Danger of viral misinformation is painfully visible

Multiplying the dangers of Covid 19 is the viral misinformation infecting our news cycles. Today it is clear that our physical and mental health, and quality of information, are deeply interrelated. This crisis could be a tipping point where the harm of  viral misinformation is finally becoming visible to the public.

Credible sources of information
For the past decade, my passion has been reducing noise, increasing credible sources of information and adding value to our professional and community lives through digital newsrooms.

Having left business journalism in the 90’s to go into Chicago city government and later into mission-based community engagement, and development, I wasn’t sure that journalists were constitutionally suitable for the non-profit world.

This was heavy on my mind having been laid off by the Sun-Times in 2008. For years, I had worked with web entrepreneurs and mission -based businesses and non-profits to build the social good web. My background in journalism and the web seemed a perfect fit for the crusade to save journalism.

Program-related investments
When I learned about the L3C — an investment vehicle that encourages foundations to make program-related investments in mission-based businesses — I connected the dots between news and mission and saw a cause I could fully support.  I plugged into a colleague who ran HuffPost Chicago and he gave me a column, which was at the time a more scarce platform.

I started to write about the L3C Newsroom and began regularly delivering information about this idea and other emerging ideas  to foundation executives and others in the digital newsroom space. Ten years later, I have a backlog of information on the forward direction of newsrooms in the digital age.

During this time, I  also consulted with clients such as the  Better Government Association, when its new executive director was reframing the watchdog organization’s mission and structure. Understanding the vast news and information deserts in Chicago — from my time working in newsrooms and  in Chicago city government — I took on  multimedia consulting and project management  with LISC Chicago, bringing neighborhood voices into the mix through a series of  mobile neighborhood tours. As a community service, I produced a companion  Twitter feed and Facebook page.  Other clients from those years include the Chicago Tribune, the BlockbyBlockCommunityNewsNetwork  and Knight Digital Media Center.

Chicago’s independent news ecosystem
I carved out a small but passionate niche.  My most recent effort was a research project I did for the Chicago Community Trust on the Chicago Independent News ecosystem. Take a look, please.

Meanwhile, I am delighted to be teaching Business Communications at the University of Illinois Chicago and I hope to teach more courses in the future.

I am currently rebooting my consulting practice work after a leave of absence due to family matters and I look forward to continuing my work in the field of digital newsrooms.

Light will follow the darkness
Tracy Baim, Publisher, of the Chicago Reader, has taken the lead on the newsroom sustainability front here in Chicago and has gained the support of  The McCormick Foundation, Driehaus Foundation, Chicago Community Trust, Field Foundation, Polk Brothers Foundation and the  Democracy Fund, to support for the Chicago Independent Media Alliance (CIMA). I have been happy to attend a few of their meetings.

Solutions will emerge from this current darkness, and among them will be new ideas for slowing the pace of viral misinformation and creating sustainability for our mission-based newsrooms.  I look forward to being part of those solutions.

Here’s a great video from Neil DeGrasse Tyson on information literacy. Today we are awash in both disinformation and misinformation. I agree that our ability to fully process information and discern truth from lies is tied to our ability to understand context and learn how to ask good questions about whatever we are researching.   

Video here

The future of community news for Knight Digital Media Center.
Independent online news sites for BlockbyBlock.
Social media and advertising for the Chicago Tribune’s 435 Digital.

I discuss the future of newspapers in 2009 with Elizabeth Brackett, Howard Owen and Geoff Dougherty on WTTW Chicago Tonight.

Chicago Community Showcase for LISC Chicago.
This playlist is a series of audio slide shows I produced with community leaders to be delivered through an early Smartphone app. It is the core content of the Chicago Community Showcase YouTube and Facebook channels and continues as the ChiNeighbors  twitter feed, which I still run as a community service.

A video I recorded in 2010 on the idea of an L3C Newsroom, similar to the idea of a crowdfunded newsroom with a community foundation leading the way for smaller family foundations to provide core investments for local independent newsrooms.

Ray: a rock in the river

Raymond K. Duros: 1964 photo captured and developed on hand-rolled film by other big brother , James Duros, taken with an Argus C3, Harms Woods, Il.

