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End of Enterprise/Strike Talk/News Bites



End of Enterprise

Chicago Enterprise will publish one more issue and disappear. It's useful, but it's expensive, and the sense of purpose of its founders has trickled away into the sands.

Chicago Enterprise was the voice of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago. The committee was founded in 1985 at the urging of Donald Perkins, outgoing CEO of Jewel Food Stores, who convinced Chicago's corporate leadership to sit down together and think about where the region stood economically and where it should be going. Big business had just put too many eggs in one basket--the misbegotten 1992 world's fair proposal--and the public didn't buy those eggs.

Calling itself "the magazine of economic development issues in the metropolitan area," Chicago Enterprise became one of those serious little journals whose influence is felt softly. "The magazine was noted for exploring certain subjects other media ignored and often leading media to them," editor David Roeder told us. "For something that was never really promoted we had a wonderful circulation. We had a mailing list of 9,400 and readership of 34,000."

Paltry numbers, perhaps, but then Roeder's magazine was not available at Osco. One regular contributor told us how nice it was to know that whatever he might say in Chicago Enterprise would cross the mayor's desk.

But fervor ebbs. Committed CEOs such as Motorola's George Fisher and United's Stephen Wolf were giving way to less interested successors, and executive director Lawrence Howe looked twice at the magazine's $300,000 budget. "You can't go on forever with a major budget commitment without something tangible in the way of results," Howe told us. "And there's no way to get tangible results with a publication."

Chicago Enterprise cut back from monthly to bimonthly publication at the beginning of '93--"I think some of the steam went out of the product then," says Roeder; and last week Howe told Roeder he'd decided to shut the magazine down.

This isn't the first time the Civic Committee has trimmed its sails. A few months ago, it shrank the staff and cut the budget of Leadership for Quality Education, a school-reform group. Its major program still intact is a behind-the-scenes consulting service called the Financial Research and Advisory Committee that also is heavily involved in education.

"I don't want to declare us dead just yet," says Roeder. Once the last issue's out, he wants to explore reviving Chicago Enterprise under new sponsorship. He's thinking of foundation support, or "putting together a consortium of universities interested in economic development." Academic journals aren't sexy, but they last.

Strike Talk

In Rumpelstiltskin, our favorite fairy tale, the king was a greedy sadist, the miller a heartless braggart, his daughter a whimpering mope, and Rumpelstiltskin himself, the only character in the tale with any intellectual gifts or emotional complexity, a shrieking dwarf. So take your pick.

In the big league baseball strike of '94, the owners are mulish hypocrites and the players pampered gluttons; but the fans are blameless victims of senseless combat, and the season's a thing of beauty sacrificed to human folly.

So we've been reading. But we've been reading a fairy tale. And we know what the Grimm brothers would say. "More monsters!" they'd say. "We're dealing with the minds of children here."

So add to the list of monsters fans who should read some Adam Smith. They'd discover no one is nearly as responsible for the high price of a baseball ticket as they are themselves for being willing to pay it. And as for that perfect season in which Matt Williams might have whacked 62 home runs, Tony Gwynn might have reached .400, and Frank Thomas might have captured the triple crown, it's the same season that began with a configuration of divisions almost impossible to remember and a wild-card play-off system that had to be willfully ignored by anyone determined to thrill to a White Sox-Indian pennant race.

Would Williams, Gwynn, and Thomas have completed their giant feats? We'll never know. Once upon a time Ted Williams might have outswatted everyone. But twice he ceased doing mighty deeds to serve reality, in World War II and the Korean War.

In the absence of actual games to report, the Sun-Times has turned to computerized results. In some ways these are better than the real thing: at least west-coast games no longer finish too late to make the paper. And the same paper pulled off the publishing coup of listing every single striking player, what he makes, and what he loses in salary each day the strike continues. Bobby Bonilla loses over $34,000 a day.

The tables invited an ambivalent response: sheer bitterness that anyone so handsomely paid could remain unsatisfied, and awe at the money these athletes were kissing off. But it was easy to interpret the publishing of the salaries as a hostile act. The numbers put the game's humblest yeomen on financial strata as far above our heads as Jack was when he climbed the bean stalk.

