Yes, some old ChicagoNow blog posts can be found and resurrected through the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, but that’s a time consuming process that yields incomplete results. Can’t you at least allow your bloggers — the ones who posted so much content that was often linked right off chicagotribune.com even though ChicagoNow content was not part of the newspaper— a few weeks or months of access to the WordPress platform so they can salvage their old content?
And tell me, why would a newspaper so badly in need of generating goodwill in its community operate in such a cold, dismissive fashion that hurts not just the current and former volunteer bloggers, but the newsroom journalists who continue to put out a fine product?
As of 10:42 p.m. when I put this issue to bed, Ridder hadn’t responded. But if he does, I’ll let you know in Thursday’s issue what he said. I’ll also gladly print any responses from Tribune or Alden Global Capital managers who want to put a different spin on what’s happened here.
Ridder’s old blog — which, update, is actually a parody — still lives online, in contrast.
Notes and comments from readers —lightly edited —- along with my responses
Some of these messages are in reference to items in last week’s issues of the Picayune Sentinel.
Richard H. — Regarding use of MF and profanity in general, my mother made a statement that I value today. "Profanity is a sign of ignorance. The speaker of profanity doesn't know any better words to use."
With all due respect to your mother, I think that sentiment is codswallop. The effective and deft deployment of just the right salty oath is an art form. This doesn’t excuse mindless, relentless repetition of the most familiar cusswords in a way that saps them of meaning and power, but there are certainly times when these dainty circumlocutions — “codswallop,” for instance — are distracting and enfeebling.
David L. — Thank you for at least having the integrity to point out that the Beto O'Rourke heckler was not laughing at all about the tragic death of innocent children, but at O’Rourke’s glaring ignorance of firearms. But I remain dismayed over your gleeful celebration of O'Rourke's response using “mf-er”. Do you not see at all how corrosive this is to civil discourse? And can you also not see how this is just more partisan red meat, and you would be horrified and outraged if someone were to refer to one of your heroes like Hillary or the soon to be departed Liz Cheney as a miserable (euphemism for a female body part)? To be all right with this is simply to be all right with our politics continuing to descend into nothing more than vulgarities and name calling instead of ever trying to find common ground to work for the benefit of our country.
Donald Trump was the most openly vulgar presidential candidate and president in our history and his persistent name-calling and childish rhetoric was a feature, not a bug, to many of those who voted for him. So I will not be listening to lectures on decorum from my friends on the political right. And I’ve never been one for collapsing on the fainting couch or howling in outrage when churls hurl invective at people I admire (even those I admire for the very limited purpose for which I admire Liz Cheney).
Sure, I’d like productive civil dialogue to craft compromise solutions to our most pressing problems. But gun freaks who’d rather laugh at Beto’s minor misunderstandings of semi-automatic weapons than engage with the problem of gun violence aren’t showing us the way.
Dave P. — We are long time subscribers to the Chicago Tribune print edition and have been paying $159.92 every eight weeks for the privilege. We just got our credit card statement and on August 8 they charged us $179.92 for the same period. Since there's no way to inquire about pricing on their website, I called the customer service line and talked to one of their representatives. She told me that since I had called to inquire about the charge, they will refund $20 and reduce our regular charge back to $159.92. Evidently, the price increase is only for subscribers who don't call asking about the increase. That's an interesting corporate decision they've made.
“Interesting” is one word for it. Newspapers are not alone in having a business model that relies on consumer inattention and inertia, but the lack of transparency remains dismaying to outrageous given that newspapers strive otherwise to be beacons of truth and light.
Steve S. — “Only” is arguably the slipperiest word in The English Language. Nevertheless, in about 90% of the cases where the writer or speaker misplaces it in a sentence, the intention is adequately clear. Here is a “case study” I use when pontificating on this subject. It is not original, but I wish it were. Only John kisses Mary. John only kisses Mary. John kisses only Mary.
In my poll, 52% of readers said that “Proper placement of the word ‘only’ is only something pedants care about, and quite a few failed to appreciate how I ironically misplaced the word “only” in the poll answer.
John M .. — Liberty Mutual Insurance is Public Enemy No. 1 for insisting, "...you only pay for what you need." What option is there other than to "pay?" Beg? Steal? Borrow?" What they mean, of course, is,"You pay only for what you need." And what of those who say or write, for instance, "Illinois is one of the only states …" It is either "the only state" or "one of the few."
Yes, and I recognize a journalistic dodge when I see one. Writers and speakers use “One of the few” (or “one of the only”) either when they can’t easily find the exact number or when any exact number would be subject to debate over interpretations.