This is my oldest brother, Ray. He’s in characteristic pose, balancing on an old tree limb, above a murky trickle of a creek in a Cook County forest preserve. Ray would scoop mud from the beds of waterways like this and keep it in a jar and watch with fascination what crawled and swam from the oozing mess.

Today would have been Ray’s 72 birthday. As it is, he lived to celebrate only 28 birthdays in his life. He died so long ago, my memories are simply sensory — an image, a smell, a feeling of gladness, happiness or comfort. I recall some key moments. Mostly I recall missing him and now as I look back on the spent years I see mostly how his living and his leaving changed me and changed everything in my family.

I see Ray in the basement, blowing up plastic models of WWII boats. He’d fashion flame and smoke out of cotton and stick it in the boat stacks and explode the boats with firecrackers in basins of water. And I see Ray bringing home crayfish to live in the basement sink. Ray deeply influenced my reading habits —   it was because of him that I read Sartre at the age of 11 and other existential writers way beyond my level of comprehension. He would write creatively and it is probably because of him that I too wanted to be a writer.

Ray was a typical young man of the 60s. One day I and my preteen girl friends hid in my room devouring his Playboys. Behind closed doors, we each held up a copy, pin up unfolded in front of us and wiggled behind the images of full formed women, talking seductively in our squeaky little girl voices.

I recall that when he entered the living room at my parents house he would have the keys out and they would make a jingling noise. He would wash the car with suds on Saturdays and wore a varsity letter sweater from Lane Tech High School (we still have it). Ray loved all creatures without discrimination. I was terrified of spiders, and when I was a preteen Ray captured one in his hands and came toward me, hands folded closed, saying “Don’t be afraid – look! He’s more afraid of you …” I shrieked and went into a panic. It didn’t work. I still don’t like the creepy guys much.

There’s so much to say about Ray and the goodness of him and the sadness we all still feel that he left us so early. In many ways, as my parent’s first born, he was the promise of the family. Seven years older than I, he was the grown up I could talk to.

When I was ready to join the flower power movement at the age of 18 — it was Ray who tried to talk me out if it. I didn’t listen and I went to California with friends. The $100 bill in my shoe lasted only so long and I came home defeated about three months later. That dream was mostly over.

Ray was living on his own then, with a degree in marine biology from the University of Miami. He was married and worked at the same engineering firm as my dad.

I was still adrift in some ways, hungry to feed an adventurer’s heart, traveling out West and back repeatedly. Just three years after my first trip, I was camping at Yellow Pines, a backpacker’s camp in Yosemite Valley. For three days, sadness overwhelmed me during the two mile hike back and forth between the camp and Curry Village. I had called home every day but nobody picked up. Finally on a Thursday night, my baby sister answered. She told me Ray had died. I don’t recall what she said or her voice. I just remember the phone dangling from its cord where I had dropped it. I wailed under the moon, crying to the silver granite cliffs, then hitchhiked a ride to the Fresno Airport and took a plane home at midnight so I could attend Ray’s funeral the next day in Chicago on a steamy Friday, Aug. 13.

Those events changed my life so profoundly. I still struggle to see the path of events and the trail they left.

He left us in a mysterious way, and I recently learned something that holds the key to his leaving. It holds understanding and relief and could eclipse the tragedy with something resembling pride. But I need to understand it better before I share it.

Today on his birthday, I remember Ray and I remember the beauty of him and what he brought to all of us. I see the seeds of his short good life in the best days of my own.

His life was a rock in the river of my life and the lives of others who loved him. His presence changed the flow of events unpredictably and permanently.

Today on his birthday, I look behind and I look forward. I can see Ray balancing on this log with joy, in that moment, forever.

Smart Chicago Collaborative helps community connect with civic data

by: Sally Duros |

Smart Chicago Collaborative is a new institution charged with bringing the one partner to the civic innovation table that truly matters – community.

Established by the City of Chicago, the MacArthur Foundation and The Chicago Community Trust, Smart Chicago Collaborative connects the dots between technology and community to improve lives in Chicago through technology.

