Should She Grab the Lifeline?/ All Eyes on Carol/ Journalism in the Line of Fire/ Giving Lazarus the Business | Media | Chicago Reader

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Should She Grab the Lifeline?/ All Eyes on Carol/ Journalism in the Line of Fire/ Giving Lazarus the Business

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By Michael Miner

The ethical turmoil of the publishing life doesn't always cease when a publication does. At the end of the year the quarterly journal Chicago Philanthropy succumbed to undercapitalization. Founder Kathleen Carpenter published a stylish winter issue and came into the office several more days to pay the bills, write subscribers the bad news, and mail subscription refunds. Having done her duty, she left town to recover in Miami.

But in Miami the phone rang. It was the chairman of a Chicago foundation. "He said, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'I'm on vacation.' He said, 'When you get back we have to talk about the magazine.'"

More calls followed "from corporations and foundations. I was sort of blown away by the depth of the attachment. They didn't say, 'We have to talk about this. You have to reconsider.' They just said matter-of-factly, 'What do you need?'"

What Carpenter needed, of course, was what they had. Money. "More than ten dollars," she says, "less than a million." They not only had it, they were in the business of giving it away.

The ethical wrinkle is that she's in the business of covering them. "Can I take money from the hand I want to bite?" she wonders. "That's the big dilemma. The ones I've talked to have said they understand the situation and are not inclined to want to change anything. Their intention is to continue the magazine as it was, doing what it did."

But would that remain their intention if she bit them? "Very good question," she says. "What makes the most sense is that if there's any money from foundations it's a small amount, a one-shot deal to get the magazine up and running. A little money to hire people and market it, assuming that if the magazine is marketed well it will be able to continue to float on its own. I would never turn it into a nonprofit situation or a situation where I'd have to go out and raise money every year."

She's done that. She spent a career working for nonprofits, and after four years as vice president for external affairs at the Museum of Science and Industry, she'd had it. "I was burned out on the fund-raising," she says. "The campaigns get bigger and bigger. It's never enough." She took a sabbatical, but six weeks into it she was itching for a new project. So in 1995 she launched Chicago Philanthropy.

"Most of the publications that cover philanthropy and nonprofits--they're just lifeless," she says. "What they're missing is the human element. In the nonprofit community there's an unusual dynamic between people. If you have a million dollars to give away and I need some of that money to exist, we have a very interesting relationship. Are you going to be the wisest and sagest and will your jokes be the funniest? Yes."

Regrettably, the protocols governing the noblesse oblige and obeisance of the giving and taking game keep most moments of candor off the record. Carpenter remembers asking one philanthropist why he funded a particular project, and the man replied, "We funded it because it was the right goddamn thing to do, to belly up to that bar." It was a bracing sentiment--but not in language he wanted next to his name.

Nevertheless, there's plenty to write about. "What I like best is telling stories about the nonprofits," she says. "The nonprofits are so unknown." There are about 3,500 in the Chicago area, she says. They're in all the neighborhoods, dreaming and planning and making things happen, and a lot of the city's vitality springs from them. "It's a very unrecognized thing. I wanted a magazine where someone could pick it up and see what was going on."

Giving money away, she explains, is never done carelessly. Corporations and foundations read her journal for ideas on where to direct their largesse, as well as for the inside story on how other big givers were spreading their own. Estate-planning lawyers and money managers also read Chicago Philanthropy. "They sent it to their clients as a service."

Between her advertisers and 900-some subscribers, Carpenter could afford to keep her standards up and pay all her contributors--all but herself. "If everyone who read it had subscribed to it, I'd have been all right," she says. "But it had a very, very high pass-on rate. One corporation got one subscription and then sent a copy to every branch in Illinois. I'm not going to name them."

Failing magazines usually resemble death before they die. But when subscriber David Hirsch got Carpenter's letter he was "totally stunned." He thought Chicago Philanthropy had always looked good and was still getting better. A senior vice president at Salomon Smith Barney, Hirsch three years ago founded the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting responsible fathering. He's fascinated by the psychology of philanthropy as it's being exhibited by a young generation of entrepreneurs who've made more money than they know what to do with and now grapple with the idea that the time and energy they've devoted to themselves could be invested in their communities.