Marc M. Something that you might need to add to the 'I was wrong list'. I have recently seen a number of people shaking hands. Including me, when I met a nice couple the man offered his hand, which I immediately shook and then his wife did the same. I also haven't seen any fist bumps or elbow bumps lately. The fear/stigma may be wearing off. But I bet if I had offered a fist, the other guy would have switched without any sense of ill manners.
I don’t know that I was wrong about handshaking coming to an end in my July, 2020 column headlined “If handshakes are coming to an end, make your last one meaningful.” That “if” is doing some work there, and my reasoning was sound:
Putting forth one’s hand in greeting is tantamount to offering up a petri dish of unknown pathogens, It invites others to share in whatever germs and viruses you may have encountered since you last scrubbed up…. (There is an) increasing likelihood that we will never again practice this ritual, that whatever else may eventually return to normal, our heightened awareness of contagion will stop us from deliberately swapping germs when a courteous and sanitary nod would do.
I don’t deny that handshaking is coming back. But the safer fist-bump has become far, far more common and used in my social circles. It says “We’re not quite out of All This yet, but howdy.” To my mind, a bro’ hug and a fist bump are safer than a handshake.
Marvin B. — I disagree with your complaint when you argue that saying someone died “suddenly” makes no sense and we should instead say they died “unexpectedly.” Although there is a moment of death when all of us pass in an instant from being alive to being dead, it is also true that those with chronic illnesses die gradually as each of their systems fail. And then the moment comes and you are really dead. Not unexpected, not really sudden by any normal definition. On the other hand, if you die due to a catastrophic event such as a plane crash or a shooting, in those circumstances the terms “unexpected” or “sudden: apply.
I suppose that it is stretching the language a bit to say that there is a “sudden” transition from life to death in the case of someone who is, say, comatose and is removed from life support. And indeed 2/3’s of more that 500 voters indicated agreement with the statement that it’s fine to say someone died “suddenly” as another way of saying they died unexpectedly. I concede defeat and will go back to picking fights with those who misuse “begs the question.”
However, I will challenge the idea that it’s at all common or appropriate to refer to an accidental death or a homicide as “unexpected.” We use “unexpected” —or, OK, “sudden” — to describe deaths only from rapid onset medical events such as heart attacks and strokes or as euphemisms for a fatal drug overdoses or deaths by suicide.
Ed F. — Death is not unexpected. Only the timing is unexpected.
You must be a blast at parties, Ed!
David E. — Why is it an unwritten but iron-clad rule that we put opinion adjectives before size adjectives? Why must it always be “dirty little secret” and never “little dirty secret?” And why size adjectives always come before age? Why not “old little lady?”
I was going to say it must be a strange, long trip to learn English, but proper adjective order/placement is an issue in many languages. There are written rules!
David A. — President Donald Trump achieved energy independence and a record stock market before COVID-19 shut the world down. He kept Little Rocket Man in line, deterred Russia from invading Ukraine on his watch and enabled private industry to bring a COVID-19 vaccine to market in record time. Compare that to President Joe Biden’s record inflation, higher taxes, a “not quite yet” recession (how we keep redefining terms to cover for Biden failures), an effectively open southern border, and record crime . Even Democrats say they don’t want to see him run for re-election, I’d say that’s quite an accomplishment, especially given all the hurdles put in his way
OK, point by point:
▪️ Regarding “energy independence,” FactCheck.org reports:
Those who tout this so-called “energy independence” may be referring to the fact that, on net, the country either produced more energy than it consumed, exported more energy than it imported, or, more specifically, had a greater number of exports than imports of petroleum, which includes crude oil and refined products from crude oil, such as gasoline and various fuels. However, by any of those definitions, the U.S. was still “energy independent” in 2021 under President Joe Biden.
Not that the drilling and fracking and the overall reliance on fossil fuels doesn’t come without serious long-term environmental costs, but since the climate crisis is a hoax I guess we need not worry, what?
▪️The Dow Jones Industrial Average was at 30,932 at the close of the Trump term (up from 29,298 before COVID struck. That market opened at 33,600 on Monday.
▪️ Trump’s embrace of the despicable and murderous Kim Jong-un (are they still “in love?” I wonder) occasioned none of the criticism from the right that Barack Obama got for inclining at the waist when greeting the Saudi King, but nothing suggests Kim is more or less in or out of “line” now than he was when Trump was flirting with him.
▪️ I’ll wait for your response to tell me just what Trump did or said to deter Russia from invading Ukraine — was it the effort to withhold military aid to Ukraine unless they announced an investigation into Hunter Biden?
