Thursday, February 21, 2008

Garden Fresh brings you Distopia and Banality in Shiny Packages

Garden Fresh art gallery, in the west loop, features to pleasantly sardonic artists 'till March 1.

As reviewed by yours truly:

Holly Holmes gives graphical commentary on the dissolution of a idealized versions of our world thanks to the forces of humanity. Nuclear cooling towers, skyscrapers, and beer bottles break idyllic scenes of a school of fish, a country sunset, and glacial wildlife. The childish-like painting in some works seem to make a statement about the human impact on the world. Is pollution a bastardization of our childlike idealism? Are we taking something for granted through short-sighted disregard for environment? Or was the artist just having fun?

A forest of chopped trees and striped green clouds awaits...

Mike Lash plays with pop culture references, juxtapositioning, and boobies to comment on little lies that parents tell their children and the dumbing up of human experience. His textual-based prints and paintings are worth seeing simply for being on one hand, banal, on the other hand, happily schizophrenic.

At the exhibit, Lash kindly shared merlot and rye whiskey to keep the gears spinning. Can't promise you the same luck...

Can't I take a shower?

Tribune columnist John Kass lathered up city hall Wednesday to see if he could use Bennett Johnson's shower. Johnson, the Chicago Budget Director, recently installed a shower in his office with possible use of public money.

Kass's stunt (with video!) is a hilarious look at wasteful spending in Chicago, while rising sales and property taxes creep up on the city's residents before the pending recession.

Carrying his towel and Irish Spring soap, Kass asks things like,
"Can't I take a shower?" It's being funded with taxpayer money after all.
"Where's Bennett, I'd like to talk to him?"
"How many people can fit in the shower"
Are there warming lights to stay warm when you get out?

Johnson's spokeswoman, Wendy Abrams, responded to nearly all of Kass's requests, "That's a fair question. I can't answer that right now, but I will give you an answer by the end of the day."

Pleasantly stalling...

Mayor Daley's administration, meanwhile, claims Johnson is footing the >$5000 bill for the shower, as stated in the Tribune.

Emminent domain, development, and you

Chicago city council is considering promoting a controversial TIF district in the North Lawndale area, reports

Residents organized under the Lawndale Alliance are wary of a TIF district because of the fear that any new city-financed development will displace residents and not deal with the root causes of high crime/poverty/unemployment in the area.

Lawndale Alliance founder Joe Ann Bradley's request that assurances be made to residents regarding eminent domain, etc. sounds nice. But city assurances seem more like political protection for Daley and his allies than any sort of active protection.

As far as the TIF plans so far...
Preliminary city budget estimates for the TIF include $2.5 million for job training; $10 million for property assembly and site preparation; $35 million for rehabilitation of buildings and construction of affordable housing; and $30 million for public works improvements, such as streets, utilities and parking

With the third largest amount of crime reported for city neighborhoods, Lawndale needs to change. That residents are organizing gives some hope that change will not come just in the form of new condos and shopping centers.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Gung Hay Fat Choy, Sun Nien Fai Lok

"Wishing you prosperity and Happy New Year."

Thousands came out to Wentworth Avenue today in sub-zero temperatures to ring in the New Lunar Year 4706. An organizer of the celebration estimated that about 20,000 come to the annual Chinatown event.

The dragon was pretty cool, along with my frostbitten hands.

"The Year of the Rat" restarts the 12-year cycle the Chinese Zodiac calendar. Those born in the "Year of the Rat" are said to be "charming, passionate, charismatic, practical and hardworking. They are said to be endowed with great leadership skills and to be the most highly organized, meticulous, and systematic of the twelve signs. They are said to be intelligent and cunning, highly ambitious and strong-willed people who are keen and unapologetic promoters of their own agendas, which are often said to include money and power."

My girlfriend, Caroline, took the following video; so you can get the highlights of Chicago Chinatown right in your warm, comfy armchair, or on your office computer as the case may be.

So Gung Hay Fat Choy, and drink some Tsing Tao!


Friday, February 8, 2008

The Cap Times reinvents itself

Madison's progressive afternoon daily will never be the same. The Cap Times announced yesterday that it would cease six-day production of its afternoon print edition, following a trend of demises for afternoon dailies across the country. The paper will primarily have an online presence starting in April, with two weekly tabloid versions inside its competitor the State Journal. Though seemingly grim news, the change isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"Many people think that in order to be powerful, a journalist has to reach a huge audience," said Ellen Hume, Research Director of the Center for Future Civic Media, in a speech at West Bohemia University. "No, in order to be powerful, a journalist has to reach the audience that can make a difference to an issue. It can be one person."

Formerly as an intern and contributor, and always as a reader of the Cap Times, I see the the paper filling a needed watchdog role. With Madison's popular progressive readership, the paper has featured such stories as an expose on the doctor abuse within the prison system, the hidden costs behind charity fund raisers, unsavory lobbying of the state cable bill, and more. It's hard to think that silencing such a voice would be acceptable to readers.

Despite a low paper circulation hovering around 17,000, the State Journal's needed subsidies, and high number of staff, the Cap Times could be economically viable as an online product.

From my own experience, online readership of the Cap Times is hardly waning. As an intern, I read responses to my articles (hate mail and otherwise) from NY, UK, CA...A story jointly written by city editor Chris Murphy and I on one of Sen. Feingold's listen sessions caught tens of thousands of hits online within a couple of days.