Hirsch read Chicago Philanthropy because, he says, "I found it inspirational to read about other people in the community, at different points in their lives and careers, doing things. Philanthropy, from my perspective, is one of those things that have to be practiced. There have to be good role models out there."

When the calls to Carpenter started coming, most were from small family foundations. There's been a big increase in recent years in this kind of foundation, she says, and the new ones are feeling their way. They don't know the nonprofits, and the nonprofits don't know them. They need the journalism.

In the next couple of weeks she intends to sit down with some of these friends who came out of the woodwork. She's not sure what to tell them. "What if Crain's were sponsored by Ameritech?" she says, thinking out loud. "One of the strengths of the magazine from the readers' point of view is that it was independent of any organization--and I heard that a lot. I didn't have any agenda other than putting the news out there."

"Let's put it this way," she goes on. "I'm certainly willing to talk to them and see how we would handle this. I don't have any answers right now."

All Eyes on Carol

Doris Day starred as torch singer Ruth Etting in the 1955 biopic Love Me or Leave Me, her last big role before she got her virginity back. Lost virtue can be restored, so there's hope for Channel Two. But it's a delicate operation. When Carol Marin set out last week to return propriety to TV news, I watched like an ayatollah, bristling at every vestige of wanton television.

It's been years since I became allergic to the presence of four genial goofballs in my living room, and I can't imagine why Chicagoans by the hundreds of thousands are still willing to stop whatever they're doing each night at ten o'clock and let them into the house. The first whiff of badinage makes me feverish. So it was when Dr. Michael Breen concluded his report on the psychology of computer hackers and Marin said, "Thank you very much, Michael." Michael? Then, as if suddenly possessed by the tortured spirit of Barbara Walters, she added, "Fascinating!"

I hadn't tuned in to hear her gush--or to see Steve Baskerville grin, or to chuckle at Tim Weigel's wieners. These "relaxed moments," however few and far between, stuck out as garish violations of the sacraments of virtuous newscasting. But then my hopes and dreams had been punctured just 20 minutes into Marin's baptismal newscast, when she broke for a commercial.

This concession to mammon served as a stark reminder that however Channel Two configures the ten o'clock news, it will do so with an eye to the revenue stream. It might be argued that Marin doesn't want her new show to be radically grim. She might simply be seeking a comfortable balance between pertinence and impertinence, heavy on information but light on its feet. That's a respectable ambition. Nevertheless, I had tuned in to see the nightly news scoured, not freshened. Despite excellent journalists at every Chicago station, I fear a single nook of that Augean stable not hosed and sandblasted could refoul the premises overnight.

TV's ten o'clock news had forgotten that footage of a five-alarm fire in the next state interests viewers less than a debate over a zoning change in the next block. Marin happened to broadcast three long, thoughtful stories about my part of town last week, and this endeared her show to me more than any other step she took to give the news honor and gravitas.

The ten o'clock news had also lazily taken to reporting the same stories you'd read 14 hours earlier in your morning paper. But last Tuesday--in a newscast that was torn apart so the first 20 minutes could be devoted to Bob Collins and as a result ran some 15 minutes over--Mike Flannery broadcast revelations of mismanagement in the office of city treasurer Barbara Lumpkin, and the next day the papers had to play catch-up.

That same night, Pam Zekman advanced the Collins story with a report on the private company that provided the Waukegan airport with its air controllers. Another night she had fresh information on racial profiling by cops in Highland Park.

The irreducible obligation of a serious news report is to report information that's not only serious but actually news. If Marin can pull that off on a regular basis, we fundamentalists might stop panicking each time Steve Baskerville smiles.

Journalism in the Line of Fire

American journalists who sulk b because they're despised need to know things could be worse. The independent Belgrade radio station B2-92 posted on its Web site this transcript of a February 10 press conference held by Vojislav Seselj, deputy prime minister of Serbia and president of the Serbian Radical Party. On everyone's mind was the recent assassination of defense minister Pavle Bulatovic.

B2-92: What measures will the state take against state terrorism from the West?

Seselj: Our response will be adequate, based on the constitution and the law, with the use of every instrument we have at our disposal for the defense of our country.

B2-92: Against whom?