“The idea was to create a sort of  center of gravity where you would have  staff and founders and others  thinking about how you can actually transform the climate in the city so it is taking advantage of technology and access,” says Julia Stasch, Vice President of U.S. Programs for the MacArthur Foundation.

#CivicSummer Profile Pics

#CivicSummer Profile Pics

Community is the only partner that matters in a civic information ecosystem, because without it, hackers, coders and government activists are operating with incomplete knowledge of real problems that need to be solved.

With an agile touch, Smart Chicago leverages deep local knowledge and expertise so grant funds can be used strategically to achieve maximum impact.

“We seek to be useful in the smallest possible way for the greatest possible gain,” says Dan X. O’Neil, executive director of Smart Chicago Collaborative and former people person for open data pioneer Everyblock. “I see value in building the civic innovation infrastructure, to help underserved people live better lives in their areas. And improve lives in Chicago through technology.”

Initially financed by federal broadband money, Smart Chicago Collaborative is a pivot from creating a citywide wifi network to instead creating an agency that could engender a climate of digital inclusion and innovation in Chicago to bridge the digital divide.

“We think of Smart Chicago Collaborative as civic infrastructure,” says Alaina Harkness, Program Officer, Community and  Economic Development for the MacArthur Foundation.

“In response to a competition for federal dollars for broadband projects, the City of Chicago and LISC/Chicago built a really smart set of programs for reaching deeply into neighborhoods that did not have great access to the internet,” says Harkness. “They leveraged existing training programs and organizations with strong connections to community, and built on the city’s existing network of places where people have access to public computers, from libraries to City Colleges.”

“The Collaborative was able to help bring all that together,” she says. Upon evaluation, Internet access increased between 11% and 19% in those low-income neighborhoods that had access to this program and this will likely mean a further commitment of matching funds to the program by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, she says.

Why community?

An important way to better understand the work of Smart Chicago Collaborative is to look at its Knight-funded Civic Works Projects.

Youth at #CivicSummer @ 1871

Youth at #CivicSummer @ 1871

In a recent project on the Southwest side of Chicago, staff and leaders of the Southwest Organizing Project are walking the streets of a three mile area, block by block, recording the locations of abandoned buildings and other blight. What’s different about SWOP’s work is that instead of clipboards and pencils, neighbors are armed with a mobile app — LocalData — that allows them to collect information about vacant buildings with lightning fast speed and real time accuracy. (Learn more.)

By connecting community organizers and community development consultants with new technology, and adding some funding, Smart Chicago Collaborative was able to help the community address a vexing problem.

The SWOP project is one of six Civic Works projects run as part of a Knight Community Information Challenge grant awarded to the Collaborative and the Chicago Community Trust. These six projects are just a few of dozens under way in Chicago creating what O’Neil calls “a civic innovation infrastructure.”

“I was able to — in an extremely light way — do my job, to take other funding from Knight, to take decade long leaders in this space and in this city and take this new energy with civic hacking and put it all together,” says O’Neil. “This is a far more strategic, far more organized and specialized effort. They had conditions at SWOP that were ripe for engagement.”

Role in Open Government

Smart Chicago Collaborative is also highly visible in Chicago’s open government movement. O’Neil was a co-founder of Chicago’s OpenGovmeetup before he joined Smart Chicago Collaborative. He continues his leadership role in it today and there is considerable overlap.

If data is the lifeblood of bureaucracy, it is also the lifeblood of making government work for people. Data collected by a local government is used internally to record, benchmark and evaluate delivery of public programs and services and to record and report legislative actions. More important, it is also extremely useful for the public when quantifying problems and identifying solutions.

Full House at the Chicago Community Trust for the OpenGovChicago Meetup, June 2013

Full House at the Chicago Community Trust for the OpenGovChicago Meetup, June 2013

Arguably, government data does not become useful information until the public starts using the data to solve a problem.  For that to happen, the community has to more closely participate in the process of identifying problems to be solved.

To date, this realm of problem solving has largely been occupied by foundations and small groups of activists and coders. For instance, the Pew Center on States has been working with Google and other partners to solve problems with antiquated election systems and make it easier for voters to find their polling places and ballots. In Chicago last spring, activists created a tool to help communities understand school cuts proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

One could view civic information as the product of a shift in understanding that takes OpenGov from “data” driven to  “knowledge” driven.  The people who live in the place – the community — are holders of the knowledge and can identify the problems of a place that can benefit from government attention.

