The next miracle (v11.1): Owen Youngman

Knight Professor of Digital Media Strategy, Medill / Northwestern

Owen YoungmanOwen YoungmanOwen Youngman

Stop the presses! Cooper Rollow was a legend!

For a good part of the 20th Century, it was not at all unusual to find one particular person front and center at important moments in the life of Chicago, in the business of media, and in American sports.

That person was not an athlete or a mogul, as such a person almost certainly would have to be today. He was the sports editor of the Chicago Tribune.

Cooper Rollow

Cooper Rollow catches some rays in Pioneer Court next to Tribune Tower.

“He was so influential,” said one of my former colleagues at a gathering I attended on Saturday night; “it was the biggest job in the country.” “I couldn’t believe the famous people who came in,” said another. “He was a celebrity,” nodded a third.

We were sitting on a Lake Forest patio, about 5 miles from Halas Hall, and we were deep into the first of two days of talking mostly about Cooper Rollow, who died March 29. He was sports editor of the Tribune from 1969 to 1977, which means he was the boss when I began my 11 years in that department in September 1974. But the celebrity part goes back a good ways before that.

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Totally Wired

The 20th anniversary issue of Wired magazine hit my mailbox recently (and props to them for waiting until volume 21 to publish it, rather than announcing a completed milestone upon reaching the 20th year of publication). Sure enough, plenty of good reading, organized around the people and ideas that have mattered during those decades.

Unknown“There are a lot of magazines about technology,”  Louis Rossetto is quoted as having written in the first issue in his first editor’s letter, entitled “Why Wired?” – a title I can tell you because the magazine is sitting on my shelf. More on that shortly. “Wired is not one of them. Wired is about . . . the Digital Generation.” So it can be argued that this 20th anniversary issue is not about technology, either, although it includes articles about Angry Birds and Bill Gates, Silicon Valley and Alan Turing, HTTP and IPOs.

And in this particular issue that is not about technology, there are more than a fair number of brilliant, memorable stories presented in memorable, idiosyncratic fashion upon the printed page. And oh, the color palette. In the anniversary issue’s recounting of the launch of issue 01.01, the following little drama plays out in the pressroom:

“The first sheet comes out. The guy rips it off the caddy, puts it on this big table at the press control panel with the lights that are tuned to get true color. John [Plunkett, the creative director] looks at the sheet and says, ‘I want more ink.’ The guy says, ‘It’s perfect.’ John says, ‘I want more ink.’ The guy looks at him like he’s got two heads. He does the same thing all over again. John says, ‘More ink.’ They do this two or three more times. John says, ‘Turn the ink up until it smears. Then dial it back until it doesn’t. That’s what I want.’ The guy is disgusted. Out comes a sheet and it looks like Wired.”

At any rate, the arrival of this issue gave me renewed inspiration to finish one of my occasional projects: filling in the holes in my almost-complete collection of the U.S. edition of these iconic magazines. Continue reading

RedEye turns 10. How did it happen? Why did it work?

"Dinner with 12 Strangers" logo

Friday, Nov. 2, was always going to be an interesting night. Back in May, I had agreed to take part in a Northwestern tradition called “Dinner with 12 Strangers,” in which a couple of faculty members, a dozen random students, and some alumni hosts share a meal “in an informal atmosphere that builds Northwestern community and camaraderie,” as my invitation put it.

RedEye's 10th anniversary logoRecently, just after I learned I’d be dining in beautiful nearby Kenilworth, my second invitation for the evening arrived, promising a somewhat different kind of community and camaraderie: “It’s been 10 years of crummy commutes, celeb meltdowns, 3 a.m. taco runs . . . and we’re just getting started. You’re invited to RedEye’s 10th Birthday Bash. Dress to impress; birthday suits not optional.”

How did RedEye happen?

Well, okay then, it was looking like a double-header, not to mention a fine way of wrapping up a week of thinking about how a few paragraphs I wrote in the May 2000 Chicago Tribune strategic plan had turned into something big enough to host a party for more than a thousand of its closest friends:

“Market data indicates that young, time-starved city-dwelling professionals can be be attracted to a newspaper–but that it might take a very different product than the one we produce today . . . Rather than continue to deliver a single newspaper throughout the marketplace and ask its purchasers to make choices from among the content we have bundled together, it may be time to put multiple newspapers in the market and let readers make a choice on what to buy.”

It went on to describe a “5-day-a-week newspaper for single-copy distribution, primarily in the city, Tribune vs. non-Tribune branding to be explored, edited for a younger audience.” Continue reading

Where is Randy Youngman?

Back on March 1, I published the tale of how my brother Randy came to leave the Orange County Register after more than a quarter-century of covering sports and writing columns there. Partly, I suspect, because there was no official information on his disappearance from the columns of the paper, within hours “Sliding away” became the most-read item in the 18-year history of this Web site. Since then — in the grand tradition of the long tail — my analytics tell me that at least a couple more people find their way here as the result of a Google search nearly every day.

Randy Youngman

The younger Youngman

Today it occurred to me that I should look at it a little more rigorously, then provide an up-to-date answer to the question, “Where is Randy Youngman?” (while noting that, last week, it was a pretty easy question for me to answer: he was staying in my house on a trip to Chicago for his North Park University class reunion).

Everyone loves a graph, right? Continue reading

Radio (or, more properly, audio) days

Chicago Tribune famous front page drinking glasses

75 years of headlines on a single bookshelf, including two versions of GREAT WAR ENDS

Last week I popped down to WBEZ (or do you say Chicago Public Media?) at the invitation of my former colleague Rick Kogan and his producer, my former Medill grad student Katie O’Brien. The purpose: to appear on “Afternoon Shift,” the program that Rick has begun hosting since Steve Edwards left to take a position at the University of Chicago’s new Institute of Politics, or as folks are wont to call it, “David Axelrod’s new thing.” (Rick’s also still at the Tribune, and it’s also worthwhile to troll chicagotribune.com to find him.)

Anyway, Kogan’s opening essay about his long involvement with and regard for newspapers is pretty evocative, and as you can see it put me in mind of the two sets of Tribune headline drinking glasses I have sitting on one of my bookshelves at Medill. The essay is followed by a three-way discussion among him, Katie, and me that tries to ask and answer questions like, Why journalism? and Why journalism for you, Katie? WBEZ.org called it “The Future of Facts.”

Chicago Public Media is using several different platforms for putting its archival material online, and here are two:

  • A Storify collection of tweets and links that includes pointers to all of the individual segments of the program. One swell feature is that it appears you can add comments to the audio track at any given point along the audio stream, though I haven’t tried it.
  • An audio link on SoundCloud that takes you to a fairly straightforward interface. Continue reading
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