The next miracle (v11.1): Owen Youngman

Knight Professor of Digital Media Strategy, Medill / Northwestern

Owen YoungmanOwen YoungmanOwen Youngman

Good Eating, a bridge to the future

The first and last issues of the Chicago Tribune's Good Eating section, 1/25/1995 and 7/11/2015.

The first and last issues of Good Eating, 1/25/1995 and 7/11/2015. (Yes, to scale.)

It was snowing in Arlington Heights when the lightning struck.

It was 1994, and I was in a darkened room watching a focus group through a two-way mirror. It was one of 16 such groups I monitored that year in order to learn about Chicagoans’ thoughts about food, cooking, recipes, and nutrition; I was leading a Tribune team charged not just with reinventing the food section, but actually with saving it — and with extending its success beyond print into television and online.

“All I really want,” one suburban mother and cook told the moderator, “is for my husband and kids not to hate what I put on the table.”

That was the lightning bolt. Throughout the rest of that day’s groups, I listened to people differently, focusing less on their activities and more on their motivations. And the next morning, I called a meeting of the project team to make an announcement. From that moment forward, we would not be working on a “better food section” centered on great recipes, the model since 1957. We would be working on a section built around a single idea: success with food. Success, however any reader might define it.

I didn’t know it, but we had stumbled onto a version of what Clayton Christensen was already calling these people’s “job to be done” — one of several things about this food project that would, sooner than any of us could have realized, become crucial we plunged into the Internet business along with the rest of the newspaper industry. The Tribune’s decision to retire the Good Eating name with last week’s issue creates an occasion to evaluate the effort, 21 years after the section launch.

A changing marketplace

So why did the food section need saving? Continue reading

Hitting the books again

wills2Martin Marty, Owen Youngman

This weekend I’ll be back at the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Lit Fest for a conversation with two of my favorite interviews from past years, Garry Wills (above left in 2008) and Martin Marty (above right in 2011; both photos from C-SPAN). The topic at 1 p.m. at Grace Place (tickets required) is “The Future of Pope Francis,” the jumping-off point and focus provided by Wills’ recent book of similar title: The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis (Viking, 2015).

In a retrospective mood after my last essay on finding a time capsule in my closet, I went back through my files to review my past interviews, panels, and discussions; turns out this will be my 24th appearance since 2003. A few categories predominate: faith and religion (8), nature and birds (7), and technology (4) lead the way, with a few individual author interviews and panels mixed in along the way. Authors like Leon Kass, Richard Rhodes, and Umberto Eco also were memorable interviews, and it was always especially fun to just close my Tribune office door and read their books in the weeks beforehand.

Owen Youngman, Umberto Eco, Printers Row Book Fair

Interviewing Umberto Eco, 2005

(It’s a front-loaded list: in 2003, the first year after I oversaw the book fair’s acquisition from the Near South Planning Board, I had six sessions on my dance card.  We soon saw that we had just plain scheduled too many authors and too many events, so things settled down in subsequent years, and I’ve been down to no more than 1 or 2 events since I came to Northwestern in 2009.)

The crowds for individual discussions have varied in size but never in enthusiasm, at least from my perspective up front. The most boisterous and focused one? As a matter of fact, it was my first chat with Martin Marty. He and the late Andrew Greeley wowed the crowd at Grace Place in 2004, and they could have kept answering questions from the sitting-on-the-floor-and-standing-room crowd  all afternoon and evening if we hadn’t needed to clean up the place for the resident congregation to use the next day (see below).

So, back to Grace Place on Saturday. Perhaps I’ll see you there.

Owen Youngman, Martin Marty, Andrew Greeley

WIth Martin Marty and Andrew Greeley, 2004

Opening a Chicago time capsule

Chicago Magazine, July 1987

A window to the Chicago of 1987

Examining time capsules long has fascinated the people who find them. In January of this year, for example, there was quite a foofaraw in Boston over the second opening of a capsule that was placed in the Massachusetts State House dome by Samuel Adams and Paul Revere in 1795. Earlier this week, the CBS Television Networks launched a new channel, Decades, that Robert Feder’s headline called “a daily time capsule,” built around a cultural retrospective hosted by Bill Kurtis.

Today, I really get it — because this week my wife and I found one buried in our own home. It’s the July, 1987, issue of Chicago magazine, and it too mentions Bill Kurtis.

You see it above. We had placed it on a closet shelf shortly after moving to the suburbs from Chicago, and it came to light when the shelf came loose this week and I needed to remount and brace it.

The issue takes a reader back to a long-departed world. Continue reading

Google Glass and Apple Watch, compared

For the second time since 2013, I’m having the opportunity for a series of conversations with random strangers around a piece of consumer technology.

Owen Youngman at Google New York to pick up Google Glass, June 2013. Photo by Mark Skala.Back then, it was Google Glass, and the conversations usually went like this:

“Are those the Google glasses? . . . No way. Are you recording me? . . . Oh, okay. How do you like them?”

These days, it’s the Apple Watch, and the conversations are going like this:First look at the Apple Watch, April 2015. Photo by Linda Youngman.

“Is that the iWatch? . . . No way. It’s not that big! How do you like it?”

Regardless of the year and the device, the conversations with people I actually know generally are a little different, because they center on a declarative statement and not a question:

“Of course you have that. I’ll look for your review.”

In that spirit, takeaway number 1 about “wearable computing” from the above anecdotes:

No one feels threatened by a watch.

And takeaway 1A:

I don’t feel conspicuous wearing a watch.

But what else might I have to bring to the table among the welter of recent watch reviews? Continue reading

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