Seselj: Against all who are instruments of Western countries. Against them all. Perhaps against your paper as well. You're from Novosti, right?

B2-92: B2-92.

Seselj: Ah! From B2-92! What's that? I've not heard about that. Is it registered? Minister, is there anything like that? Against all those who act on instructions from the West, who receive money from the Americans and their allies to act against Yugoslavia. In an adequate way. You are going to experience this adequate way in practice. The gloves are off. Now it's crystal clear--he who lives by the sword may die by the sword, and all of you should bear that in mind. Don't think that we're going to let you kill us off like rabbits, or that we'll be coddling and caring for you like potted plants. Be careful, you from B2-92 and the other treacherous outlets. You can't really believe that you'll survive if we're executed. You're very wrong. Any more questions?

B2-92: Since this thing happened with Mr. Bulatovic--this tragedy and crime--are you personally afraid, bearing in mind what you have said about the state terrorism currently being carried out by other countries? You're a prominent politician.

Seselj: You should know by now that I am afraid of nothing. Absolutely nothing!

B2-92: A few weeks ago, rumor had it that you'd been injured in an accident.

Seselj: Well, you can see that I'm not hurt! Why would I be afraid? It's you who should be afraid. You work for a treacherous medium.

B2-92: It's not a treacherous medium.

Seselj: Ah! It's not a treacherous medium! All right! You can prove afterwards that it isn't.

B2-92: After what?

Seselj: After something. You'll see what. The gloves are off. You kill statesmen off like rabbits here, thinking you're safe. You're making a mistake. You're making a big mistake. Now the gloves are off. Anyone who works for the Americans must suffer the consequences. What consequences? The worst possible. You're working against your own country, you're paid American money to destroy your country. You're traitors, you're the worst kind! There's nothing worse than you! You're worse than any kind of criminals!

B2-92: That's not true, Mr. Seselj.

Seselj: It's very true. It's completely true. You're traitors because you take money from the Americans, and you always have. You're the same, the ones who took money to kill the defense minister and you who are paid to spread propaganda against your country. You're the same, the same criminals. I'm quite certain about that because they submit official reports about how much money they give you. And you're the same.

B2-92: Are you looking among journalists for the murderers?

Seselj: We're looking for the murderers among those of you who work for foreign intelligence services. You're accomplices in the murder. You're the same. You journalists think you're some kind of sacred cows? Some of you are cows, all right, but not sacred. You're murderers. You're murderers of your people and your country, potentially. Yes, those of you working for the Americans: you from Danas, you from B-92, you from Glas javnosti, from Novosti, you from Blic [the other media are local papers]. You're traitors to the Serbian nation. You're deliberately working in the interests of those who were killing Serbian children. You're doing it deliberately. You've sold your souls. That's what you are!

The Associated Press tells us that Seselj's statements were denounced by Human Rights Watch, the International Federation of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, and other groups. Information minister Aleksandar Vucic, himself a member of Seselj's party, then issued a statement: "The reaction only proved that we from the Radical Party hit the nail on the head."

Giving Lazarus the Business

When this year's edition of the International Housewares Show came to McCormick Place last month, Tribune marketing columnist George Lazarus squeezed out a couple of pieces on exhibitors. On January 18 he featured one of the grand old names of consumer appliances, the Hoover Company. The next day Lazarus's spotlight found OTRES Inc., an entrepreneurial upstart that's about to roll out a toothbrush sanitizer.

An unsigned letter called my attention to these two columns. "George doesn't usually write about the show," said the correspondent. "Interestingly, his daughter Tara's PR agency just happens to represent both of these companies."

I confirmed that Hoover and OTRES are represented by Wheatley Blair of Chicago, which employs young Tara Lazarus. I talked to her father by phone, then sent him a note asking if the facts were more than mere coincidence.

"I don't respond to anonymous letters, and I write about many companies," he told me.

My letter to you wasn't anonymous, I replied.

"I don't respond to your letter either," he said. "I write a column every day. Take it for what it's worth. Good-bye."

A quick search of the Tribune archives found little trace of Lazarus chronicling the housewares show. He did get to the 1999 show, however, and he did celebrate one of its exhibitors in a column. It was the Hoover Company.

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

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