A Country Editor
Lucinda Hahn, the Tribune's snarky "Celebrity Magazines" columnist, isn't the urbanite you'd think. Her dad was a Chicago investment manager who worked from home in Kendall County, so she grew up in the 70s across the road from a soybean field. A Tribune staffer for the past three years, a Chicago magazine senior editor before that, she wrote last winter from a rented house in Rolling Prairie, Indiana, a hamlet two hours from Chicago. "A lot of people thought I was crazy," she says. "But after living on the west coast of Ireland, there's very little I think of as remote anymore." Ten years ago, when she was free to live any-where while writing for the European edition of the Reader's Digest, she chose Ireland's Dingle Peninsula.
Hahn has just moved from the north side of Chicago to Harbert, Michigan, to become editor of Lake magazine, which I think of as a slick tribute to the upscale life of Chicagoans who weekend in Harbor Country. No, she protests, it's more: "I don't think you've read enough issues of the magazine, and especially under Dennis's tenure. They've cut back on the number of society pages they do. It's more of a well-rounded regional magazine." Before Hahn there was founding editor, Pat Colander, who left a year ago to launch a rival, Shore; Colander's interim successor, Dennis Rodkin, a freelance writer in Chicago; Rodkin's permanent replacement, Miriam Carey, who lasted three weeks and went back to Cleveland; and Rodkin again.
"I wasn't comfortable commuting back and forth to Indiana, sleeping in hotels in Indiana--it kind of sucked," says Rodkin. (Lake's offices are in La Porte.) "And the people I work with in Chicago are the people I prefer to work with. It's a journalists' culture here, people who operate at a certain level. Chicago journalists are the tribe I was born into. Indiana journalists are not."
If you're a faithful reader of "Celebrity Magazines"--which Hahn will go on writing as a freelancer--you might expect Hahn to deliver that kind of judgment. But she says, "Last weekend I was in Chicago at the corner of Clark and Diversey, where the Borders is, and it was a Saturday and there were four million people on the sidewalk and it was about 90 degrees. And I thought 'Oh my God, I don't miss this at all!'
"What doesn't feel foreign to me is walking with my two border collies along the beach at six in the morning. You couldn't drag me out of my [Chicago] apartment at six in the morning."
Despite her time at the Tribune, most of it spent covering society, she says her heart's in magazines: "I love the long form, the long narrative writing." She adds, "One thing I've always said talking to students is that magazine editing can be boring if you're editing a magazine about a topic you're not interested in." She told me she's been there.
"Coal Mining & Processing," she said. "Rock Products."
Numbers Do Lie
This may come as a shock, but those TV call-in polls that determine who America's idols are and so much else aren't necessarily legit. That includes a WTTW poll you might not have known about when it happened.
On March 28 Chicago Tonight reported on a pilot program launched in Beverly as an alternative to the city's hapless Blue Bag program. Viewers were asked: "Should Chicago dump the Blue Bag recycling program for a citywide separate bin pick up?"
Streets and San spokesman Matt Smith had this survey in mind when he answered questions from Mick Dumke, who wrote the Reader's July 21 cover story, "The Awful Truth About Recycling in Chicago." Dumke wrote that Smith "cites a poll conducted by Chicago Tonight in which 92 percent of respondents said they preferred the Blue Bag program."
Betsy Vandercook read that and gagged. President of the Chicago Recycling Coalition, she remembers voting in the poll, checking the results several times during the evening, and going to bed secure in victory. As of 10 PM, 23 of the 24 votes cast had favored dumping the Blue Bag program.
Vandercook awoke to disaster. Hundreds of new votes had poured in overnight, and the Blue Bag program was now romping to victory. (Smith told Dumke his 92 percent figure was based on returns as of 10:45 AM.)
"It was only then," Vandercook wrote me in an e-mail, "I learned that the voting was American Idol style, i.e. that you could vote as many times as you liked--the only limitation was how much time you wanted to waste. So we got on the job, mainly through our CRC board (we don't have a listserv) and through them reached memberships of other environmental organizations around town."
The forces for change stormed back. At 12:15 PM, according to her records, retain led change 60.7 percent to 39.9 percent, with 738 votes cast. By 4:25 PM, with 2,090 votes cast, change had moved back ahead, 59.9 to 40.4. That night retain again rallied, but by 8:30 the next morning 4,295 votes had been cast, and change led by a hair--50.5 to 49.5. Each time Vandercook checked the results she voted.
As the battle raged, she exchanged e-mails with Jinna Yun, assistant producer of Chicago Tonight. Vandercook wrote, "This may be a 'fun way to express an opinion' to you, but it's not fun to me, nor to hundreds of other environmentalists in the city. Just think, if the subject was say, gay adoption, and a few gay-bashers stayed up all night to vote and then sent the tally to all state legislators."
"The last time I looked [at about noon]," Vandercook e-mailed me, "there were 7,615 votes cast, with 51% to change, 49% to retain. Then WTTW took down the poll and put up the new one."
In her view the new question, on whether to rename a street for martyred Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, was a much hotter issue than the Blue Bag program. She said the total number of votes on that one was roughly 80.
Matt Smith, by the way, offers a wildly different interpretation of the poll, but he's just as suspicious. He says he worked with WTTW for weeks on the Beverly report, and Yun was nice enough to call the next morning and tell him to check out the poll results. "I was pleasantly surprised," he says. "It was not something I'd have expected to see."
In his view the lopsided pro-Blue Bag vote was the true "initial response" and what followed was the activists kicking in. "I'm sure once word got out with the recycling community, it probably put the numbers in a different direction," he says. As for the idea that Blue Bag forces cooked the results: "It's paranoia . . . a conspiracy theory."
"Many Americans, despite superficial affluence, are in debt and often a paycheck away from insolvency. By historical standards, they are pretty helpless. Most of us can't grow our own food, don't know how cars work and have no clue where or how electricity is generated. In short, few have the smarts to survive if the thin veneer of civilization were to be lost." Syndicated columnist Victor Davis Hanson had this to say and more last Sunday in "To the point," the weekly collection of provocative op-ed comment the Sun-Times assembles in its Controversy section. It was an interesting choice. Hanson is carried by the Tribune, where the same column, in a slightly longer form, had appeared two days earlier.
Tribune sports media writer Teddy Greenstein called the other day to defend his colleague Rick Morrissey, who'd figured in a couple of earlier Hot Type columns on the Sun-Times's Jay Mariotti. I'd noted that Morrissey lectured Mariotti in print--"If you're a sports columnist, you show up in the clubhouse to face the music. It's a matter of fairness"--and that reader David Peterson responded by calling the clubhouse issue a "canard." Peterson also wondered, "When was the last time our brave heroes such as Rick Morrissey or Teddy Greenstein . . . actually wrote one critical word about the ownership regimes around Chicago that was anything more than trivial?"
Greenstein said the record should show that back on June 30 and July 2 Morrissey had produced columns "that shredded Cubs' upper management." Noted. For the same record, I like Morrissey's column, and unlike Peterson, whom I value as a reader and critic, I don't consider the clubhouse issue a canard.
Chicago can breathe easy now. "We're delighted that we've got Jay locked in" --Sun-Times editor in chief John Barron, August 1.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Wendy Thoms.