Can the Chicago Tribune’s “Problem Solver” Help Find a Killer?

December 15

The Tribune’s Problem Solver works for individuals. It addresses mundane, day-to-day problems. Well here’s a problem that’s become day-to-day for all too many Chicagoans. So let’s put the Trib’s Problem Solver to a little test. Several weeks ago, a close friend of one of my students at Oakton Community College was shot dead in a drive-by incident in Humboldt Park.  The incident went unreported in Chicago news media.  But my student is writing a paper about it.  One point he makes: the identity of shooter is known to a number of people in the neighborho0d. On Google maps, my student showed me exactly where the killer lives. Yet no one dares pass information on to Chicago police for fear of retaliation and out of mistrust in the Chicago police.  So – will the Tribune Problem Solver help my student resolve the problem? Let’s find out! We just submitted the following:

A friend of mine lost a close friend in a drive-by shooting several weeks ago in Humboldt Park.  I can provide documentation. The name of the shooter is known to people in the neighborhood, he says, but pe0ple are afraid to talk to police for fear of retaliation.  Can he safely share this information with police? How?

BTW, today’s Tribune has a story on the code of silence – the anti-snitch mentality – that exists when it comes to reporting crimes to the Chicago police.  Huge questions of fear and trust.

BTW, in my Oakton class, a total of four of out fifteen students have written about the death of friends they’ve lost lost in the past six months: a suicide, two car accidents and now this drive-by. It ain’t easy being young in Chicago – or its suburbs!

December 24

Here’s an automated response to an inquiry about the status of the problem we raised on December 15:

Thank you for writing to What’s Your Problem. All e-mails are read and reviewed by the Problem Solver. Due to the volume of e-mails and letters received, we cannot respond to each inquiry individually. If we choose to write about your problem, we will be in contact with you shortly.


Jon Yates,

Tribune staff reporter.

Why,  you ask,  doesn’t my Oakton student call the Chicago police to report what he knows? Answer: trust in the Chicago police is not high in Humboldt Park. To counter this, Chicago Police Department Jody _). Weis has created the “ClearPath” website, which opens new channels of communication between Chicagoans and the CPD, with an option for anonymity.  I’ve asked my student to take a look at it and its e-tip feature, which allows citizens to give full details about a crime while making use of a “privacy information option” that offers anonymity. Let’s see what he says.

Happy Holidays!

Advertisements News Media Revolution in a 20 Second Soundbite!

December 12

OK, Chicago,  it’s time for Chicago news media to stop moaning and groaning about gangs and drugs in Chicago and start helping Chicagoans DO SOMETHING to solve the problem.

This clip was shot in a mostly white upper class Chicago suburb and spoken by mostly white people. So you may ask: who are these people to talk about gangs and drugs in Chicago?

Well,  just wait ’til you see our next clip shot at El stations and places in Chicago.

Independent filmmaker Dan Skubal (with the dog) shot this video in Glenview, IL. The man has talent.

The video is a promo for our submission to the Knight News Challenge.  While we can’t discuss the specifics of the online interactive platform of news and information that we’ve designed for Chicago and its 77 neighborhood areas, we are proud to say that it

  • Values Chicagoans of all ages as informed participants in the government decisions that affect their lives.
  • Values journalism and democracy as integrated, collaborative/competitive enterprises.
  • Works across media platforms to make reporters and problem-solvers of everyone at all stages of its problem-solving news cycle.
  • Re-invents and re-energizes the news cycle, morphing it from the clock time between editions of a news outlet to the mental time between community-generated solutions to a problem.
  • Facilitates its news cycle impartially and accurately.
  • Taps (profitably, in time) the “Market of the Whole” of all Chicagoans by meeting massive, citywide demand for productive civic discourse.
  • Can be utilized by other news media.

Morphing the news. From reported story to defined solution to newsworthy outcome. That’s our core idea. Expanding the news cycle from the traditional 24 hour cycle of news reportage to an extended, even multi-month, cycle of news reportage and problem-solution. Creating a news cycle that gives Chicagoans time to consider and advance the city’s most promising opportunities, whatever these may be, and to address its most intractable problems, from potholes to economic growth to youth violence. And, that enables Chicagoans to revisit and revise past solutions even as it generates new ones.

This, as we see it, is the future of journalism in a viable democracy. And it’s what our interactive platform will create in Chicago.


December 10

Last week our seven-member group emailed a submission to the Knight News Challenge after three months of intense work.  Tweaking our archive website today, I came across this writing by a natural poet, Shannon Phillips, who, as as sophomore at Marshall High School in Chicago,  jotted it down,  along with several other pages of material about herself and her life, during an organizational meeting at which she was a fairly active contributor.  Her poem has a touch of the visionary optimism of the English poet Willam Blake.


I’m an undiscovered poet,
No one seems to care to know it,
I wrote 160 and more to come,
They are my feelings and mind talk on paper.
People see them as nothing but paper,
But the wise, smart, and beautiful enter them
As another world made by pen from hand.

A new discovery is me,
yet so undiscovered, see,

come, come,
cross the deep, dark ocean,
swim my sweet sea,
fly my fine few skies,

get swooped up soon and soothed in my world,
be taken by my air,

In my world you are a piece of clean paper,
You can be anything you want to be,
Float finely like a feather,
Stay free in any kind of weather,
But still people are afraid to see through concrete,
Afraid and forbidden to see,
So still undiscovered iz me.

