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Clark knows the work of the journalists he's honoring — not simply the one or two nice pieces that can be excavated from any pile of drivel to snow a judge but the full body of work. He's finicky and sentimental. He likes to hail long, distinguished careers and to sing the praises of community journalists previously unsung. As community journalists work in trenches where few flowers grow, there's a rich supply of those.
Announced Friday, this year's winners are...
Linda Lenz, publisher of Catalyst Chicago, Tribune reporter Antonio Olivo, and freelancer Kari Lydersen. In this group, Lenz is the old pro. She started covering education in Chicago in the 70s with the Daily News, moved on to the Sun-Times, and in 1989 left that paper to become founding editor of Catalyst for the Community Renewal Society. Catalyst, her conception, covered school reform in Chicago as it waxed and waned; 22 years later education is a primary issue in the current mayoral campaigns, the renamed Catalyst Chicago continues to monitor the city schools, and Lenz is its publisher.
Olivio covers immigration for the Tribune, where he's worked since 2004. Says the CMW, "From articles about Chicago's disappearing middle class to those about the demolition of public housing, his interest in social injustice and the spirit of people is visible in his writing." Lydersen shares those interests, but "may be lesser known," Clark observes, as she did so much of her writing over the years for the Washington Post, which few Chicagoans ever see. Lydersen left the Post when it closed its Chicago bureau 14 months ago.
Lesser known, maybe, but hardly obscure. She's also written for In These Times, The Progressive, Streetwise, and, lately, the Chicago News Cooperative, and I reminded Clark that she's been contributing to this paper for years. Here's a 2009 story — and here's one from 2008 — each about the mysterious death of a young serviceman. And here's a 1999 story on a strike in Pilsen.
Journalism doesn't attract all kinds. I don't know of any reporter but Lydersen who's a former national champion marathon swimmer. But it does attract a lot of diffident characters inclined to believe that what's great about journalism is the opportunity to meet so many people who are genuinely interesting. For instance, when I asked Lydersen to comment on her Terkel she emailed me, "As journalists we’re inherently dilettantes but it really does amaze and impress me that people can be so dedicated to and consumed by their own personal struggles, hobbies and missions, even things that might appear quirky, obsessive, lost causes or unwinnable battles to the majority. When an objective eye would lead one to be really cynical and feel powerless given the state of the world on so many fronts, I’m constantly energized, amused and cheered by seeing the gusto with which people live their daily lives and how creative, brave, tough and tireless people can be in a world and a city that sometimes do their best to grind you down."