Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


New Kid on the Block

By Shawn Healy
A feature story on White House adviser David Axelrod's personal ties to his adopted home town. An investigative piece on a private firm's profits from the City of Chicago's controversial parking meeting sell-off. A lengthy lament about the Chicago Bears long slide from the Super Bowl Shuffle of 1985. All part of a quick perusal of today's Chicago Tribune, right? Well then, you must be speaking of the Sun-Times! Wrong again.

There's a new kid on the local journalism block known as the Chicago News Cooperative. The entity debuted this month by producing a biweekly local insert for the New York Times, and promises a content-rich web site available on a subscription basis next year. Led by former Tribune and Los Angeles Times editor Jim O'Shea, the CNC boasts a staff of 13, with heavy representation by fellow Tribune expatriates. They include Jim Warren, another past Tribune managing editor and current publisher of the weekly Chicago Reader, city hall reporter Dan Mihalopoulos, and business columnist David Greising.

The CNC is paid by the New York Times for their services, but also received seed money from the MacArthur Foundation and Chicago Community Trust. They anticipate being self-sustaining in 5 years, financed largely through subscription-based fees totaling an estimated $2 per week. The fee will provide more than web access to CNC material, offering to organize networking groups, soliciting original content, and assisting with op-ed drafting and placement.

The Times is interested in winning back disaffected readers, but O'Shea and company, many who left the Tribune on less than amicable terms, must be bent on sticking it to their former employers, correct? O'Shea dismisses the notion outright, according to a November 23 Times article: "I would be doing this even if I had never worked fro them, and I saw a need. We've got to figure out how to do serious journalism and pay for it, that's what's motivating me."

Warren, a CNC reporter, was less reserved in his motivations: "In (the Tribune's) mind, they've made it a more populist, utilitarian paper, and I think they've made it narrower, more lightweight, fueled by reflexive suspicion of the traditional ideas of traditional journalism."

Two weeks in, this casual observer is both impressed with the CNC's contributions to local reporting, but skeptical that their two-page insert represents the death knell for the Tribune or the Sun-Times. Count the latter's Laura Washington among the cynics.

As I've said repeatedly in previous posts, my contention is that there is no panacea for the broken economic model of traditional journalism. Efforts like the CNC to plug holes and break new ground should be commended, and better yet, funded.

Democracy wins when serious public affairs reporting flourishes. In my mind, two newspaper towns are inherently better than a one horse show, mostly because competition forces dailies to take risks and carve out their own independent niches. With both the Tribune and Sun-Times emerging from bankruptcy, and the potential peril this entails, not to mention the lighter menu of stories both now offer, there is certainly room on local readers' plates for more hard-hitting content.

Tribune managing editor Gerould Kern welcomes the challenge: "There's more competition every day, all the time, from every direction. So our view is, we will compete with anyone, any time, any place, and we believe we will win."

Gerry, we root for your success, and recognize that a rising tide lifts all readers.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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