2018 Off and Running!
Happy New Year! (Okay, it's really late January.)
The reason for the delay is that things have been busier than usual. In late December, Crain's Chicago Business published my front-page feature that looks into why Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pulled the plug on a potential plan to refurbish the Uptown Theatre, a 1929 movie palace shuttered in ruins since 1981. Thanks to some sleuthing I got my hands on a two-year plan to bring the theater back in life but was mysteriously axed in the run-up to his second election. The story was one of the most viewed on the Crain's site that month and got me an invite on WBEZ's morning show to discuss. Thanks WBEZ!
In late December I also handled the Illinois Playbook for POLITICO for a full week. Check it out every morning here.
In January I started teaching a new journalism course I designed for the University of Illinois at Chicago — Genres of Journalism. I set my students off to write a wide variety of stories, from arts criticism to perspectives to data-driven hard news. So far, so good. The class is maxed out and we're off to the races.
The Washington Post hired me to cover the Women's March in Chicago. About 300,000 people descended onto Grant Park that Saturday. Read more about it!
Finally, Medium hired me in the fall to create a bunch of news series for their site. Medium is expanding its mission to include professional journalism that readers want (and want to pay for!) The first installment of my series, "Human Trafficking in the Midwest," debuted last week. The second and third installments run in late January and early February. The series look at how people are being trafficked here for sex and for labor. The third piece look at how Illinois has taken a tough stance against trafficking, lead by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart who has emerged as a leading voice in treating the women, not as criminals, but as victims. I'm proud of the reporting I did for all three of these long-form pieces. I hope you read them.
See you next month!
Reporting for The Guardian on Las Vegas shooting
A sad news day today for anyone covering the mass shooting in Las Vegas that left nearly 60 people dead and hundreds injured. The Guardian asked that I write a story to provide context into the event itself — A three-day country music festival produced by Live Nation outside the Mandalay Bay resort. My reporting included context into the rise of these mega country fests and included quotes from my interview with headliner Jason Aldean from an interview I had with him last year. Sadly, Aldean joins the short list of performers whose concerts were cut short by gun violence or explosives.
Covering the Civil War for the Washington Post
Two weeks ago I attended a Cvil War reenactment in the tiny tourist town of Three Oaks, Mich. While this may have been any normal summer weekend in Harbor County, this Civil War reenactment followed the violence in Charlottesville, a weekend that involved horrible violence and anger over Confederate statues in the South.
My story, which ran in the Washington Post, looks at Civil War reenactments through the lens of Charlottesville and asks whether or not the same scrutiny over the monuments would be applied there. I also found that many in this community felt the tension from the statues debate and worried that their hobby, which they insist is about history, will soon die out. The story also featured my debut as a photographer! Check it out here.
My essay on country singer Linda Parker in new RUST BELT CHICAGO anthology
I'm proud to announce that my essay on early country singer Linda Parker is included in the new edition of RUST BELT CHICAGO: AN ANTHOLOGY, the latest edition from the people at Belt Publishing who have been documenting stories from across the rust belt states. As its name suggests, the book focuses on untold stories from Chicago and the surrounding area and features work by Chloe Taft, Sonya Huber, Britt Julious, Kari Lydersen, Kevin Coval, Rob Miller, among others, and a cover by artist Tony Fitzpatrick.
My essay, "Beneath the Willow Tree: The Early Death and Immortal Life of Linda Parker," looks at the short but fast life of Linda Parker who left behind few recordings but, as "The Little Sunbonnet Girl," captured a mass audience due to her short stint on The National Barn Dance out of Chicago. Even though she died at age 23, she was the first female country singer to launch a successful solo career out of a male-dominated group. Here is her voice, two years before her death.
There will be several RUST BELT-related events throughout Chicago this fall. In the meantime, read The Chicago Tribune's profile of anthology editor Martha Bayne, who commissioned the piece, and a review by Third Coast Review.
In The Guardian, my appreciation of Glen Campbell
Music lost the great Glen Campbell yesterday. He was 81 and had just released his final album, the appropriately-titled Adios, in June. My appreciation ran in The Guardian last night and is circulating today. In it, I look at why Campbell was much more than his most familiar hits Rhinestone Cowboy and Wichita Lineman, and was an exceptional musician. Find it here.
