I had quite an excited reaction when I saw Ben Joravsky's "You Can't Fool Mrs. Sykes" article in the September 15 edition of the Reader. As a former Lerner Times beat reporter for the 38th, 41st, and 45th wards, I've been going through a withdrawal for northwest-side news ever since I left the paper a few months ago. By the end of the article I was as disappointed to see Joravsky point out holes in a Lerner Times story as I was to see him present readers with his own slice of Swiss cheese.
It appears the reason Joravsky points out the holes in the Times story is to cover up his own weak reporting. I'm guessing the reasoning goes something like this: "The Times didn't explain what the erroneous or misleading information in Sykes's petition was, and I can't get ahold of any Norwood Park Chamber of Commerce officials myself, so I might as well point out my secondary source's failure's instead of mine."
Later on, Joravsky writes, "It's not immediately obvious why parking spaces are needed."
If it's not immediately obvious, why not ask the man behind the project, 41st Ward alderman Brian Doherty? He was one of the sources Joravsky managed to get an interview with. Or why not ask Senator Walter Dudycz, who secured the funding for the project? From reading the article, it appears there was no effort to contact Dudycz. Perhaps there was no effort made because an answer from either public official defining the parking problems would have shifted attention away from the David vs. Goliath story and lessened the chance that readers would empathize with Mary Sykes. Or maybe it was just sloppy reporting.
To give Joravsky the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he was waiting to ask Norwood Park Chamber officials who didn't return his calls. I assume one official Joravsky attempted to contact was Jim Del Medico, a board member at the chamber who is later quoted from a Lerner Times article. How hard did Joravsky try to contact these people? Del Medico is available "24 hours a day, seven days a week," to quote what Del Medico said at each of the hundred or so meetings I saw him at over a year's time. And he's not lying. He's listed in the phone book, gets messages through Doherty's office and the chamber, and works about 60 hours a week at Performance Auto on Northwest Highway, less than a mile away from the scene of the article. He's also a member of practically every organization on the northwest side and can be found five nights a week at any of their meetings, though I've never seen him stop one to take a phone call from a reporter sitting in a downtown office.
I realize I know this information about Del Medico because I covered the northwest side for about a year. It would be unfair to expect Joravsky--who covers all of the city's neighborhoods--to know the intricacies of a single neighborhood. Or would it? Joravsky expects perfection from the cub reporter in whose article he's quick to point out holes. So can't I expect a veteran journalist to track down the most accessible man on the northwest side for an explanation?
Joravsky ends his article with a humorous anecdote where Sykes voices a beef with Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Craig Wolf's quote in the Chicago Tribune. "I think I ought to call Mr. Wolf," Sykes said. "I'd like to know how bump-outs can be good for Norwood Park if they're not good for Andersonville."
I can't help but think Joravsky should have taken Sykes's lead and called CDOT himself. But again he shies away from asking public officials the essential questions to keep the story convenient to Sykes's fight against Goliath. To the casual reader, it would appear that Sykes's dig really stings. It does--especially because CDOT isn't allowed to explain its side of the story.
Maybe Doherty, Dudycz, and CDOT wouldn't have been able to explain why Norwood Park needs more parking or bump-outs, but the reader will never know. Instead, those who look to the Neighborhood News section for their weekly martyr will once again find it.
Former Lerner Times
Ben Joravsky replies:
I did quote Alderman Doherty, chief spokesman for public works projects in the 41st Ward. And I did call the chamber of commerce, five days before my deadline. No one returned my call until after my deadline had passed. Nevertheless, chamber officials are quoted in my story. I took their quotes from the Lerner Times.