My Writing Life
My first news story was published in 1988. Most of my writing has been published in newspapers in Illinois, Indiana, and Arkansas.
A freelancer and staff writer, I've worked for the Daily Journal, Kankakee; the Peotone Vedette, Beecher Herald, Monee Monitor, and Crete Record in their respective communities. I have also been a correspondent for the Northwest Indiana Times, Munster, IN and the Baxter Bulletin, Mountain Home, AR. I continued writing for newspapers until my unofficial retirement around the mid to late 2000's.
Various titles during this time included: correspondent, reporter, bureau manager, editor, and photographer.
I've also participated in several other freelance projects, including the following:
Internet writing seemed at first, like an appealing freelance writing opportunity. It wasn't long before I became completely disillusioned by an industry I now believe, helped destroy good on-line journalism. A plethora of overly-advertised websites did little more than exploit eager writers in an effort to bolster the bottom line of host writing sites. They used false claims to entice inexperienced writers into getting published. The result was writers earning pennies for their efforts and real fake news often taken from Wikipedia and other unproven online sources. The internet became filled with unsubstantiated stories and lots of sub-par writing.
No experience was required, therefore some participants were generally unskilled in grammar, spelling, and the simplest sentence structure, yet were thrust into the same pool with skilled writers. Many of these writing sites correctly labeled, "writing mills," encouraged writers to crank out reams of content. Discipline was generally lax, and often lead to plagiarism.
The emphasis was not on good, quality writing, but rather search engine optimization (SEO). Well-researched, well-written articles were not the intent of writing mills. The emphasis was more money for the host site with little shared with the writer who made a few pennies for their work.
The practice caused writers to pay more attention to turning out numerous articles quickly rather than to produce correct, quality, well-researched information. Some of the writing sites maintained their own small network of news sites where work was published, often at some obscure internet location only seen by their own network of writers.
Not only are writing mills frustrating because the practice lowered the bar on good writing as well as internet content.
The internet was once offered tremendous potential, but today good sources are often buried beneath pages and pages of information.
Content mills still exist and continue to exploit would-be writers.
Activism, awareness, and community organizing
I've probably written more about a proposed transportation project in Illinois than anyone, but I've also held another role as well.
In 1987 when I heard about a proposal to build a new airport in the farm fields south of Chicago, it piqued my curisity. The proposed airport was to be more than three times the size of O'Hare International Airport and would displace 23,000 acres of prime and important farmland as well as the farmers who owned it.
The plan resurrected an old idea from the 1960's.
The location was a few miles from where I lived, a small town with a population of about 2,000 people. Beecher, Illinois was a farming community, much like downstate Illinois. Tar and chip roads accommodated slow-moving combines used by farmers who tended to acres and acres of corn, wheat, and soybean crops. It was not the kind of place where jets take off and land.
I grew up near O'Hare and just couldn't quite imagine the folly of plopping a huge, commercial airport into a peaceful, bucolic area that would displace mostly prime and important farmland, not to mention the generations of farmers that called it their home.
The airport had been dubbed the 3rd airport, but ironically, that moniker has also been given to other regional airports in the Chicagoland area: Gary/Chicago in Gary, IN; Mitchell International in Milwaukee, WI; and Chicago/Rockford International in Rockford, IL. With O'Hare and Midway, a new airport would in reality, be the sixth regional airport.
I set out to make some sense of what seemed to be totally illogical. I kept an open mind, trying to learn all I could about the who, what, where, why, and how of this project.
In all the years this airport has been proposed, it has never made sense because it was never needed.
What I learned, confirmed my initial suspicion, that this was a folly. Claims of jobs and economic development disguised the real issue; it was about control of lucrative contracts, jobs for political pals, and enough clout for politicians to stay in public office to feed at the public trough for as long as they liked. Big projects reap big rewards, especially in Illinois where the pay-to-play system runs rampant, and has resulted in four governors becoming convicted felons who have served time. The latest, ex-Gov. Rod Blogojevich has been indicted on corruption charges and was impeached as Governor. His predecessor George Ryan has also served time in a federal penitentiary in Indiana.
On Aug. 2, 1988, with 13 other people who felt the same way I did, established Residents United to Retain Agricultural Land (RURAL).
We held local meetings as the organization grew. We passed petitions, held rallies, and did whatever it took. The biggest supporters were public officials who didn't want to be bothered with the public and how they felt or what they thought.
One of my proudest moments was an invitation to join a panel to hold a lively discussion on the pros and cons of the project on WTTW's Chicago Tonight, hosted by the late John Callaway.
Another high point, was an invitation to meet former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. Chicago opposed the project.
Ironically my passion about the airport and the area in which I lived, led to the start of my writing career.
I was hired as a correspondent, with my first story published in September, 1988. Because the airport was such a huge issue in the area that I covered, there were times that I had no choice but to write about it. I was fortunate to have an editor who recognized that my passion for the project would actually make me a better reporter.
At times I walked a tightrope between activism and journalism, while seeking truth on one side and relaying it on the other. For years maintaining the balance was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. Reconciling my personal feelings with my desire for legitimacy and professionalism was not easy, but was important to me.
This balancing act continued until 1997 when I was hired as a staff reporter. I made the choice to step down from my activism, turning RURAL over to a man I trusted, George Ochsenfeld. Ochsenfeld created STAND (Shut This Airport Nightmare Down) which continues to fight the proposal today.