Sponsored by the Chicago Headline Club, the Gridiron Show skewered local politics and media from 1987 to 1997. A labor of love by a kooky bunch of journalists, pr peeps and politicians, it was also a benefit for student scholarships. This bit between Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert is laughing out loud funny. Writing is attributed to Adam Ritt, with tweaks by the critics themselves. The video is out of synch but listen to the audience response.
After I wrote a series of articles for the Huffington Post on the promise of a mission-based news room L3C and the struggles of Chicago’s nascent news blogosphere I was invited to serve on a committee hosted by the Chicago Community Trust. With our input, the Chicago Community Trust in conjunction with the Knight Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation decided to develop a seed fund to fortify the city’s emerging news streams.
I was fortunate to land some consulting clients later in 2009 that lined up my work life squarely with my passion. That passion, to bring journalistic writing standards to the web and to bring the Web’s innovations to newsrooms – has absorbed my life for the past 20 years. I’ll be writing about that in columns to come.
One of my new clients was Andy Shaw, former Channel 7 news reporter and new Executive Director for Chicago’s Better Government Association. Together we developed a strategy and series of proposals for the BGA’s online presence. The other client is LISC-Chicago, whose anti-poverty and community development work is stretching the boundaries of community based multimedia. LISC-Chicago is also working in partnership with other news rooms like that of the Chicago Reporter and Catalyst to build a hyperlocal news bureau.
It was a year ago [March 31, 2009] that the Chicago Sun-Times declared bankruptcy and I was on a Chicago Tonight segment discussing the future of news in Chicago, the L3C mission-based newsroom and the state of the Sun-Times newsroom. Much has happened since then. The Sun-Times was bought by James Tyree and a group of investors. The Chicago Tribune unveiled its Chicago Now blog group. The Chicago News Cooperative, a “possible” news co-op and “maybe” L3C was unveiled. And Geoff Dougherty’s flagship NPO newsroom, The Chi-Town Daily News, closed its doors.
I have traveled extensively researching new media trends and surfacing ideas. I am still at it. There is more to come. And I am excited to share.
When the Chicago Sun-Times declared bankruptcy March 31, 2009, I discussed the future of Chicago’s newsrooms on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight with colleagues Chi-Town Daily News Editor Geoff Dougherty and Northwestern Digital Media Professor Owen Youngman. They made some great points about what is to come here and I made a few points about the L3C business model and the Chicago Newsroom of the Future. Here’s the clip.
I also mentioned the L3C and Chicago’s Newsrooms of the Future on a segment on ABC Channel 7 News.
The New York Times published the third article in its Debt Trap series on the highly profitable debt industry today. Today it focuses on debt in developing countries. David Oser, Senior Economist with ShoreBank, discussed the global debt economy with me in January.
How credit smooths the economy
By Sally Duros
The pile of credit card offerings awaiting shredding in my hallway is at least 6 inches deep, and that’s only about three week’s worth. Although I dislike debt as much as the next person, a healthy credit line has saved my rear more than once.
I’ve got plenty of company.
“When was the last time you heard someone say, “I am saving up for something?” said David Oser, laughing, the chief economist for ShoreBank, Chicago.
“In our culture, if you have a job you have the right to unlimited amounts of credit. That has the unexpected benefit in that it smooths out the economy.”
It means we can keep buying even when times are tight and ”Ahhhh” what a blessing! Until the bills are due, that is.
We can, if we like, regard this credit card debt and our debt at large as part of a giant social science experiment that we are currently living through.
“Right now the way the world works economically, people in other countries make things, and we buy them,” Oser says. “We provide each other with services that cannot be provided directly.”
That’s the role of the United States. “By buying all that stuff, we improve the financial condition of people in other countries,” he says. “As long as that dynamic is beneficial to the world at large, there’s no point in worrying.”
“[With credit] you can keep the wheels of commerce spinning. But this housing crisis has the potential to put a spike in that wheel,” Oser says.
He notes that now we are hearing reports of rising auto loan delinquencies and credit card defaults. A while back I reported that research from Experian, the consumer credit agency, found that some 40 million U.S. borrowers were paying their mortgages after they paid their credit cards, which is a reversal of conventional wisdom.
