I am writing this in mid-February, a day after seeing “The Black Panther” in the theater on its record-breaking opening weekend, and the day after news broke that the Chicago Reader had fired its executive editor, Mark Konkol, only ten days after he’d been installed. Two seemingly unrelated events converging like this resonated for me not only in connecting the two industries in which I’ve cast my fate, but in the way they reflect on two businesses that have been given up for dead according to prevailing sentiment.
In the trade press, the narrative around seeing movies in theaters in the era of Netflix has been one of terminal decline. But the explosive growth of MoviePass, combined with the blockbuster success of a movie like “Black Panther,” in the once-dead month of February, no less, skewers that narrative: moviegoing is not dead, but instead in need of new ideas and better, more relevant offerings. Turns out we like to go to the movies after all!
I spent much of the month between this issue and the last in Los Angeles, where our movie “Signature Move” had its L. A. premiere and, coincidentally, the leading art fair in that market was taking place. Each morning, I walked to a newsstand near my West Hollywood Airbnb and picked up a copy of the Los Angeles Times. The daily newspaper was my way of connecting to the city as a whole, rather than just the particular neighborhoods and niches I was spending my time in: West Hollywood and the film and art industries. This perspective on a new city reminded me that when you’ve lived in a city as long as I’ve lived in Chicago, it’s easy to take for granted how much of our understanding of our place is shaped by traditional media sources.
Like the moviegoing business, newspapers, especially alt-weeklies like the Chicago Reader, have suffered a long-term decline that’s led to a narrative of impending extinction. In Los Angeles, locals were despondent over the state of affairs, after the shutdown of LAist, the sale of LA Weekly to secretive buyers who fired its editorial staff, and the long-running decline of the once-majestic Los Angeles Times under, ironically, Chicago ownership. I was there the week that the surprise sale of the Times by tronc to a local billionaire happened, which was greeted with a mix of trepidation about the buyer’s intent and a “Ding-dong the witch is dead” narrative emanating from the newsroom about Michael Ferro and his Chicago boys (which is what the Reader, coincidentally, tweeted with the news of Konkol’s firing).
The contemporary relevance of the New York Times and the Washington Post give a larger frame to the idea that I was experiencing firsthand: the newspaper is absolutely vital to the health of our democracy.
It just needs new ideas and better, more relevant offerings.
While in L.A. I was also actively involved in putting together the Design 50 list for this issue. One group of designers you won’t see represented in that feature are the designers of this publication, as it is our practice not to include ourselves in our lists. But they are the best, and you can see who they are on this issue’s Contributors section.
Look for Newcity’s March 2018 print edition at over 1000 Chicago-area locations this week.