Richard’s Fine 9/11 Piece

Richard has moved over to the Metro desk at the Chicago Tribune, and yesterday he had a fine piece in the paper about an art exhibit that includes pencil drawings of every Illinois soldier killed in action since 9/11.  The exhibit, called “Portrait of a Soldier,” includes more than 300 drawings of members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.

It’s a touching piece about a gentle way of remembering what has happened in the aftermath of 9/11, and the sacrifices that our men and women in uniform, and their families and friends, have made since that terrible day.  Interesting, isn’t it, how art can be such a powerful way of expressing things, and how something simple like a pencil sketch of a soldier can nevertheless have profound meaning?

Thanks for the Rafting Roommate for sending this along to me.

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Another Really Great Story

Richard continues to hit it out of the park in his internship for the Chicago Tribune this summer.  His most recent story is a really great piece about how the recession hit the South Side of Chicago especially hard and that, years later, the development efforts in South Side neighborhoods still have not recovered.  The piece includes a well-done and easy to use interactive map that allows you to look at the impact of the recession on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis.

IMG_2349This kind of story is really good reporting for two reasons.  First, it addresses a topic — the status of rich neighborhoods versus poor neighborhoods in America, with the impact of crime and teetering city finances thrown in for good measure — that is not frequently addressed in the media. It’s not a pleasant, or easy, story to report, but it’s essential to cover if we are to get a true sense of economic reality.

Second, it involves real shoe-leather reporting, which often involves digging into public records like construction permits and figuring out boring topics like tax increment financing districts.  It’s easy to call the head of a development agency, get his or her spin in a pre-packaged quote, and stop there; it’s much more challenging and time-consuming to sift through documents obtained from a municipal office and do the kinds of painstaking, but powerful and irrefutable, comparisons that Richard has done in this piece.  People might pitch things to advance their agendas, but the construction permits don’t lie, because without the permits nothing gets built.

Forgive me for a little proud bragging — although what’s a family blog for if not for a little parental boasting? — but I greatly admire Richard’s willingness to roll up his sleeves and tackle some of the tough and challenging issues found in the urban areas of America.  He has become a really fine reporter.

Part-Time Problem

Richard has another really good piece in the Chicago Tribune today. This one is about the significant increase in part-time workers in Illinois.  The link is http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-involuntary-parttime-0808-biz-20140808-story.html.

It’s hard to argue that the economy has rebounded fully when so many willing, able workers want to find full-time work, but can’t. Those of us who are fortunate to have full-time work can’t fully appreciate the angst of not knowing what might be in your next paycheck.

How do we help these people realize the American Dream?  The only emploment-related proposal being addressed is raising the minimum wage, but that’s no panacea. A raise in the minimum wage isn’t going to help these people — it will just cause their employers, who are trying to hold on themselves, to be even more grudging in allocating hours to the people at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Farmers’ Markets Without Farmers

Richard has another good story in the Chicago Tribune today.  This one is about farmers’ markets in the Chicago area that don’t have enough participating farmers.

We’ve been hearing a lot about “urban food deserts” — that is, entire sections of urban areas where it is claimed that only fast food outlets, gas stations, and convenience stores sell food, and those outlets don’t stock fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, and other healthy eats.  As a result, the theory goes, people in those areas eat only crummy, salty, fatty, processed snack foods like chips and soda rather than green beans and peaches.

In Chicago, some people have tried to set up farmers’ markets to address the issue.  The problem, though, is that there aren’t enough farmers to go around.  Farmers want to go to places where there will be lots of traffic and not too much competition for sales of the goods they will offer.  Inner-city farmers’ markets often lose out in the cost-benefit analysis, and offering incentives might not make up the difference.

It’s surprising that Chicago is having this problem, because once you get outside of the Chicago metropolitan area Illinois is primarily an agricultural state.  You would think there would be lots of farmers, cheesemakers, and other food artisans willing to load up their wares and take them to the big city for sale.  The fact that it isn’t happening suggests that addressing the “food desert” issue might be more difficult than people think.

Fireworks, And Freedom, On The Fourth

What could be more American than fireworks on the Fourth of July?  These days . . . maybe a desire for increased tax revenue by state governments?

Richard has an interesting article in the Chicago Tribune today about fireworks sales in Indiana stores that are just across the state line from Chicago.  There are bunch of those stores, ready to serve the insatiable fireworks appetites of Chicago area residents, and not surprisingly the weeks around the Fourth of July are their biggest sales period.

Illinois strictly prohibits fireworks sales while neighboring Indiana broadly permits them, and recently Indiana loosened its regulations to allow out-of-staters to buy fireworks more easily.  The result is a proliferation of stores and sales.  Sales of consumer fireworks in the U.S. now exceed $660 million, and 42 states allow the sale of consumer fireworks to the maximum extent permitted by federal law — largely because increased consumer sales means increased tax revenues.

The Nanny State impulse is at work in our society, with know-it-all regulators and advocacy group trying to dictate what we consume and what we do, but the zeal for more tax revenue seems to be trumping the notion that government exists to protect us from every risk and form of sin we might undertake.  Perhaps the back story of the American Revolution has been turned on its head, and taxation and freedom now go hand in hand.  If the hunger for taxes has convinced state governments to permit Americans to freely purchase explosive devices and detonate them at their whim, maybe we shouldn’t be that concerned about the increasing intrusion of government into our personal liberties.

Richard At The Trib

This week Richard started an internship at the Chicago Tribune, on the business desk.  He’s living in Hyde Park, just across the street from the President’s old house.  If you’re interested you can follow his work through the Tribune website, here.

Internships often are derided these days, but they have gotten Richard some wonderful experience.  Between San Antonio, Pittsburgh, and now Chicago, he’s gotten a real taste of what it’s actually like to work on a big-city daily newspaper.  In the process, he’s covered some great stories and compiled an impressive set of clips.  He’ll get a chance to add to that set this summer; Chicago is one of the best business cities in the country.

Richard has always had a strong affinity for Chicago, and now he’s back in the Windy City, working for one of America’s finest newspapers.  This will be an exciting summer for him!

Section 8 In Pittsburgh

Richard’s internship at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has ended, but his last story for the paper wasn’t published until after he had left.  It’s a really good and interesting piece about Section 8 housing vouchers and their limitations.  The story obviously struck a nerve with many people, because it provoked a lot of social media reaction, including 46 comments.

Richard is a talented writer in my humble opinion, but the neat thing about this story is that it combined traditional journalism — finding and interviewing people on all sides of the story, learning about the subject matter, collecting quotes, and then writing the piece itself — with some investigative journalism techniques, including obtaining and analyzing data from the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh and then using the data to demonstrate how Section 8 recipients are concentrated in high-poverty neighborhoods and seldom used in wealthier neighborhoods.  The map at the bottom of the story is the product of those efforts and really drives the point home.

Our family journalist has now moved on to the Chicago Tribune, where he will be working on the business desk and becoming reacquainted with the Windy City.