As part of  fostering an open and welcoming environment to community, Smart Chicago Collaborative often hosts meet-ups of Chicago’s Open Government world at The Chicago Community Trust, where it is housed. In attendance are hackers, government activists, researchers, academics and community members all trying to understand current events and determine next steps. Action may be taken collectively, but most of the time work groups form and head off on their own to devise solutions.

“We are trying to foster a culture of shared learning that is more open and more effective for residents,” O’Neil says.

In service of that, O’Neil develops programing, bringing in speakers on special topics. Smart Chicago Collaborative staff serve as a newsroom, broadcasting events, and reporting out using the tools of the social Web. O’Neil takes photos and encourages conversation in person and online about everything that is going on. If it’s a Smart Chicago Collaborative meeting look for photos, blogs, twitter feeds, live streams and conversation. A partnership with local public radio station WBEZ reports regularly on developments in Chicago’s Open Data world.

“I give all credit to Dan for putting a human face on all these Smart Chicago Collaborative inititives,” say MacArthur’s Harkness.

National Day of Civic Hacking

National Day of Civic Hacking

At a Smart Chicago Collaborative event, what happens is the data and it is full of information that can be processed and distributed. Everyone is welcome and nothing is wasted. Including the food. There’s always lots of it, with O’Neil encouraging everyone to take home leftovers.

“Smart Chicago Collaborative has promise to do leading edge work for at least the next decade,” says Terry Mazany, President and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust. “Our entire modus operandi is to do all of this with an eye toward creating availability – not that Smart Chicago is replicable, rather, that the products of it is. Its products are the approaches to accessibility, to skills training —  then,  to leveraging that to increase information access and opening up civic data for everyday uses.”

How understanding the local budget empowers community

by: Sally Duros |

Two foundations in California are priming their communities for open government initiatives by teaching them how the local government budget works and that they can have a hand in influencing it.

The California Endowment has hired the nonprofit consultant, Participatory Budgeting Project, to launch participatory budgeting initiatives in 14 low-income areas across the state. And Liberty Hill Foundation is training the community at the grass roots level about what the budget means in preparation for Los Angeles’ open data Websites.

Participatory budgeting, PB, is a process that any institution with a publicly oriented budget can try. Even though it is new in the United States, it has a long track record, says Josh Lerner, Executive Director of the Participatory Budgeting Project.

Participatory budgeting started in Brazil about 25 years ago and since then has spread throughout Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia and now the United States. “It’s as much about learning about the government for community groups as it is a way to organize,” he says.

The process is not about consulting the public; it is about giving them real power to make real decisions about a real pot of money, Lerner says. It’s not usually for the whole budget but rather for that part of the budget that is discretionary. And it’s not a one-off event. It usually lasts for several months so that people have the time as well as the power to make decisions.

In the work for the California Endowment, “We’re trying to bring groups together to collaboratively build healthier communities.” That entails going out into the neighborhoods and holding community workshops and strategy sessions at the places where people gather.

Launched in Chicago

In 2009, Alderman Joe Moore of the 49th Ward in Chicago was the first U.S. politician to sign on and use the principles. When members of his ward successfully used it to choose neighborhood improvements, the PB process caught on and was quickly adopted by three other wards. It spread to New York in 2011, where 8,000 people decided how to spend $6 million across four city districts.  And in 2012, Vallejo, Calif., in the midst of its bankruptcy launched the first citywide project. At least eight U.S. cities — now including St. Louis, Boston and San Francisco— have used participatory budgeting, and around 20 more are planning new processes, Lerner says.

In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is said to be very close to hiring a director of participatory budgeting.

Participatory budgeting replaces that city budget meeting that often turns into a shouting match with a more orderly structured process that encourages people to engage more effectively.

“It is really a laboratory for uncovering how government works and how it could work differently,” Lerner says.

Lerner says community foundations or other civic leaders interested in participatory budgeting should consider three main factors in making a decision whether to pursue it.

Community support: Participatory budgeting works best when there is strong community interest in having input into the budget.

