Chicago journalists are planning a benefit to look out for their own

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Steve Franklin
  • Steve Franklin
If memory serves, Steve Franklin and I were never comrades in arms along the banks of the Jarama. But his romantic impulse touches my own, and if the salutation of his recent e-mail—"Hermanos"—hinted at the idea that being a journalist these days is a little like facing Franco's army with a single-shot carbine, well, that's a thought I’ve had myself.

"I always refer to my colleagues as hermanos and hermanas," says Franklin. "It's clearly labor language. And I think that's important." Franklin didn’t make it to the Spanish Civil War, but he spent some time with the Zapatistas in Chiapas, and he admits to a little Subcomandante Marcos in his soul. Attached to his e-mail—sent to me and other Reader staffers—was a news release that asserts "We Care for Our Own" and begins "We journalists are a tribe." The tribal event the news release touts is sponsored by the Chicago Headline Club, but the idea came from Franklin, a former Tribune labor writer and last year's CHC president. He's putting the evening together with Flynn McRoberts, a former Tribune colleague who's now Chicago bureau chief of Bloomberg News.

It's called Scribe Aid. The news release promises, "We'll sing, take in some very good jazz and catch up. Most importantly, we'll raise funds for journalists out-of-work or just not earning enough."

Franklin explains: "Someone asked me to explain why we're raising the money. What's the purpose? Where's it going? And my explanation was, it's because we care about our profession, and I've met too many people who when they can't find work think they're alone and fall into depression. This will never jump-start someone's career, but it says we care about you. We're people who foolishly believe in journalism and we look out for each other."

Franklin's going back to the venue for the first Scribe Aid, which was held in 2010—the Heartland Cafe. The Tribune's Eric Zorn and Mary Schmich will again lead everyone in song. Curtis Black, a jazz musician who doubles as editor of Newstips for the Community Media Workshop, will play with his group. Last time, says Franklin, the Heartland was packed, folks were pouring in at all hours eager to make more music, and it was sometime in the morning when the cafe finally told everyone to go home. That Scribe Aid raised about $1,400 at the door, the Chicago Association of Black Journalists kicked in another $200, "and within six months we gave it all away in increments of $300 or $400," says Franklin, "to journalists who were unemployed or freelancers just getting by." As he recalls, the Headline Club made four grants; the money paid for equipment reporters needed but couldn't afford and for reporting that the reporters otherwise couldn't afford to undertake.

"I see foreign journalists as so much more organized it's incredible," says Franklin, fluent in Arabic and widely traveled. "That's because of the nature of what foreign journalism is. Often, it's resistance to the government. The journalists are under threat. The challenge is much greater. And I feel sometimes we journalists in the U.S. don't stick together. Each one of us is the fastest gun in the room. But I think in the last year with the Chicago Headline Club we've made tremendous steps forward. And I think people like to work together."

The state of Chicago journalism was lousy in 2010, and Franklin thinks it's worse now. "Look at the cutbacks between the Tribune, the Sun-Times, the suburban papers," he says. "Several online publications have shut down. I work with black and Latino freelancers. Their pay is abysmal. I've got friends at the Tribune from 2008 when I left who have gone two or three years without a serious job. That's my own measure. One thing I sense is the depression that comes on. We purposely waited until the holidays to do this so it's fun."

Scribe Aid starts at 8 PM, December 7, at the Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood. Admission's $10, and the Headline Club has sweetened the deal by promising to auction off a new iPod Touch. If Scribe Aid knows what's good for it, it'll be roaring along far past midnight.

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