Shannon Phillips made this case for poetry in an unpoetic world during a 2-hour newspaper planning meeting in 1997.   At the end of the meeting I discovered it sitting on a table, seemingly forgotten, along with several other pages of her writing.

“Undiscovered” and other poems and fiction by Marshall students appeared in Keepin’ It Real: Voices of Marshall High School, a 16-page, 40 photograph, student-generated school newspaper that was distributed throughout the Marshall community in June, 1997 after an intensive month-long partnership of Marshall students, staff, THE AUSTIN VOICE, and Chicago Civic Media Project.

Congratulations Chicago New Media Groups!

November 12

Big development. Three foundations, as reported several days ago here in Crain’s Chicago Business, have just awarded $500,000 to 13  Chicago New-Media groups.  This is a step forward!  Here, at the Beachwood Reporter, is a detailed account how each of the 13 recipients will use funds received.

Below is a mashup of Crain’s briefer account, links we’ve added, and details from the Beachwood Reporter:

  • Columbia College Chicago ($45,000) for a joint effort with the Chicago Tribune to cover news in the Austin neighborhood on the city’s West Side using student and professional journalists to cover government meetings, businesses, churches and other institutions in Austin, with content distributed via a new Web site (, Tribune’s ChicagoNow blog site (, a mobile edition, a newsletter and text messaging.
  • Gapers Block Media LLC ($35,000) to boost neighborhood news coverage at
  • Loyola University Chicago ($45,000) for a partnership with Benito Juarez Community Academy to train student journalists to cover the Southwest Side neighborhood of Pilsen.
  • South Suburban Publishing LLC ($30,000) to train citizen journalists in Markham to cover news for
  • Chicago Assn. of Hispanic Journalists ($30,000) for a new Web site to promote local Latino journalists.
  • Chicago Youth Voices Network ($60,000) to engage several hundred youth journalists in reporting on Chicago teens.
  • Community Media Workshop ($45,000) for a news-tracking effort and an ethnic media news service.
  • Chicago News Cooperative ($50,000) to provide enterprise coverage of Chicago.
  • Northwestern University ($30,000) for grad students to help develop two local community news ventures.
  • Better Government Assn. ($60,000) to train volunteer monitors to report for a new virtual town hall Web site.
  • Beachwood Media Co. ($35,000) to enhance technology and content to create a sustainable business model.
  • Brad Flora ($35,000) to upgrade software used by

Restoring the Social Contract that Binds Americans

November 12

Timothy Egan argues that the social contract that binds Americans is BROKEN.  Here is his column intim egan today’s New York Times. Comments are interesting also. Our comment, online here, is as follows:

The message from the pleasant and nobly resilient city of St Louis rings true. The social contract that bound Americans is broken.

But the mechanism that repairs it may not be a political party led by a modern day Teddy Roosevelt (where among us today is there one like him?)

Rather the reparing mechanism may be a new kind of media: neither public nor commercial, as we know them today, but civic: dedicated to making citizens and government responsive and accountable to each other in realizing opportunities and solving problems in communities of any size: local, state, national and  even international.

To restore the social contract that binds Americans, civic media would use modern communications technologies to give all Americans an informed voice in the political decisions that affect their lives.

Why doesn’t America already have a civic media? It should, for civic media is technologically feasible. But two things are lacking. First is trust on the part of owners of existing media in the core premise of democracy that “men be trusted to govern themselves.” And second, awareness of the fact that any media that engages all members of a community is ipso facto tapping Market of the Whole, the largest of all large markets and the new 21st century Holy Grail of marketing.

The fact of the Market of the Whole ensures that civic media will happen, sooner or later. And when it does, it will spawn not one modern day Teddy Roosevelt but an array of them. Google “Seeding Civic Media.”

Another Song, Globally Assembled

November 6

Like we keep saying, the musicians seem to be ahead of the journalists. Using technology to interact in a unified way. Here is the “unifying” song we posted last May. Now along comes Tim with the one below, also globally assembled. Starts off a little slow but picks up when the sitar rolls in and the man from the Congo starts singing.

Hey WRKS team here’s an idea: how about uploading a song written and performed by an array of Chicago musicians as part of the launch of Chicago WRKS? And site visitors: the WRKS team is working overtime to put  finishing touches on its rockin’ submission to the Knight News Challenge.

President Obama: “The Ability of Citizens to Have a Say. . .”

September 23

” . . .  in how they are governed.” So spoke President Obamaclimateobama460 in today’s address to the United Nations, evoking the language of the 1945 UN charter. Today, most Americans feel they lack this ability. The challenge to nation’s print and electronic newsmedia, let along to the President himself, is to ensure that the American people have it.  To lack it is to lack democracy’s foundational right: that of self-government.

From all this it follows that the future of journalism is no longer with traditional news reporting – which transfers the news to passive audiences – but rather with the transfer of the news to active audiences – to citizens who use the news to interact proactively and productively with each other, with journalists, and with governments – all this at local, state, national and even international levels.  The traditional duty of the press to inform citizens is evolving into a duty to mediate between citizens and governments.

This, and this alone, is democracy. Yo, Palo Alto lurkers: we are happy that you following us – anything keeping you from talking back?