Political support: Elected officials must be invested in the idea and understand the commitment to going along with the process.

Funding support: Participatory budgeting is primarily an engagement process and as such it takes time and resources.

“Democracy takes time and takes a lot of work,” Lerner says.

One you’ve made the decision to go with participatory budgeting, the process looks like this, with some variations depending on local needs.

Brainstorm, bring people together to brainstorm either in large meetings or online.

Recruit volunteers to act as community liaisons.

Turn the ideas into proposals for funding.

Present proposals to the city for vetting and cost estimates.

Assess feasibility, the city determine whether it can be technically done and how much it will cost.

Put the projects that are technically feasible on the ballot.

Vote. Community members vote for their top projects, and the projects with the most votes get funded.

“The vote is not just to have people fill out a ballot,” Lerner says. ”Often people will spend a half an hour reading through the project and learning about their neighborhood or their city and talking about it with neighbors.”

It is key to have a concrete vote at the end on the actual project. But unlike votes for public office that are held in a polling place, PB voting can be held in a supermarket, at a school, in the subway — wherever people gather.  As to who is eligible to vote, that is decided by each locality. In many cases, local steering committees have put that age at 16.

In addition to the on-the-ground votes, some localities are using online platforms. And Lerner says that SMS and mobile tools are being developed that can be useful. Boston is developing some tools to be used in a youth development project.

Preparing Los Angeles’ community for OpenGov 

In Los Angeles, Liberty Hill Foundation is providing training about the Los Angeles Budget and energizing youth to get involved in spending new discretionary funding on programs tailored for them.

Liberty Hill’s motto is ‘Change, not Charity’,” says Chief Operating Officer Preeti Kulkarni. “One way we foster change for the better is by encouraging civic engagement, not only through get-out-the-vote efforts, but through improving access for grassroots community members to develop the skills and knowledge to participate in the decision-making process.”

To that end, the Advancement Project, one of Liberty Hill’s grantees, has been meeting with the Mayor’s Office of Budget and Innovation as well as the Controller’s Office as open data rolls out in Los Angeles. The Controller’s office recently launched Controller Data and the Mayor’s office will soon be launching its open data site.

“Currently we have created training curriculum and materials to increase access and make the Los Angeles City budget understandable and useable for community advocates,” says Lori Thompson Holmes, Manager of Online and Digital Initiatives for Advancement Project. That project is funded in part by a $50,000 grant from Knight Foundation.

Open data, community priorities a force for change

Through its training, the Advancement Project shares the government Websites with the community and helps them understand how the information on the sites, combined with community’s clear view of priorities, can be a force for change. To that end, early this year, the social justice group started sharing information online through a Tumblr WeBudgetLA.org

Teaching the public about the budget is essential, because as we have learned from the open government world, “Start with a problem. Use data as a resource.” Not the other way around.

In addition to the City of L.A. budget training, Liberty Hill is also focusing on its youth-activist program — Brothers Sons Selves. Through that Liberty Hill is bringing the voices of boys and young men of color to the discussion of how L.A. will spend the billions in education funding that will soon be coming to the city through Local Control Funding Formula—a new school funding system.

Police complaint transparency is eye of the storm in Chicago

by: Sally Duros |

The way that police unions routinely bargain away public transparency is at the core of the legal battle in Chicago that has unleashed a stunning series of events.

Open government advocates consider “open by default” to be the gold standard for public records. But for Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police, ”closed by default” has been the standard upheld by collective bargaining agreements with the City of Chicago.

This standard is the case with the police union not only in Chicago, but in many cities nationwide, says Craig Futterman, who is a clinical law professor at the University of Chicago Law School Mandel Legal Aid where he directs the University of Chicago’s Civil Rights and Police Accountability Clinic.

Futterman has been working with independent journalist Jamie Kalven, founder of Chicago’s Invisible Institute, for more than a decade to open to the public the misconduct records of Chicago police officers through Freedom of Information Act requests and civil rights litigation.

Their vision is for an open data portal that will capture and make public the entire disciplinary database for the Chicago Police Department. The portal will be easily accessible for all to use, including journalists, researchers and community.