The news organization has also shown some innovation last spring in revamping its style. Tighter columns on its Web site allowing for more easy online reading, page format seems much less cluttered, and a quick reader response feature gives a nod to bloggers. John Nichols gave live-blogging a go during municipal elections last spring and the staff is toying with video editorials.

Among other things that could be useful are a hyperlink sharing features for blogging and social networking sites (Facebook, Digg, Blogger, Newsvine tabs) and permalinks for stories. As if Shauna didn't have enough to do...

The main competitor for the Cap Times will be, for which I've also written. Both present a more progressive viewpoint, not afraid to bring fire to a debate on local politics or fallacies in the justice system. But is strictly local, featuring more arts and entertainment than news. Cap Times could show broader reach into state politics.

Breaking news could be where Cap Times will hold it's niche. Prior agreements with the State Journal have allowed it to seize on breaking news of the day. Whether this agreement changes?? Also, with no paper product, the local news shouldn't be subject to a noon deadline anymore.

The toughest part of the changeover at Cap Times will be staff cuts. Online publishing decreases the need for as many staff, but a short-staffed editorial department could hinder content.

Such is the nature of the old guard of newspapers unless there is consolidation across media, something that the progressive paper won't do. Here in Chicago, there's cuts at the Sun-Times (also due to stupid business decisions) and Sam Zell's purchase of Tribune Co. is allowing a media empire to stay competitive (possibly to the detriment of the %#@&ing news).

With all the economic bogymen in today's news world, Cap Times still has a leg to stand on. And it should keep on fighting.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

F&$@ your covering important issues

Sara Fajardo, an Orlando Sentinel photographer, received an F-bomb for asking about journalism's obligation to inform communities about social issues and political detritus. Tribune Co.'s new Chief Executive Sam Zell delivered the F-bomb in what would have been an otherwise interesting exchange on the state of the news.

Here's the exchange.

"What readers want are puppy dogs," Fajardo said, alluding to soft feature stories. "We also need to inform the community."

"I'm sorry," Zell responded. "But you're giving me the classic, what I would call, journalistic arrogance by deciding that puppies don't count. I don't know anything about puppies. What I'm interested in is how can we generate additional interest in our products and additional revenue so we can make our product better and better and hopefully we get to the point where our revenue is so significant that we can do puppies and Iraq. Fuck you."

UW alumnus and Chicago Tribune columnist, Phil Rosenthal, pointed out how Zell's response raises questions about his ability to respect the Tribune Co.'s new value on questioning authority. If journalists are going to ask him his views on creating awareness as well as revenue. Will they always be told to fuck off?

The audience applauded Zell's response, as he was bringing up a good point. Journalists may have to cater to public whim, reporting on fluff events that the public wants, in order to bring in enough revenue to do investigative pieces, cover social/political problems.

But the point was lost when he acted like a belligerent drunk.

Perhaps a better thought that could have come out of this is that journalists must consider how they report rather than on what. Newspapers cover fluff, but is that what the public really wants?

Perhaps newspapers should consider writing with a more lively tone. Objectivity is a good thing, but perhaps it stifles analysis and can lead to the mind-numbing "he said, she said" story. I don't mean leaving some points of view out, but stories sometimes don't distinguish between which perspective holds more water given evidence.

Perhaps the solution for newspapers is interactive online media. Hyperlinks, videos, and blogs/forums allow the reader to see an event or issue first hand, and comment on it instead of just reading and believing. I know many alternative weeklies, e-magazines, small progressive newspapers, and professional blogs who've done this well...

Recently fired L.A. Times editor Jim O'Shea commented on the state of mass journalism much more eloquently as he made his way out of the door:
"The current system relies too heavily on voodoo economics and not enough on the creativity and resourcefulness of journalists," he said, Too often "we've been dismissed as budgetary adolescents who can't be trusted to conserve our resources."

However, O'Shea also wrote how Zell is a smart businessman who would likely come around to see his point of view...

Monday, February 4, 2008

Interactive Democracy from a Newspaper, No Way!

As a relatively recent resident here in Chi-town, I'm frustrated by the amount I don't know about local politics. That's where the Chicago Tribune comes in to enlighten my civic duty.

Atop it's home page, the Tribune provides a nifty Voter Guide where I can find out who I'm voting for, their Web pages, and some information.

All I have to do in punch in my address and off to the democracy train! Basically the info provided on candidates is little more than sound bites...and for some candidates, the only supplemental information is who the tribune endorsed...

Newspapers, for better or worse, have always played a role in elections, sometimes vital and informative, sometimes propagandist. From the Revolution's print workshop to the 19th century party press, to yellow and watchdog journalism of the 20th.

Due to political parties' growing lack of resonance, the media has took on a new role as the filter for candidates, their reputations, their ideas. Where would we be without the horserace, Billary, Obama's snub?, Mitt's "conservatism," islamofascism, Brit Hume and Mickey Mouse?

For those of us in Chicago, check out the superfun live-action way to get your voting on. "Learn" from the Trib, print your choices off and take your guide to the polls Feb. 5. Just take the endorsements and information, or lack thereof, with a grain of salt.

For more info on voting, candidates, instructions, etc., check out the Chicago Board of Elections Commissioners. Find out where to vote here or call (312) 269-7900.

P.S. I miss the Isthmus-published League of Women Voters guides in Madison.