Chicago Says: Innovate, Create & Skip The Glitz


August 24, 2010

Four months ago, Aaron Renn, also known as The Urbanophile,
wrote a scathing critique of Chicago news media efforts. In it he asked, “Does
Chicago have anything to say to the world?
” He critiqued Chicago for not
producing news efforts with a global focus – or at least an ambition to impact
the nation. He asks, Why can’t
Chicago be like New York, LA and DC?


What’s even stranger to me is that no one in Chicago ever seems to talk about this or
even recognize it. It’s nothing but a chorus of “local” and “hyper-local”. It’s
as if there’s a missing gene in its media DNA. 


The plain fact is, outside its own four walls, Chicago media is irrelevant.

Let’s set aside the very stinging fact that I’m leading one
of those hyperlocal efforts.

While he mentions Real Clear Politics, Renn is also skipping
over a few other homegrown projects with national impact like Ars Technica, Pitchfork,
Everyblock, Newser and FiveThirtyEight.com.

But Real Clear Politics doesn’t count (and by extension
these other ignored sites), says Renn, because, “It is not a recognizably Chicago site, nor does it speak
from a Chicago perspective or point of view.”

If Renn were some ignoramus from a far-flung state I could
quickly dismiss his complaints as out-of-towner blather. But he originally hails
from Southern Indiana and spends a great deal of his time in Chicago – as well
as many other Mid-Western cities. Of anyone, this guy should get what Chicago
is all about.

So here it is: Like the TV-ready accents of Brokaw and
Carson, the comedic exports of Fey and Belushi as well as the once widely-read
catalogs of Sears and Montgomery Ward’s, Chicago’s flavor is undetectable until
you taste something else. Los Angeles has glitz and New York has hullabaloo.
Chicagoans don’t care for either. We are about results.

Chicago has a long history of innovation, from the
skyscraper to the split atom (my grandfather worked on that one). What we
invent and create impacts the world by import, rather than by excitement.

My hometown’s news media is churning wildly. Our daily
newspapers and television stations are struggling and yet Chicago’s news media
continues to invent. ChicagoNow, although I’m not a fan, is an interesting and
admirable experiment from a major news corporation. Windy Citizen has created a
real, independent community where people talk about the days news. Everyblock
is…well everyone knows how great they are.  And there’s CenterSquareJournal.com and
RoscoeViewJournal.com: nothing unique except for the fact that it’s being done
at all.

The Midwest has always been overshadowed by the glare of The
Coasts. So much of what we create here goes unnoticed until some glamorpuss in
New York or Los Angeles blesses it. That’s fine with us. Because we know what The
Coasts choose to forget: Without our great ideas, they would have nothing to
talk about.