A common body of evidence

Fully stocked and fully iterative, the data portal will be a common body of evidence around which discourse, however contentious, however collaborative, can take place.

“The database we are talking about …. there has been nothing like this in Chicago or anywhere,” Futterman said. “It is unique in that it is dedicated to the principle that public means ‘public.’ This database is an attempt to make this more than an abstract principle and to make that principle real in Chicago.”

The portal already has a strong start with the Chicago Police Database Project (CPDP), a fully searchable community data portal announced in early November that contains the complaint records for more than 8,500 Chicago Police officers over the past four years.

A dark achievement 

In a significant step toward transparency, the City of Chicago had agreed to turn over its full list of misconduct complaints for all officers, dating back to 1967, to the Invisible Institute, Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times. But the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police has taken legal action to block its release, saying they would destroy hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence, files and records related to Chicago police misconduct reports older than four years.

Kalven petitioned the court and an Illinois Circuit Court Judge ruled in an emergency order that Chicago authorities must notify journalists, activists and the public before they destroy records. This is a heated time, when the U.S. Department of Justice is preparing its investigation of the Chicago Police Department, said to be the largest investigation ever of a police operation.

Futterman’s work with Kalven paid off big time in early 2014 when Kalven won as plaintiff in Kalven v. City of Chicago, a watershed court decision in Illinois that made police misconduct records public. That opened the floodgates to information on the Laquan McDonald shooting. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, Kalven obtained the autopsy that showed McDonald had been shot 16 times.

The Nov. 24 release of a Chicago Police Department dash-cam video shows Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 16 times and killing 17-year old Laquan McDonald. The brutal image contradicts the official account given by the Fraternal Order of Police spokesman on Oct. 20, 2014. Also raising questions is the $5 million paid by the City of Chicago to McDonald’s family to settle out of court prior to a lawsuit.

In the streets, black youth, ministers and concerned citizens have been marching. In response, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has fired the Chicago Police Superintendent, the head of the Independent Police Review Authority and the Chief of Detectives. More heads could roll, some are saying, perhaps even the Mayor’s.

These extraordinary events add up to what Rachel Maddow called a “dark achievement” for Kalven’s journalism and police reform and open government in Chicago.

In this latest round with the police union, Kalven believes his effort will prevail and  ultimately, after many legal volleys, the public records issue will be resolved permanently by the Illinois Legislature.

$500 million in police settlements

In addition to the human costs, the City of Chicago has paid out more than $500 million on police-related settlements, judgments, legal fees and other costs during the past decade, according to the Better Government Association, an independent watchdog group. The city shelled out $84.6 million in 2013 alone.

Meanwhile the existing data portal is there to carry water for Kalven and Futterman’s full transparency vision. Kalven is quick to say this is not a story about technology.

“The data is fragmentary in terms of the larger phenomena,” says Kalven, whose Invisible Institute first sprouted roots in an empty apartment at the old Stateway Gardens Housing Development. “That’s because there are things you can learn from the data. There are things you can only learn on the streets.”

“All the knowledge to reform the system is in the system, but it’s divided and scattered and divided from itself. (Events of the last few weeks) represent a huge breakthrough in (shattering) official secrecy. … Now, the key is to connect that knowledge with other kinds of knowledge on the street, in the department itself,” Kalven says.

System improvement as journalism

Kalven’s goal is to engender and fortify the feedback loops between the data and the people on the street and between the data and the police officers on the beat to create a systemic cycle of continuous improvement.

“I see that as fundamentally a journalistic project.”

When taken together, all the data completes the picture for public discourse on systemic police reform. Using the information in these documents and others as added, activists and journalists can map out the many interrelated components that form the entire  “system” of police misconduct: everything from the attorneys who approach families to negotiate settlements; to how abusive police disrupt community trust; to how their abuse thwarts the work of conscientious and law-abiding police; to how the $500 million in settlements paid affects the system that is the City of Chicago and on.

An open newsroom ecosystem

All this will be rich fodder for a journalistic ecosystem Kalven hopes to see sprout around the police misconduct data. Already running as a pilot is a new newsroom called City Bureau directed by Darryl Holliday (who also works part-time for Invisible Institute). Publishing in partnership with the Chicago Reporter, the Chicago Reader and The Guardian, City Bureau has partners in the journalism, civic media and education spaces.