▪️Trump didn’t take COVID-19 seriously at first and the Pfizer breakthrough vaccine in December, 2020 was engineered with German biotech firm BioNTech. History will judge his administration very harshly when it comes to its COVID response.
I’m not an apologist for everything Biden is doing or has done and the situation at our Southern border is indeed vexing, a moral conundrum for anyone who recognizes the essential humanity and the wretched existence of many seeking to come here while also recognizing the importance of borders. I don’t have any great solutions but dumping billions into building barriers doesn’t seem like the way to go.
▪️ Job growth under Biden has been excellent and unemployment is quite low. Wages are rising faster than in recent years — which, yes, has contributed to inflation, which does seem to be ebbing a bit. The Republican plan to battle inflation is not clear to me. Tax cuts for the rich, maybe? That seems to be their go-to plan.
▪️ Crime rates are not at record highs.
Yet they did spike fairly dramatically in 2020 when Trump was still in charge (not that presidents have a hell of a lot to do with crime rate) but you brought it up:
Crime rates changed dramatically across the United States in 2020. Most significantly, the murder rate — that is, the number of murders per 100,000 people — rose sharply, by nearly 30 percent. Assaults increased as well, with the rate of offenses rising by more than 10 percent. … Despite politicized claims that this rise was the result of criminal justice reform in liberal-leaning jurisdictions, murders rose roughly equally in cities run by Republicans and cities run by Democrats. So-called “red” states actually saw some of the highest murder rates of all. (Brennan Center)
But again I ask, given Trump’s general fecklessness plus his divisive, undignified manner and his authoritarian tendencies, why aren’t you principled conservatives and Republicans loudly demanding a better nominee for 2024?
Dennis A. — The Sun-Times editorial last Thursday, “Take the Tiger Woods South Side golf course off the table: The Chicago Park District should focus instead on upgrading Jackson Park and South Shore courses” reminded me of your 2018 column, “Give Jackson Park Golf Course a facelift — and forget Tiger Woods.” Please get back into circulation those very good and sound ideas!
Time flies. It’s been more than five years that the Tiger Woods’ designed golf course idea has been floating around — a perennial non-starter and deservedly so. Here’s part of what I wrote in 2018:
The existing Jackson Park Golf Course has “good bones,” in the estimation of course architect Greg Martin of Sugar Grove. Martin recently played the course with Daniels and Mike Benkusky of Homewood, a fellow golf architect, and said he came away impressed by “the fun and unique green complexes” as well as the “range of yardages and challenges.”
He compared it to Wrigley Field — “a gem sitting within a neighborhood” — and suggested that it be “reimagined” rather than bulldozed.
Benkusky said that “for $3 (million) to $5 million, they could update the greens, traps and the irrigation system, plant new grasses and trees, and pull back some of the tee areas to get more yardage out of the existing footprint.”
Both architects said championship-level courses, with their tricky, undulating greens and numerous sand traps, tend to frustrate the average player no matter how long the holes are from the closer tees. And they predicted that inevitably high maintenance costs will make it difficult to impossible for the course to be profitable if the Park District keeps to its pledge that greens fees on the new course will be under $50 for locals (fees at Jackson Park are now $35 on weekends) and free for those under 17.
Martin and Benkusky suggested it would be better for the future of golf on the South Side to turn the South Shore course into more of a training facility, with practice areas and a shorter course designed for beginners.
Whatever improvements they make I hope they don’t make the course too hard. It’s one of the few courses where I can still reliably break 90.
Carl H. — Hey Eric, GFY (Go Fuck Yourself)
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Bill H. — Your blog is more fun than your great articles in the Trib.
Thank you. But “newsletter,” please! “Publication” maybe. I certainly have a lot of fun writing the Picayune Sentinel in chunks that feel appropriately sized and responding to readers in this forum. I’m really glad and grateful when people enjoy it.
Steve S. — Neil Steinberg’s comparison — “Gacy and Trump: the surprise connection — Sociopaths are never at a loss to explain their bad behavior,” was absurd. I’m not a fan of Trump but as far as I know he never murdered anyone. Steinberg is fortunate the world wasn’t woke yet in 2005. He would have been fired in a heartbeat.
Well, he drew the analogy for the limited purpose of illustrating the sociopath's ability to lie and deny. My guess is discerning readers appreciated that and his editors did as well, as they would have in 2005.
Ya gotta see these tweets!
I often run across tweets that rely on visual humor and so can’t be included in the Tweet of the Week contest (the template for the poll does not allow the use of images). Here are a few good ones I’ve come across recently, two of which play off very common memes:
Vote for your favorite. I’ll share the winner in Thursday’s main edition.
There’s still time to vote in the conventional Tweet of the Week poll!
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