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October 22, 2014 / jeffnward

Dave McKinney resigns from the Sun-Times

As a result of his bosses’ complete capitulation in the face of a Bruce Rauner attack on he and his wife, Sun-Times political reporter Dave McKinney resigned today. It is, indeed, a sad day for the Sun-Times and for journalism in general.

I keep trying to tell you all that most of the current newspapers wounds are self-inflicted – the Net just makes those wounds bleed more – and this scenario is certainly proof positive.

I tried to link to this resignation letter on McKinney’s blog, but since that failed after a number of tries, you can find the entire text below. In my wildest dreams I never thought I’d ever say these words, but I will be voting for Pat Quinn and I would encourage you to do the same.

McKinney

Why I left

October 22, 2014

Michael Ferro
Chairman
Chicago Sun-Times

350 N. Orleans St., 10th Floor

Chicago, IL 60654

Dear Mr. Ferro:

I’ve worked for almost two decades at the Chicago Sun-Times because it had a soul.

The home of eight Pulitzer Prizes, this newspaper once set up a tavern to expose graft at City Hall and later listened to a grieving mother who wanted justice for her late son after the system failed her miserably. It has stood for hard news. It has stood for independence.

The Sun-Times is stocked with dedicated reporters, editors and columnists, who work every day with integrity, long hours and not enough pay. They are more than colleagues. They are my friends. They are my family. They are the soul of the Sun-Times.

But today, I’m faced with a difficult decision due to the disturbing developments I’ve experienced in the last two weeks that cannot be reconciled with this newspaper’s storied commitment to journalism.

At issue is the Sun-Times/NBC5 report about LeapSource and its fired female CEO, a story for which I proudly shared a byline with Carol Marin and Don Moseley. The piece focused on litigation involving the former executive, who alleged Bruce Rauner, while a director of the company, threatened her, her family and her future job prospects.

With the backing of our editors and supported by sworn testimony and interviews, the piece took us nearly a month to vet, report and write. It was approved by the legal departments at both the Sun-Times and NBC5 and was posted online simultaneously with Carol’s Oct. 7 broadcast report on NBC5. It was a Sun-Times story done in the finest traditions of the paper.

Prior to publication, the Rauner campaign used multiple tactics to block it, including having campaign staffers vowing to “go over” our heads. We are accustomed to such tactics.

But what does not come with the territory is a campaign sending to my boss an opposition-research hit piece–rife with errors–about my wife, Ann Liston. The campaign falsely claimed she was working with a PAC to defeat Rauner and demanded a disclaimer be attached to our story that would have been untrue. It was a last-ditch act of intimidation.

Yes, Ann does political consulting work for Democrats. But she has not been involved in the Illinois’ governor’s race and has focused on out-of-state campaigns. She and her business partner have gone to great lengths to prevent potential conflicts of interest, including creating a legally binding firewall that prevents Ann from participating in, strategizing in, or financially benefiting from the Illinois governor’s race. For that work, her partner formed a separate corporation with its own bank account that didn’t involve Ann in any way. In January, before we were even married, I presented this information to Sun-Times management and received approval in writing to move forward.

Faced with the Rauner campaign’s ugly attack, Sun-Times Publisher and Editor Jim Kirk immediately told the Rauner campaign that this “assault” on my integrity “border[ed] on defamation” and represented “a low point in the campaign.” In other statements, Kirk called the campaign’s tactic “spurious” and “sexist.”

Yet despite such strong rebukes, two days later, I was yanked from my beat as I reported on a legislative hearing focusing on Gov. Pat Quinn’s botched Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. My reporting for that day was then removed inexplicably from the Sun-Times website.

I was told to go on leave, a kind of house arrest that lasted almost a week. It was pure hell. Kirk told me that his bosses were considering taking me away permanently from the political and Springfield beats. He offered up other potential jobs at the paper, all of which I considered demotions. Because of my unexplained absence from my beat, colleagues started calling, asking if I had been suspended. Or fired.

Through all this, I simply wanted to get back to my beat, but the paper wouldn’t let me. And, Carol and I were instructed not to contact you or Tim Knight about the Rauner campaign’s defamatory allegations.

For guidance, I called Patrick Collins, a former federal prosecutor whose name is synonymous with ethics in Illinois. His involvement brought about an abrupt shift in the company’s tone from penalizing me to reinstating me. Ultimately, the company pledged I could return to the job with “no restrictions.”

