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The First Reporter

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Dear editor,

It's sad to read what's happening at the Chicago Reporter [Hot Type, June 17]. I was the first reporter/writer hired there by John McDermott and Lillian Calhoun in 1972. I began the job while still a student at Medill, and it was, in retrospect, a fantastic experience working with a group of exceptional people, many of whom have become exceptional journalists. I haven't lived in Chicago now for more than 20 years, like many of the Reporter's alumni. After a year I became the first managing editor at the Reporter and then left to join the team that started up Crain's Chicago Business. Today I'm still an editor, but in Philadelphia, not Chicago.

Chicago has a special place in journalism because publications like the Reporter were allowed to flourish and grow. Founder John McDermott was not an editor by either education or background. He was an activist who understood how the media worked. He worked, along with Lillian, exceptionally hard to create, month after month, a close relationship between the mainstream media in Chicago and the Reporter. The Reporter then was compelling but rigorously objective in reporting of the facts. It may be surprising that the mainstream media picked up our work so regularly then, but John and Lillian worked the media really hard to make sure that issues and our stories were in the face of the mainstream editors. Eventually it seemed that the relationship became more of a partnership and certainly not one of competitors.

The Reporter was an idealistic, challenging, and wonderful place to work (despite the low pay). Although there was an agenda, the Reporter itself avoided rhetoric and propaganda, using objective journalistic techniques to raise the issues. The people there were a team and a family. They were enthusiastic and vocal advocates of what they did. Now, 33 years later, maybe the Reporter has run its course. Perhaps John's legacy can't be morphed into as compelling a product and mission in 2005 as it was in 1972.

Even in these days of the Internet and blogs, Chicago will be worse off without the Reporter. I don't know of any city in the United States that could encourage such an institution to grow and mature. It's one of those things that makes Chicago special.

Jack Roberts

Philadelphia

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