We think the truth is less malign. The papers must publish something, anything, about baseball. And baseball fans must slake their thirst for those columns of tiny numbers known as agate. Nevertheless, it's not stupid to assume the papers are institutionally hostile to the striking players. The papers are institutionally hostile to the unions inside their own walls, and they show little concern for striking unions beyond.

The Sunday after the strike began the Tribune carried a story that could have been called "The Silly Little Princes." The actual headline read "Reality a striking thought for some major-league players," and the Tribune played the story on page one to underline the importance of its message. Baseball writer Joseph Reaves wrote that "many players don't know what the strike is about. Some don't even know what life in the real world is like. . . . Any player good enough to make it to the major leagues has been pampered long enough to be spoiled."

Having limned the players Reeves might have done the same with the owners, beginning, perhaps, with the never-never lands from which they look down on their boys at play. Jim Squires, in his book Read All About It!, recalls a day in the life of Stanton Cook, the Cubs' chairman of the board, when Cook ran the Tribune Company. A corporate jet had carried Cook and other Tribune dignitaries to Newport News to visit the local paper, which the company had just bought, and tour the newly commissioned submarine the USS Chicago. But the line to board the sub was long. Squires wrote, "It was plain to me that the new owners of the town's only newspaper were about to create an unfortunate image--that of exiting chauffeur-driven limousines and being escorted to the front of a line of people who had been waiting their turn all afternoon." Squires suggested they start at the rear like everyone else. "They looked at me as if I were a kook."

If the corporate barons were not selling their autographs that afternoon, perhaps it was only because no one wanted them.

"I am appalled regarding the coverage given to the possible upcoming baseball strike . . . " begins a letter dated August 11. "Even our dear President, Mr. Clinton appeared briefly to say a few words on the subject. This aids in showing the decline of the mentality of the American people who are swayed by the media in believing this is important news, that will effect their everyday lives. . . . Since when is the loss of sports related millions more important than the income of the average working man that makes this country function."

Here is the voice of the real world trying to make itself heard over the storybook. Raymond Augustyniak of Norridge has been out of work since July 14, when the United Transportation Union struck the Soo Line Railroad. Augustyniak, a mechanic, is not himself on strike, but he is displaying a value that on some occasions newspapers praise to the skies--loyalty. He is refusing to cross a sister union's picket lines. To make ends meet, he may soon start driving a truck.

As a good union man from another world, Augustyniak has more sympathy than empathy for the ball players. What he envies most is their ink. He dares to suggest that a newspaper with a lick of curiosity about common folk might find more interesting tales to tell at the picketed Soo Line switching yard in Bensenville than there are at Clark and Addison.

Henry Norman, chairman of Local 1433 of the striking UTU, tells us that about 4,000 Soo Line workers have put down their tools in 13 states, transportation of a bumper wheat crop is in peril, and power stations are running out of coal. In addition, there are union reports of reluctant workers from Canada ordered south by the Canadian Pacific, the Soo Line's parent railroad. In the union's eyes, such workers are illegals violating the NAFTA agreement, and the U.S. Office of Immigration has been informed.

But does this interesting tale get told? "I think it's a joke," Norman said. "Here we are making 15 bucks an hour, and we can't get any publicity. I think it sucks."

The baseball and Soo Line strikes are not the two and only. Central Illinois is dotted with labor strife: between the Staley and Caterpillar plants in Decatur, 7 percent of that city's work force has hit the bricks.

"What they never cover at all, never cover, never cover, are the organizing drives that are busted, people fired. That never gets in the news," says labor lawyer Tom Geoghegan. "People getting cheated out of their pensions, things like that. If an alderman takes a $5 bribe it's front page for six days in the Sun-Times. But if a company steals $6 million from its employees in a pension scam, you never see it."

By focusing almost entirely on the one strike that pits fat cats against fat cats, the papers aren't simply showing us the importance they give to baseball. They're making a statement about organized labor. The baseball strike may be the rare fairy tale that's told by another of the monsters.

News Bites

From our notebook:

8 The Tribune, on Mel Reynolds's victory over Gus Savage in 1992: "This was viewed as the most refreshing change in the recent history of Chicago congressional politics, the triumph of intelligence over racial division."

Viewed by the Tribune, that is. A lot of south-side black voters had a different view; but then they were the ones intelligence was triumphing over.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.

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