Yet, on the first day back, I was advised I shouldn’t have a byline on a LeapSource-related story “right out of the gate” even though it was a legitimate follow-up to our initial story. While later relenting and offering me a contributing byline after I protested, the newspaper had failed an important test: It was not permitting me to do my job the way I had been doing it for almost two decades.

Was all this retaliation for breaking an important news story that had the blessing of the paper’s editor and publisher, the company’s lawyer and our NBC5 partners?

Does part of the answer lie in what Kirk told me – that you couldn’t understand why the LeapSource story was even in the paper?

Days later, the newspaper reversed its three-year, no-endorsement policy and unequivocally embraced the very campaign that had unleashed what Sun-Times management had declared a defamatory attack on me.

Readers of the Sun-Times need to be able to trust the paper. They need to know a wall exists between owners and the newsroom to preserve the integrity of what is published. A breach in that wall exists at the Sun-Times.

It’s had a chilling effect in the newsroom. While I don’t speak for my colleagues, I’m aware that many share my concern. I’m convinced this newspaper no longer has the backs of reporters like me.

I appreciate the recent, public statements of support by Kirk, an honorable man with solid news judgment who got the LeapSource story into print. But, ultimately, I don’t believe he called the shots here.

We reporters have a healthy suspicion of both parties and candidates. It’s our job. It’s regrettable that this issue has emerged in the homestretch of an important election in Illinois, but respectfully, this isn’t about either candidate or the election. It’s about readers and their trust in us. So my decision could not wait. I hate to leave, but I must.

And so, it is with great sadness today that I tender my immediate resignation from the Sun-Times.
________________
Dave McKinney

cc: Tim Knight

Jim Kirk

Wrapports board of directors

October 21, 2014 / jeffnward

The first death throe of the Chicago Sun-Times

Yikes! Thanks to Rob Feder, word just hit the street that the Chicago Tribune is purchasing the entire Sun-Times’ suburban portfolio. That list includes the Beacon-News, Courier-News, Naperville Sun, Southtown Star, Northwest Indiana Post-Tribune, Lake County News, and every last one of the weekly Pioneer Press publications.

According to Feder, the terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the sale will be moving forward on a “very aggressive timeline” with the requisite IT shifts coming as soon as early November.

The sad thing is, this marks the beginning of the end for the Sun-Times which has been far superior to the Tribune for the last 15 years. As once explained by a former managing editor, the only reason they held on to these suburban subsidiaries so long is it allowed their accountants to spread expenses around which propped up the parent paper’s bottom line for a quick sale.

But now the Sun-Times Media Group is so desperate for cash they’re selling off these fiscal albatrosses, most of which haven’t made money for quite some time. The problem is, when you start hemorrhaging assets just to survive, it signals the inevitable end because you eventually run out of things to sell.

I suppose when you’re staring straight down into that deep dark abyss, you do whatever it takes to buy yourself a little more time.

So while I understand that thought process, what I can’t wrap my mind around is what the Tribune has to be thinking, though this certainly isn’t the first time that group has completely confounded me. Having just been spun off of the WGN empire with a $350 million debt parting gift, why on God’s green earth would they pay anything for 38 profitless publications?

Well…the Southtown Star may actually be in the black, but when you consider that entire lineup it’s hardly something to get excited about. With print media fortunes looking as bleak as ever, I can only come up with two possibilities.

The first, and least likely, is the Tribune is actually going to start pumping some real money into these suburban satellites and put them up as the new face of their abjectly mediocre Trib-Local section, which never really caught on. If that is the case, it will mark their admission that relying on Journatics for content just doesn’t work.

But like I said, given the Tribune’s vast debt and the propensity of parent papers to hang their “children” out to dry, that’s about as likely as the Illinois Republicans taking back the General Assembly next month.

So I’m surmising the Tribune will somehow fold their new assets into the existing Trib-Local framework, perhaps going as far as including the appropriate suburban paper with your Tribune subscription. Given there’s virtually nothing to it these days, I could easily see the Beacon-News coming with your Monday, Wednesday and Friday Aurora-area Tribune.

Sun-TimesThey’ll probably keep names like Phil Kadner and Denise Crosby for continuity, but the reporters and background folks who still get paid the old scale wages will slowly be sloughed off. Let’s face it, when it comes to business mergers and the inevitable jealousies involved, the folks being “absorbed” never seem to fare too well.

Aside from any redundant Sun-Times staff, the likely losers in all of this – though there are hardly any print “winners” these days – are Shaw Media and Paddock Publications who simply cannot afford the additional stress of a coherent suburban competition. If the Tribune can come up with a reasonable local paper in your main newspaper model, then it’s going to be very tough for anyone else to stem their subscriber slide.