Kalven points out that that newsrooms themselves have an important place on the systems map and how open or closed they are as a component has a significant impact on working toward a systemic solution.

“There’s a strategy to secrecy. For instance, ‘If you knew what we (the Chicago Tribune) know, but we can’t tell you, but if you knew it, you would know we’re right’,” Kalven says. “We’ve had versions of that for years around these issues. Everybody picking their own facts, so to speak.”

“That’s no longer possible,” he says.

“What’s powerful about this is the publicness of it. … I see the journalism as an extension of that. As a possibility of really building an ever more robust ecosystem of journalists at different points in their career working individually, in collaboration on a whole constellation of issues bearing on these general themes and then having that work accumulate in a coherent way and be at the center of really critical public policy decisions that are going to be made in coming months and years about how the police operate in the city.”

“We made a very significant kind of down payment with the data we have on a public resource that’s open and available to everybody,” Kalven says. Now for others working on this issue, it’s  “write your scoop, but then pass that material on to us. Don’t just put it in a file cabinet somewhere. Incorporate it into this expanding resource that’s of ever great use to everybody.”

The way forward for Chicago police reform

“This is an extraordinary moment in terms of possibilities for police reform, Kalven says. “If we have the black caucus and the ministers and various civic organizations, at least loosely, behind a clear, coherent reform agenda, that will be huge. There’s never been that kind of constituency for reform of this nature before.“

To Kalven’s view, four fundamental issues guide the police reform process forward.

They are —

  1. Transparency
  2. Accountability
  3. Code of Silence
  4. The Fraternal Order of Police Contract.

1) Transparency. It’s critical the information is made available to the public.

“That’s the phase we’re in and the drama we’re living through,” Kalven said. When Invisible Institute won the court decision in 2014 saying that police misconduct files are public information, he, his lawyers and Craig Futterman sat down and negotiated with Steve Patton, the corporation counsel and his team about how to operationalize the decision. “It was really successful and it was really a good negotiation,” Kalven said.

2) Accountability in terms of how citizen complaints are investigated and in the disciplinary process.
“Fundamentally, it doesn’t work,” Kalven said. “I think what our data show, overall, is they provide a kind of portrait of impunity.” Because the odds are against an abusive officer being identified, investigated and disciplined, there’s no real fear of punishment. And because of that residents of neighborhoods most affected by these patterns feel there’s no use in filing a complaint.

In addition, most large organizations that interface with the public conduct pattern analysis as part of quality control. Kalven cites airline practices that look at complaints as an important source of information for improving the bottom line. The City of Chicago ignores this large body of evidence.

3) The Code of Silence and the culture that enables it.
“This is where leadership really matters,” Kalven says. In the Laquan McDonald case, “I think it’s more disturbing how the culture of the department responds. This wasn’t some dramatic departure from the norm. This is the norm,” Kalven says.  The way the institution responded was symptomatic of larger patterns. At every level, from officers on the scene as the boy was lying there bleeding to the highest levels of the city. “Over time, everybody’s instinct was to circle the wagons. To put out a false narrative and then double down on that false narrative when it was challenged. We now have more and more evidence and more will come out. That process of maintaining the false narrative required destruction of evidence, intimidation of witnesses, falsification of police records and, ultimately, the five million dollar settlement with the family, “ Kalven says.

4) Removing impediments in the union contract to vigorous, timely investigations.
This is likely to happen. Mayor Emanuel has referred to going back to the bargaining table with the police union, Kalven says. “The Fraternal Order of Police has succeeded in negotiating in their collective bargaining agreement so many layers of protection for police officers who are accused of crimes that it really is, ultimately, antithetical to the public interest,” Kalven says.” I joke sometimes, but it’s not really a joke that there’s no category of citizens including children and the mentally ill who have as much due process as police officers do.”

The Homeownership Index

It’s past time to update this.

First published in July 2007. Read my other writings for the Chicago Sun-Times Real Estate section under category “The Right Place.”

