The "Chicagoland" TV Series Scandal: How big a blow is it to the "Tribune's New Plan of Chicago" and the Chicago Community Trust's May 12 On The Table Event?

First things first: Welcome to our new online home. Our old home will be maintained as an archive of 20 years of youth-centered, media-related work in Chicago. Most recently, this work includes our coverage of the Tribune's April 25 expose of City Hall's undisclosed ties to CNN's recent "Chicagoland" TV series. Scroll down and you'll find
  • Extensive running coverage of the pros and cons of the Tribune's New Plan of Chicago, launched last October, and the Chicago Community Trust's May 12 On The Table event, launched this past February in the Sun-Times.
  • Coverage of the West Side Drug Area Shutdown Program, a citizen-participatory, police supported effort to permanently close 73 identified public drug dealing areas in Austin's 15th police district. Implemented with The Austin Voice newspaper and other media in the late 1990's. Its success thanks to citizen participation caused the Shutdown Program to be implemented in two adjacent police districts, the 11th and the 25th.
  • Numerous civic media formats designed to make citizens and government, and especially young people and adults, responsive and accountable to each other in building a Chicagoland that works for city and suburban residents alike.
Now for current business. What concerns us is not CNN's "Chicagoland" series or the scandal attending it but their impact on two promising civic projects aimed at giving Chicagoans (at long last) a meaningful role in shaping the city's future:
This impact is harmful. It could prove fatal to both plans, whose success in our view calls for mutual cooperation and support, not the pretense that the other plan doesn't exist. Prior to "Chicagoland" all we saw was this mutual pretense. But what we're seeing now is actual animosity between the two papers: thundering condemnations of the scandal coming from the Tribune and deafening silence from the Sun-Times, which finds itself tainted by the scandal due to the papers all-too-visible visible link with one of the parties involved in it: Jasculca Terman Strategic Communications (JT), a Chicago-based public affairs firm with a thumb, it seems, in every pie, including strong ties to the Chicago Community Trust, the Sun-Times, and Mayor Emanuel.  
"Chicagoland": the real Chicago or an Emanuel puff piece?  

Let's review these ties:

Let's review these ties:
  • At its website, JT states that it's "proud to be working with" the Chicago Community Trust's "On The Table" event.
  • JT calls itself the "launch sponsor" for the Sun-Times "Early and Often" political news portal. Indeed, both of these projects were launched in a four-page, blue-colored wrap that enclosed the February 18 print edition of the Sun-Times. To see page four of this wrap, scroll down to the Febryart 23 post at our old site, where we noted that the main beneficiary of all this ballyhoo appeared to be not the Sun-Times or the Chicago Community Trust but Jasculca Terman.
  • JT's ties to Mayor Emanuel and City Hall. The Tribune's Bill Ruthhart established that JT "chairman and CEO, Rick Jasculca, is a friend of Emanuel's dating back decades, and both worked together in the Clinton White House."
The upshot of the JT/Emanuel connection? Having obtained access to 700 emails (selections with context provided here) sent between CNN and City Hall, Ruthhart wrote that "'Chicagoland' producers got the green light for access to Emanuel and City Hall after a meeting arranged by the Chicago public relations firm Jasculca Terman, records show." 

Before long, "Chicagoland" producer Mark Levin would email a senior Emanuel advisor saying that the eight-hour series would "present [Mayor Emanual] as the star he really is".

Bill Ruthhart's April 25 Tribune "Chicagoland" scandal story was instantly seized on by Tribune columnists John Kass and Rick Kogan and by veteran Tribune-affiliated media critic Robert Feder, formerly with the Sun-Times. (Earlier, Kass, had panned "Chicagoland" for glorifying Mayor Emanuel; Kogan's reviews had done likewise .) On the Sun-Times side, we've seen no such outrage, which is hardly surprising given the paper's ties with Jascula Terman.

All of this is bad, perhaps terrible, news for CTT's On the Table event and the Tribune's New Plan as well. How so? Since January we've insisted in several writings that success for these civic undertakings will hinge on 
Chicagoans seeing something they've never seen before: a degree of cooperation between the city's two newspapers in empowering Chicagoans to play a useful and perhaps crucial role in planning and realizing a city and region that works for all residents. 
See here (3000 words, 12/31/2013), here (4100 words, 2/24/14) and here (799 words, 3/22/14.

Before "Chicagoland", there was at least a chance that Chicago's newspapers would see the benefits of cooperation: benefits to the city and to their circulations as they tapped the Market of the Whole, as we call it, of all members of a community with features that woke Chicagoans up from decades of civic lethargy. 

But "Chicagoland" is a blow to this promising scenario. The condemnations of the Tribune, coupled with the silence of the Jasculca Terman-tainted Sun-Times, point only to further estrangement between Chicago's already estranged daily newspapers. 

It's sad. A city that needs the involvement of its people in addressing systemic problems like youth violence has been numbed by televised propaganda maintaining that "a city is only as strong as its leaders":


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