While it’s certainly sad to see the Sun-Times slowly fade into oblivion, the fact that we’re finally seeing the first hard evidence of that end can’t come as a surprise to anyone. And even though you have to give the Tribune credit for making such a bold move, it would behoove management to pay heed to Danny DeVito’s shareholder speech from the movie, Other People’s Money.

The paragraph I had in mind is this one; “Do you know the surest way to go broke? Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow, but sure.”

October 20, 2014 / jeffnward

The YWCA certainly knows how to put on a seminar!

As I’m so fond of saying, that was the most fun I’ve had with my clothes on in quite some time. I truly enjoyed and am grateful for the opportunity to be a presenter at last Saturday’s seminar, How to Run for Office: A Woman’s Focus. Per the title’s clear stipulation, the Elgin YWCA, in league with the local League of Women Voters, really know how to put on an event.

For the incomprehensibly low price of forty bucks, ($35 for YWCA members), not only did you get lunch, but attendees got to listen to a slew of savvy speakers provide the kind of political lessons that some candidates take two or three losses to learn. It had to be one of the best deals on the bleepin’ planet.

ywca

The day started with Elgin City Clerk Kim Dewis, former Elgin City Clerk Loni Mecum and former Bartlett City Clerk Linda Gallien talking about the legal requirements and paperwork necessary to run for local office. Though the filing process isn’t all that difficult, it’s amazing how many candidates get booted from the ballot their first time out. To wit, Gail Borden Trustee Beth Kruger added her insights on how to handle petition challenges.

Then it was on to creating and crafting your message and then applying it to build the kind of coalition that will put you over the electoral top. And I have to say that Elgin City Councilman Rich Dunne and Dundee Township Supervisor Sue Harney did a phenomenal job of breaking that process down into very simple and doable steps.

Sometimes all it takes to win a local election is getting your fellow church members to vote for you!

U-46 School Board member Amy Kerber was also a part of that panel and I particularly loved her presentation because so few folks understand the vast limitations of local government. Regardless of what a new candidate might think, you’re not gonna just waltz onto a local board and “change everything!”

The only way Bruce Rauner is going to “shake up Springfield” is if his campaign team managed to develop a nuclear device.

Not only does it take a majority vote for any governmental initiative to become a reality, but school boards are saddled with all sorts of state mandates – funded and unfunded – that often force board members to vote a certain way. Amy reminded participants that school boards can’t do anything about that assistant principal you don’t like; the only person they can hire or fire is the Superintendent!

The next group, Ms. Harney, Ms. Kruger, State Rep Anna Moeller, and yours truly, discussed exactly how to get your voters to the polls from the placement of yard signs right on up to the arduous task of knocking on the right doors. We covered that prospect from the perspectives of running for local office or trying to get your referendum passed.

The great thing about that section was the sage inside advice offered by political veterans Sue and Anna, both of whom have won elections. I particularly enjoyed the combination of Sue’s boundless political optimism balanced by Anna’s practical take on what the process truly entails. Running for office isn’t for sissies! You have to be willing to spend the time on the street and take a hit or two before you’re done.

Sadly, I had to leave shortly after that, but Elgin Area LWV President Sigi Psimenos discussed the status of women in politics while former State Rep Ruth Munson and Kane County Board Member Cristina Castro talked about the most effective local fundraising techniques.

And while it was certainly worthwhile to stand in front of that room full of eager faces, when you consider all the folks who regularly complain about local politics and the vast wisdom dispensed at a $40 seminar, there should’ve been over 300 Kane Countians in attendance – all eager to throw their hat in the ring!

The YWCA and LWV do this every other year and I would heartily encourage anyone who harbors any political intent – man or woman – to attend the next one. Who knows! Nine of the women who participated in the 2012 event ran for office and five of them won! I can’t wait to see how well this group does.

Meanwhile, I’ve spoken with gubernatorial, congressional and countywide candidates who, despite multiple losses, still don’t grasp the basic concepts so clearly and convincingly presented at this seminar. Perhaps if Mr. Rauner had attended the last one he might actually have a November shot!

October 19, 2014 / jeffnward

It’s only gonna get worse folks!

Only my dour, dreary and desperate German ancestors could come up with a word that literally means taking pleasure in other people’s pain. But even I have to admit that, when it comes to the Chicago Tribune Sportswriters’ utter inability to pick the winner of a Bears game, “schadenfreude” certainly describes my abject glee at their ego crushing track record.

bears loseAll seven sportswriters picked the Bears to win today which puts their dismal prognosticative proclivities at an incomprehensible 10 and 39.