I'm handing POLITICO's Illinois Playbook this week
All week I'm covering the Illinois Playbook for POLITICO. And what a week! Gov. Rauner vetoed a state education bill, July's homicide numbers in Chicago look dismal — And it's only Tuesday. Check it out every morning here. Playbook writer Natasha Korecki is back in the saddle next week.
Trying to keep the blues alive in Chicago isn't easy
Last month Crain's Chicago Business published my story "Blues is Chicago's most famous cultural export. Why don't we do more to promote it?" a question that has persisted for years, if not decades, in this town. Thankfully, the story received a lot of attention; Bob Sirott and Marianne Murciano invited me on their WLS show to discuss the dilemma, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was asked pressed on the issue during an appearance on "Chicago Tonight."
Hello 2017 — It's already a busy year
January may be a slow month for most industries, but for news in Chicago, things are already heating up.
The Washington Post had me on a number of stories this month, starting with a story out the West Side involving a Facebook Live videoing of the torture of a special needs victim. Read more here.
President Obama flew to town to give his farewell address to a room of supporters at McCormick Place. I was there but ducked out early to head to Bronzevile to talk with people at various viewing parties who, in their own way, was saying goodbye to their hometown president. I made note in this story for the Washington Post that, to them, Obama was not just a sitting president, he was also their neighbor.
I also have a story out this month, still pending, on why activists for police reform in Chicago are suddenly worried their progress will be rolled back during a Trump presidency. The story is not yet live but I'll post it this week when it runs.
On Monday I'll have the major feature in Crain's Chicago Business that explores why Chicago historically has played down its incredible legacy of blues, jazz, and gospel. Unlike smaller cities like St. Louis, New Orleans, and Memphis, Chicago has no museum, statues, signage, and other indications it is proud — or even understands — its most famous global cultural export. The story gets deep into the reasons why this is the case and looks at suggestions things may change. We'll see. Out of everything I've written about over the last 20 years, I'll admit this topic is one that is close to my heart and I'm proud to keep it front and center so the conversation doesn't stop. Read it here.
Finally, I started teaching a new media writing class at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The semester is already underway and there's certainly enough in the headlines to keep us busy through May!
Washington Post stories in July — And Dolly!
This month (July 2016), I've been busy at the Washington Post. This weekend I have the front page feature of the Sunday Arts section! The story is on New Orleans trumpeter Irvin Mayfield who is the subject of a three-year federal probe for diverting money from the New Orleans Library Foundation, a private entity tasked with raising money for the city's public library system, to the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, his personal non-profit that pays him a high six-figure salary and has been used to promote his career.
You can read this story here.
I also traveled to St. Joseph, Michigan, to report on a mass shooting at a county courthouse that left several people, including the shooter, dead.
Finally, I wrote a feature for the Post on he struggle many elderly musicians face when they reach a certain age and don't have the fund for their mounting medical costs. Many, like surf rock legend Dick Dale, are forced to continue to tour despite major ailments. It's a sad story that I hope will be remedied soon. Check it out here.
Oh, and I interviewed country music legend Dolly Parton for The Guardian!!
My new gig covering Americana music for The Guardian
What a busy Spring! A few months ago I was named a contributing writer at The Guardian. My beat is Americana music. Every week I'll be writing about artists and trends out of Nashville and other music-rich cities. The full archive will soon be up on this site, or you can check here. Among highlights so far have been looks at new albums from Robbie Fulks, Loretta Lynn, Dierks Bentley, Todd Snider, and a Grateful Dead tribute curated by The National.
Then there were the deaths of Merle Haggard and Guy Clark.
I've continued to cover the unfolding police reform saga for The Washington Post. However a fun detour was diving deep into the unexpected partnership between "Star Wars" creator George Lucas and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for a museum that is struggling to get off the ground. It ran a few Sundays ago in the Post, read it here.
There IS good news coming out of Chicago. His name is Toronzo Cannon.