On New Year's day, the New York Times is publishing Fred A. Bernstein's article Rediscovering a Heroine of Chicago Architecture, an overview of the life and career of architect and draftsperson Marion Mahony, including a slideshow of eight images, on the occasion of the Art Institute's publication on the Internet of Mahony's The Magic of America, which we covered here. Also, you can read our take on Mahony's tragic and exultant story here.
Closer to home, the Sun-Times' Kevin Nance had a great piece in the Sunday edition, Rescuing History, on the David R. Phillips Collection, consisting of 110,000 historic photographic images, 80% on glass negatives. According to Nance, the collection, stretching back to the 1850's, documents Chicago both before and after the Great Fire on 1871, the city's two world's fairs, and the architecture of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, among a host of other subjects. Despite promising a "Photo Gallery", the web version of Nance's story offers only a single image. A small sampling of images can be found on the David R. Phillips Collection website.
Controversy is Dead (and the Sun-Times Isn't Feeling Too Well, Itself.)
This past Sunday's Sun-Times also marked the first week after the death of the paper's Controversy section, a short-lived but top-notch weekly compendium of book reviews and extended opinion pieces that fell victim to rapidly deteriorating finances. It was a great idea, well executed, that shouldn't have to had died.
It's self-proclaimed "progressive" editorial page may be mostly a sham, but the Sun-Times has become a real and feisty alternative to Sam Zell's stolid rag at the upscale end of the river. The Sun-Times has better investigative reporting, but, just as importantly, it has personality - Roger Ebert, the combative Mary Mitchell, the sourly funny Neil Steinberg, the amiable but dogged Mark Brown, the saavy and cogent Carol Marin, the sarcastic Zay Smith, Bill Zwecker, Michael Sneed, Stella Foster and many more. The Tribune has John Kass, Blair Kamin, Jon Hilkevitch, Steve Chapman (tragically, no longer Terry Armour, who died suddenly last week), a few others, and a lot of very corporate types whose columns as often as not read like something out of an annual report.
It must be in the air. In the Sun-Times, Phil Rosenthal's column was an engaging read; moved to the Tribune, it's usually something of a slog. I read the Tribune every day. With its overall depth of reporting, it's still the city's paper of record. But I read the Sun-Times every day not just to keep informed, but because it's a compelling read that channels the Chicago spirit.
Now the Tribune Company is selling itself off in pieces to try to keep from drowning in the massive servicing costs for it $11 billion of debt, while the Sun-Times cuts and cuts just to keeps it head above water. In a city the size of Chicago, you'd think there would be room for both these publications, but the way things are going, can either survive?
Personality is exactly what papers like the Trib have been fighting not to have for decades. That's because personalities are, gasp, expensive! They ask for more money! Never mind that people pick up papers to read Ebert or Royko or Bob Greene (or Mencken or Herb Caen or FPA or...) They pick em up to read comics, too, and God knows the papers have been steadily making that harder over the years, without a microscope. The Sun-Times is the rare exception to this corporate trend, which is why it's still readable, and why the Trib's attempts to suddenly foster personality via blogs seem kind of stillborn.
I agree with most of what you say but Blair Kamin, if let loose could be one of the best writers Chicago has seen in some time. He's as progressive as they come and his ability to challenge conventional wisdom is quite refreshing.
The problem being he doesn't touch politics enough and the awful John Kass gets greater exposure.
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