And the truly tragic thing is, despite all seven of ‘em being wrong, they were so fucking bad the last time we talked, with a current collective .256 winning percentage, they’re actually better than they were two weeks ago – by six scant points.

I gotta tell ya, if I’m Bruce Dold or Tony Hunter, fearful of my paper becoming an even bigger laughingstock than it already is, I pull the predictions for the rest of the season. But that’s just me. Meanwhile, if you want to get rich, all you have to do is bet against whatever these seven mopes mange to come up with.

And remember, Trestman and the Bears always get worse as the season progresses. Worse yet, the players are catching on to the fact he can’t coach in the NFL and what you’re witnessing is the the team slowly giving up on the rest of season. They know Marc Trestman’s firing is inevitable so why not make it happen sooner rather than later.

It’s utterly fascinating to watch the Sun-Times’ and Tribune’s race to the bottom. Considering how bad management is at both papers, there’s no way I’m betting on who gets there first.

October 18, 2014 / jeffnward

Ain’t politics (and newspapers) grand!

So not only does Bruce Rauner try to get the reporter who broke the Christine Kirk news story fired, but then the Sun-Times suddenly starts endorsing candidates and guess who their first pick is? And suddenly that reporter, Dave McKinney, is even scarcer in Springfield than Waldo.

Rauner

The Sun-Times truly doth suck! Crain’s has the whole sordid story:

Did Rauner camp interfere with this Sun-Times reporter’s job?

 -

A Chicago Sun-Times reporter hired former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins to investigate whether the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner tried to interfere with his employment after the newspaper ran a story unfavorable to the politician.

Mr. Collins said in an interview with Crain’s that the Rauner campaign attempted to retaliate against Sun-Times political reporter Dave McKinney after the paper ran the story about Mr. Rauner allegedly verbally threatening a top executive of a company controlled by Mr. Rauner’s onetime investment firm. Mr. Rauner denied that report through a spokesman.

Mr. Collins, who represented the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the prosecution of former Republican Gov. George Ryan, declined to comment on exactly what the retaliation against Mr. McKinney may have entailed.

Mr. McKinney declined to comment and the Sun-Times didn’t respond to requests for comment. Mr. Rauner and a spokesman for his campaign didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment, either.

The Rauner campaign attempted to have the Sun-Times take action against Mr. McKinney because of what it alleged were conflicts of interest stemming from Mr. McKinney’s marriage to Democratic media consultant Ann Liston, Mr. Collins said.

Mr. McKinney and Ms. Liston were married in April, but Mr. Collins said the couple made arrangements earlier in the year at each of their jobs to create barriers within their work so that their relationship wouldn’t present conflicts of interest for Mr. McKinney, who is the paper’s bureau chief in Springfield.

“Dave McKinney has a body of work as a dogged, but fair and impartial reporter and what happened recently was an attempt to unfairly besmirch Dave’s reputation and he has asked me to evaluate whether there was an improper interference with Dave’s employment relationship with the Sun-Times,” Mr. Collins said in an interview.

Mr. Collins, who is an attorney in Chicago at the law firm of Perkins Coie, declined to comment on any “legal strategy” for his client.

Mr. McKinney’s Oct. 6 story, which he co-wrote with Sun-Times and NBC5 News reporter Carol Marin and Sun-Times reporter Don Moseley, said Mr. Rauner threatened Christine Kirk, who served as CEO of a Tempe, Arizona-based business-outsourcing company called LeapSource that was owned by Mr. Rauner’s former firm, GTCR LLC. The threat was disclosed as part of litigation in which Ms. Kirk sued Mr. Rauner and GTCR, but agreed to a settlement in 2008. The ‘R’ in GTCR stands for Rauner and Mr. Rauner led that firm until 2012.

The Quinn campaign has been using the story in its advertising.

Just hours before the Sun-Times story went to press, the Rauner campaign attempted to quash the piece by bringing up Ms. Liston’s political work with Sun-Times management even though Mr. McKinney has been covering the campaign for months, according to Mr. Collins. Mr. Collins didn’t have details on who in the Rauner campaign contacted the Sun-Times and who at the newspaper was contacted.

Mr. McKinney has also written stories that were critical of incumbent Democratic candidate Gov. Pat Quinn, specifically his involvement with the troubled state-funded Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.

In recent days, Mr. McKinney was inexplicably absent from his statehouse beat for five days despite one of the hottest gubernatorial races in recent memory.