Home ownership post WWII
Home ownership rate in 1945: 45%
Home ownership rate in 1955: 65%
Standard down payment: 20%
Standard mortgage term: 30 years

Home ownership 1994-2005
Home ownership rate in 1994: 64%
Home ownership rate in 2005: 69%
Possible down payment: $0
Standard mortgage term: none, variable

Who gained home ownership 1994-2005
Home ownership rate for blacks 1994: 42%
Home ownership rate for blacks 2005: 49%
Number of new black homeowners 1994-2005: 1.5 million
Home ownership rate for Hispanics 1994: 42%
Home ownership rate for Hispanics 2005: 50%
Number of new Hispanic homeowners 1994-2005: 2.0 million
Home ownership rate for households indicating more than one race 1994: 52%
Home ownership rate for households indicating more than one race 2005: 60%
Number of new homeowners indicating more than one race 1994-2005: 2.0 million

Growth of the subprime mortgage market 1994-2005
Aggregate dollars in subprime mortgages 1994: $35 billion
Aggregate dollars in subprime mortgages in 2005: $625 billion
Percentage of total mortgages that were subprime 1994: less than 5%
Percentage of total mortgages that were subprime 2005: 20%
Annual rate of increase in subprime mortgages 1994-2005: 26%
Subprime loans made by less supervised subsidiaries of banks and thrifts: 30%
Subprime loans made by independent mortgage firms without federal supervision: 50%

Foreclosure and personal economics
Rate of foreclosures in prime mortgage market: below 1%
Rate of foreclosures in subprime mortgage market: 7% (10 times as high as prime)
Predicted increase in foreclosure rates for new subprime loans 2006: up to 20%
Confounding factors leading to foreclosure: Job loss and illness
Number of Americans now without health insurance: 45 million
Percentage of first-time, low-income home buyers who return to renting: 40%
Percent of homeowners spending more than half of disposable income on housing: 45%
Percent renters spending more than half of disposable income on housing: 57%
Adapted from data in Subprime Mortgages: America’s latest boom and bust by Edward M. Gramlich

Audience engagement tools and innovations

P1140336Some audience engagement tools to check out. Could any of them be useful to you?


“Q: How do JOURNALISTS know the stories they report are stories their COMMUNITY finds relevant?
A: They ask them. And they use HEARKEN to manage engagement”

Listening Post and Curious City. What do you wonder about Chicago, the region and its people? Pose your question to Curious City and we’ll track down answers together, with stories online, in a weekly podcast, and on WBEZ 91.5 FM. Follow what we do — and learn how you can help investigate — on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter and Tumblr.

What does it mean to be a member of a public radio station in the United States? What could it mean? How could expanding the definition of membership instill a sense of ownership and identity among listeners, allowing them to feel more connected and invested in public media’s content, work and mission? Follow Melody Kramer on GitHub.

Framed by WDET
An audio-visual experience that integrates PHOTOGRAPHY and AUDIO STORYTELLING to tell the story of ETHNIC AND CULTURAL COMMUNITIES throughout metro Detroit.

Chicago’s weekly event to build, share & learn about civic tech. “Open data  without journalism is public relations.”— Barb Iverson

With Blendle, you read all articles from your favorite newspapers and magazines. Without subscribing. Coming soon to a locality near you.

New developments
Here in Chicago, City Bureau, SmartChicago and Invisible Institute have developed the Task Force Tracker.  
Using an excel sheet and Genius, a team of City Bureau Community Documenters  an annotated, updated and independent hub for public use that will measure the ~200 individual recommendations against existing contracts, policies, potential conflicts and public discourse; such as the Fraternal Order of Police contract, local legislation and media reports.

A couple of large scale initiatives involving remnants of big newsrooms brought together hold lessons for Chicago. And yes, they contribute to the “Could it happen here?” factor.
Poynter details how a non-profit now runs Philadelphia news and here’s an explainer. The Knight Foundation held a discusson last week and you can watch a video of the panel discussion  if you want more details. In Detroit, here’s the story of the Detroit Journalism Cooperative  and how the coop’s members — the Center for Michigan’s Bridge Magazine, Detroit Public Television, Michigan Radio, New Michigan Media, and WDET FM101.9 —all learned to play nicely together. Check out NextChapterDetroit.