Just What Constitutes a “Cheap” Story These Days?

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Just about every profession has its jargon — words or phrases unique to those in that industry.

Determining that a news story was "cheap" exemplifies the jargon used in the news business.

Determining that a news story was “cheap” exemplifies the jargon used in the news business.

That certainly was the case when I worked many years ago as a reporter, writer and editor at the City News Bureau of Chicago, the long-gone, unquestionably legendary local wire service.

I recall directives from the city desk editor to “sub out” (write a concluding story based on updated information) a news event that happened earlier.  Or, the desk would order me to write “two books” (a reference to the stationery we used to type out copy — a main sheet followed by three sheets of paper with carbon paper in between) on proceedings that took place that day at Criminal Courts.

And, there was the decision to label a story as being “cheap,” or meaning it didn’t have a lot of sustaining news value.

Fires, burglaries, robberies, accidents and yes, even homicides, could be “cheap” and then “cheaped out,” or not worthy of more reporting and distribution of a subsequent story over the wire.

These days, some stories that would have been considered “cheap” in the late 1970s have dominated the news, and for good reason.

I’m referring to those related to the number of maddeningly persistent and seemingly uncontrollable shootings that have taken place in Chicago these past few years.

Perhaps things would be a lot better if this was the only type of gun available?

Perhaps things would be a lot better if this was the only type of gun available?

I couldn’t find statistics from the years I covered police, fire and courts for City News, but this Chicago Tribune web page graphically illustrates the sad truth about the numbers of people shot here in 2015 and so far this year.

Grim, isn’t it? Nearly 3,000 people shot last year and more than 300 shot during the first six weeks of 2016.

One recent shooting, one that may have been “cheaped out” years ago hopefully will galvanize Chicago — its people, its elected officials, its police — to work collectively to halt the shootings plaguing the city.

Last week, a 16-year-old girl on her way to school was shot in the leg, the victim of a horrific morning exchange of gun play near her home in West Humboldt Park.  Fortunately, she survived, but of course, she’ll have to live with the physical and emotional scars forever.

My friend Juan operated a store at this location until he was shot and killed there one fall evening.

My friend Juan operated a store at this location until he was shot and killed there one fall evening.

My friend Juan was not so fortunate.  Juan (I’ll keep his last name confidential) operated a small convenience store across from our home. He worked 16 hours a day, every day, until one Sunday evening in October of 2007 when someone shot and killed Juan inside the store.

To my knowledge, no one has been charged in Juan’s murder; his store was closed years ago.

Back in the 1970s, there were lots of “cheap” shootings and other kinds of crime. I’d like to think we — as a society — would have learned the value of life and the devastation caused by guns during those many years.

Now, Thoughts from a Real Chicago Guy on CNN’s “Chicagoland” Series

By Edward M.  Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Those who get paid to comment have had their say.  Now, it’s my turn.

The topic: The controversial CNN series “Chicagoland,” an eight-part documentary of sorts about my home town.  Although with eight installments, “documentary” probably is a misnomer.  Perhaps “real-life urban mini-series” is more accurate.

chicagoland.twoIn the days before an after the debut episode March 6, the program generated the expected flurry of commentary.  After watching “Chicagoland” last week, I shut the TV off with these four thoughts in mind.

The Politics. Unquestionably, Chicago is known for politics, and with good reason. It’s well documented that for decades our elected officials have elevated politics to a high art.   From the onset, the first installment of “Chicagoland” centered on politics as it relates to two of our biggest problems:  Violent, often gang-driven crime in some neighborhoods and a financially strapped, under-performing public school system.  These two subjects were explored in footage featuring Mayor Rham Emanuel, Police Superintendent Gerry McCarthy and a remarkable woman, Elizabeth Dozier, principal of Fenger High School.  There was high drama, and there were poignant moments last Thursday; but I seriously question why the initial episode of “Chicagoland” focused so heavily on two topics and three people.  This set a tone of helplessness and despair.

The Problems.  Problems, Chicago has them, certainly, as depicted in Episode 1.  Headline-grabbing crime and a broken education system assuredly rank way too high on the scale.  But there was no mention in the first episode of the kind of problems that don’t make for combustible television and commentary.  Underfunded pensions, soaring taxes, gridlock-at-times traffic, the continued erosion of some outlying neighborhoods, out-of-control open-air drug markets — these and other issues plague Chicago .  Perhaps these will be covered later in the series, as they should, along with what’s being done to make things right.cnn-logo

The Good Stuff.  Politics and problems aside, a lot of good is taking place in Chicago. There’s tangible, big-picture stuff like a flurry of new downtown developments and revitalization — okay, gentrification — of some neighborhoods.  A new manufacturing sector — driven by technology — has emerged.  Cultural amenities and restaurants — and some professional sports franchises — are world class.  Like the other problems the city faces, maybe the producers of “Chicagoland” will address these later.

The Name. Reportedly, the name “Chicagoland” was coined by the legendary Col. Robert McCormick, editor and publisher of the Chicago TribuneTo me, it’s a silly title.  This metropolitan region has a lot of entertaining and attractive attributes.  But let’s leave the “land” monikers to all things Disney.  Besides, I never heard anyone from Chicago refer to the city or the region as “Chicagoland,” except in TV commercials hawking carpeting.

Clearly, the 60 minutes of “Chicagoland” Episode 1 got me and a lot of other people to take notice.  I plan to watch tomorrow’s installment, and perhaps I’ll have four more thoughts.

Here are some other thoughts from the PRDude on Chicago and politics: