Five or six years ago, I used to have meetings with People Who Ran Chicago Media. There was a certain amount of handwringing in that crowd about what to do next, and I was a kinda-known media entrepreneur, so PWRCM would meet with me to ask what I was thinking. Of course they never framed it that way, but it was pretty much what was going on. They were looking for free ideas, and I was trying to get noticed, so it was a fine arrangement.
I basically told everyone the same thing: Chicago’s Black community is hugely vibrant and yet largely ignored by Chicago media. Chicago needs a “Red Eye” for Black Chicago. News, nightlife, and culture. Appoint Black reporters to run it, sell it along Metra Electric and L stops (this was before print was totally dead), and make sure you have drop dead amazing commentary on a digital website.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only person to think of this, in fact, I know so, because The TRiiBE exists, and they’re kinda doing that same thing. And doing a fine job at it too.
If you look around, Chicago has one of America’s most vibrant Black communities – amazing civic organizations, real donor and entrepreneural classes, serious artistic leadership – and yet it does not have the amount of local media it deserves. Yes, N’Digo, Citizen Newspapers, WVON, and others exist. But there hasn’t been a major new entrant in a while.
And then Chance The Rapper bought Chicagoist in 2018, and announced it in a song.
This was double cool for me, because in 2007, I was one of the first four writers for Chicagoist. I’m not going wax pathetic about how great it was back in the aughts, but Chicagoist wrested away attention from Tribune Tower to a aspiring group of kids that were light on news, heavy on commentary. That were also white, white, white. Well meaning, but largely white.
By 2018, Chicagoist had been beat up by lots of editor changes, a purchase by Ricketts-owned DNAinfo, and then a shutdown by Joe Ricketts when his workers threatened to unionize.
Chance buying Chicagoist was an opportunity to do something big. He seemed to have progressive values and despite his grammys, kept a Chicago-area ZIPcode. You could build a Black Chicagoist, do what TRiiBE is doing but with resources. And since the big announcement?
Today, The TRiiBE published an interview where they pushed Chance on what’s going on with Chicagoist. Here’s the important parts:
In 2018, Chance attended the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) conference to learn more about the industry and the Black press. When asked if he knew what was going on with Chicago journalism when he bought the Chicagoist for a price “cheap enough that a lot of people could have purchased it,” Chance instead surprised us with his response.
“Truthfully speaking, it’s ‘cause I’m Black. There’s very few people with a track record that clearly shows how anti-capitalist they are, or how they treat people with respect and dignity and jobs. And there is me,” Chance says in regards to public criticism of his purchase.
This is awesome! YES! Black people should own media and make publications in their own image! More please!
He went on to explain that he doesn’t want to be an editor and oversee the Chicagoist relaunch. But he plans to lean on TRiiBE publisher Morgan Elise Johnson and other Black journalists for help to build an outlet of high integrity.
Considering this is an interview published by TRiiBE, this section really bummed me out. You mean we’ve been waiting four years and now he’s going to consult the publisher of the outlet that’s interviewing him right now? What’s he been up to all this time? I’m not a believer here.
“And the next thing I knew, there was 50 think pieces about how bad this was gonna be, the end of the world for journalism because I had bought the Chicagoist. How I’m going to make everybody write great reviews of my music. Like, it’s so short-sighted and racist that I really don’t even pay it any mind,” Chance says.
Yeah. Those people are short-sighted dopes. But you know how you prove them wrong? By doing some kickass stuff.
I’m not the right guy to make the Black Chicagoist vision happen – this much is obvious – but there are LOTS of people in the world that CAN make it happen. We’ve waited four years. When do you assemble them and start putting some money behind the vision?
Honestly, I’ve never met him, but I think Chance The Rapper is probably a pretty swell guy. But he’s a music celebrity whose first job (and talent) is to make great music. Just because you’re good at one thing, does not mean you’re good at another. He’s been sitting on one of the coolest Chicago media assets that exist for four years and hasn’t done a thing.
Maybe he doesn’t know what to do. Maybe he doesn’t have any ideas. Maybe he just doesn’t have time.
But really, for the sake of us all, shit or get off the pot Chance. I want to see a killer Black Chicagoist news source. Make me look like a fool and give the ball to people who have the time and ability to do things.