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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“Watch the fake!”: Reporting and muckraking, 40 years on

The late Sun-Times columnist Sydney J. Harris was well known for an occasionally appearing column that probably would not have been nearly as resonant in the Age of Google: “Things I Learned En Route to Looking Up Other Things.” Here’s an example of one of the items in such a column from 1980, courtesy of … what else … a quick Google search:

“If a cat died in ancient Egypt, family members were required to shave off their eyebrows as a sign of mourning.”

(Though you can see why the feature was memorable, it does seem kind of hard to divine the search query that went awry.)

At any rate, I had something of a Sydney J. Harris moment this afternoon while visiting the North Park University Web site. First I stumbled upon a photo gallery of North Park’s first nine presidents, a little short on eyebrow-shaving stories but full of other alumnus-pleasing anecdotes. And then the big payoff: North Park has scanned in every back issue of the student newspaper all the way to 1921-1922, more than 90 years’ worth.

Which of my stories would I try to find? 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 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? 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

As to what I *read* on my summer vacation

Newspaper rack at the Frankfurt airport

Lufthansa makes sure its passengers are fully ready for the day with racks and racks of free newspapers (this is in the airport at Frankfurt).

Well, of course there were the newspapers (see photo at left); but what else? At this time of year, I get asked this question more often than at any other, so I thought perhaps I would attempt an accounting.

First, on the more or less continuing education / professional front, I finished and am happy to recommend:

Tubes, by Andrew Blum — To quote an aside in an interesting review by Alan Jacobs of a couple of the other books I’m going to mention in the new issue of Books & Culture, this book is a reminder “of the stubbornly physical nature of the Internet.” Our wireless world is an awfully long way from wireless, and this is a fascinating look at the wires — and, yes, the tubes they’re in, and the locations those tubes meet one another. Blum decided not to be satisfied with wondering where the Internet is, and we’re the better for it.

The Man Who Invented the Computer, by Jane Smiley — A biography of John Atanasoff, a claimant to that title who at least had part of his claim upheld in a court of law. The key locations in this account are no less interesting than those in Tubes: Rock Island, Illinois, and Ames, Iowa, to name two. Sure, the title is hyperbolic, but Jane Smiley is Jane Smiley. Among her other nonfiction, I like to recommend 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel (2005).

Turing’s Cathedral, by George Dyson — Alan Turing is in the title of this book, but perhaps you could say that the cathedral was in New Jersey, at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, where in the 1950s you would find John von Neumann, some interesting faculty dynamics, and a very very early digital computer. George Dyson is Freeman’s son and Esther’s brother, BTW.

(Books in this category that I didn’t finish but should have: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson; The Power of Habit by Richard Duhigg. Book that I didn’t start but evidently would have encountered before: Imagine by Jonah Lehrer.)

On the general-reading-list front, not as much as I should have. But still:

The Greater Journey, by David McCullough — We’ll always have Paris. 19th Century Paris, anyway. I guess I could tie this to the Internet by saying there’s a lot of Samuel F.B. Morse, and Morse invented the telegraph, and the telegraph was (as Tom Standage’s wonderful book would have it) The Victorian Internet. But it more than stands on its own.

A Killing in the Hills, by Julia Keller. The first in a projected series of mystery novels by my former Tribune colleague; she tells me she has submitted #2 to the publisher. No regular mystery reader, meaning I have little basis for comparison; but the intricate plotting was to me as breathtaking as the prose.

And, saving the best for last:

When I Was a Child I Read Books, by Marilynne Robinson. Her novels of course deserve their accolades, but her collections of essays, such as The Death of Adam (2005), seem the pinnacle of her art. The present collection is in somewhat the same vein. Last year I enjoyed her Absence of Mind, actually a series of lectures she gave at Yale; as in that one, every piece in this collection is worth putting down to ponder immediately upon conclusion. The book I’ll be giving away this Christmas, I think.

Classes at Medill resume Sept. 27. Will I get Steve Jobs read by then? The suspense is palpable.

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