When asked last week whether the newspaper company had taken action against Mr. McKinney, Chicago Sun-Times Publisher/Editor-in-Chief Jim Kirk said it had not, and he reiterated that response yesterday.

“In no way has Dave been disciplined,” Mr. Kirk said in his initial Oct. 10 statement. “Any implication is absolutely false and irresponsible. Dave is an exceptional reporter who continues to do great work for the Sun-Times,” he said. Mr. Kirk, a former editor at Crain’s Chicago Business, didn’t respond to requests for comment on Mr. McKinney’s hiring of Mr. Collins.

Mr. Rauner previously owned a 10-percent ownership stake in Chicago Sun-Times parent Wrapports LLC, which is led by Chairman Michael Ferro. Mr. Rauner sold that stake to Mr. Ferro last year for $5 million before he decided to run for governor.

RAUNER ENDORSEMENT

The Sun-Times today announced that it would once again begin making political endorsements, reversing a decision it made nearly three years ago after Mr. Ferro, Mr. Rauner and other wealthy Chicagoans purchased the newspaper company in 2011.

The paper said today that its first endorsement under the revived practice is now published on the Sun-Times website under the headline “Bruce Rauner for governor.”

October 17, 2014 / jeffnward

Kane County’s doin’ alright!

One of the easiest ways to identify the dreaded diehard ancillary player is by their propensity to support, but then inevitably turn against whomever wields political power. And the reason they’re so predictable is, just like it with the Star Wars mythology, there can only be one Sith Lord.

You see, they can’t bear to be even the second-most important person in the room – their fragile self-definition simply won’t allow it – so they do everything in their power to bring their former ally down while extolling their infinite virtue in the process. Like vampires, ancillary players can’t bear the sight of a mirror.

Since they have no real power to do that, in an effort to stave off the encroaching shadow of their generally meaningless lives, they concoct phantom scandals, false slights, and paranoid delusions.

Case in point; The National Republican party is currently completely held hostage by ancillary players.

kane county

Though this tail wagging the dog scenario is far less likely to occur at the local level, the average fearful and desperate voter, longing for the internal relief that conspiracy theories often bring, will temporarily buy into the ancillary players’ abject bullshit.

And even though it can be difficult not to fire back, if those in power make the mistake of directly responding, it only gives the ancillary player the power and gravitas they so desperately crave. Thus, the only defense against these dastardly detractors is to shine a bright light on the shadows they love to create.

Then, like cockroaches, they will scurry back into the darkness only to strike again when they think no one’s watching.

Sadly, President Obama still hasn’t figured this one out.

So if you choose to believe a loudmouth negative minority, Kane County is perpetually teetering on the brink of the dark abyss and only the ancillary players can see through that devilish façade to save the rest us from our self-inflicted impending doom.

Ah! But if you choose to stand up, shake off the shadows, and take a deep breath, you’ll quickly realize that it’s never as dire as the ancillary players would have you believe it to be. In fact, Kane County residents actually have it pretty good these days!

Think about it! With rare exception, not only are the county-wide elected officials quietly going about their jobs, but at a time when the economy dealt us a truly severe blow, they held the budgetary line without once complaining about it.

In order for that to happen, the county staff, who generally do great work, had to forgo the mere mention of a raise during those dire downturn years. Even the union employees bit the bullet and negotiated in very good faith.

The County Board just froze their own salaries and they’ve generally come together to work in their constituents’ best interest. All manner of interesting projects and the business of the County consistently move forward because of the board’s bi-partisan efforts.

When you add all this good will up, you get a County tax levy that hasn’t budged as much as a millimeter upward in four long years. We have been able to enjoy the too-rare please of being graced with a Chairman and County Board who truly treat our money as if it was their very own. I dare you to name just one other local taxing body that’s managed to pull that kind of fiscal feasance off.

Can’t do it, can you?

Have there been bumps in the road? Of course, and there always will be. It’s the nature of the beast. The political process has always been fraught with that special sausage making peril. But those detours pale in comparison to what has actually been accomplished.

And that’s the last thing the ancillary player wants to have out there because they can only operate when the fear and suspicion they love to spread like manure takes hold. Nothing good comes from fear and nothing good ever comes from ancillary players.

The great thing is, all you have to do is ignore them and they become as ephemeral and ineffectual as a Halloween ghost.

October 16, 2014 / jeffnward

The Foo Fighters with Tony Joe White

doing Polk Salad Annie. This is about as cool as it gets!

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