Chicago was the quintessential twentieth-century newspaper town. Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's play Front Page, which premiered in 1928, captured the city's zest for breaking news. Tribune Tower, a monument to Colonel Robert McCormick's vision of his daily as the "World's Greatest Newspaper," was also a buttressed symbol of power. In its pre-World War II heyday, the Chicago Daily News had the premiere cadre of foreign correspondents in the country. In later years, New York was the financial and media capital of the nation. Los Angeles had the movie business. Washington had politics and government. Chicago had The Mayor (Richard J. Daley) and the ne plus ultra of big-city columnists, the great Mike Royko.
With both of its surviving metro newspapers in bankruptcy and local network affiliates' running cut-rate news outfits, this decade has been a harsh comedown for newsgathering on the southern shore of Lake Michigan.
The Chicago News Cooperative (CNC), which launched last week, is not, singlehandedly, going to reverse that decline. It is a start-up, and many major tests are still to come. But as CNC's press release declared, it is committed to providing "high quality, professionally edited news and commentary to the Chicago region on the Web, in print and over the airwaves." The cooperative begins with the backing of Window to the World Communication, the parent of WTTW 11, Chicago's public television station, and on November 20, it will start providing two pages of news twice a week to the New York Times for its edition distributed in Chicago and the region. The editor of CNC, James O'Shea, is recruiting a staff whose work will begin appearing immediately in probably the most prestigious newspaper in the world. Good luck, Jim.