â€œWhy was it easier to get behind on mortgages?â€ Oser asks. â€œThe answer to that is that the last thing in the world the mortgage servicers want to do is to foreclose.â€
It’s that much of a pain.
That’s one reason why Oser thinks the housing market’s recovery will take longer than we’d like. Another is the fact that the mortgage business is the biggest it’s ever been. “The gross domestic product is $13 trillion,” Oser says. “The total amount of mortgage debt outstanding is $11 trillion.”
And this $11 trillion in debt is spread out everywhere. When there’s a problem with a mortgage, the solution can be found only family by family, house by house. There is no top-down solution.
“Nothing ever moves in a straight line,” he says. “We will probably get to the bottom maybe in 2009.” Chicago has been fortunate in that our basic economy has remained strong in contrast to places like Detroit, and although the increase in home prices here has been considerable, it has not been outrageous.
“I am still in the camp of those who think a recession is unlikely” that is to say ” a national prolonged serious recession,” Oser says. “I think Chicago is as well positioned as about anywhere one can imagine. But remember, a falling tide sinks all boats.”
Oser believes nationwide we might have a quarter or two of negative growth. But he also believes localities where prices floated the highest during the housing bubble are likely already immersed in their own recessions.
“I would be surprised if Florida, California, Nevada and Michigan were not already in a recession,” he says.
Usually problems in housing are caused by a bigger problem in the economy, but this is a kind of reversal. “Housing is causing the problems. It’s a situation that Oser says we probably have never faced before.
“It’s harder to say whether Chicago does or does not get a pass,” he says. “We are affected by things that are happening in other parts of the country like price inflation.”
As to the dynamics of our culture as consumer to the world? The situation will change and will no longer be beneficial to us when most of the people in China and India are in the middle class, Oser says. But that day is far off in the future. “That is so far outside the realm of my crystal ball,” Oser says. “My guess though is that within our lifetimes the pace of technology will be so exponentially faster things will be really different. Really.”
Originally published by the Chicago Sun-Times Jan. 11, 2008
By Sally Duros
It’s a cool spring evening, and four bloggers and I are sitting
outside at the Cafe Ennui in East Rogers Park, huddled against the
cold air that slices off the lake and cuts up the block to Sheridan
Road where it lands squarely between our shoulder blades.
It’s getting dark, and it is definitely getting cold, but we
persist at sitting outside because this is East Rogers Park — we
are stubborn — and three of the five of us smoke.
Where else in the city would the smokers outnumber the clean-lung
While other North Side lakefront Chicago neighborhoods have soared
to fashionable heights of rapid appreciation featuring cheery
3-bedroom homes, an SUV or two, two children, two cats, two dogs or
a suitable combination thereof, East Rogers Park is the belligerent
holdout, hosting more than its share of drugs, crime and
unpleasantness. But why?
Despite its natural beaches and beautiful older homes, East Rogers
Park is stuck in a time warp, playing out the story line to an
episode of “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” — the beatnik-era TV
show — where the benchmarks of success are a beret, nicotine
poisoning and lifelong unemployment.
But now comes Outside.in, a New York-based Web site seeking to be
the “blog of the blogs” for neighborhoods nationwide, and
Outside.in has issued an alert that there might be a deep fracture
in this long-held community psyche.
It recently named East Rogers Park the fifth bloggiest nabe in the
Outside.in’s Web site is tracking 3,252 neighborhoods in 59 cities.
Within this universe the only nabes bloggier than Rogers Park are
1. Clinton Hill, Brooklyn; 2. Shaw, Washington, D.C.; 3. Downtown
Los Angeles; and 4. neighborhoods in Newton, Mass.
Outside.in tallied the number of postings by day, comments per day,
and numbers of blogs that linked up to make the ranking, says John
Geraci, who co-founded the site with Web pioneer Steven Berlin
“When we started it,” Geraci says, “we were thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it
be cool to give people a way to discover neighborhoods online?’
“The bloggiest nabes was a very tight race,” Geraci says. But
pushing Rogers Park over the finish was bloggers’ local obsession:
Don Gordon and Joe Moore’s heated race for alderman of the 49th
Ward. “People were blogging like mad about this political race,”
Geraci says. “Chicago is so much about local politics, urban
planning, zoning, development.”
So what unites Rogers Park’s disparate group of bloggers is the
wicked witch of a common enemy: the alderman. And they’re marching
together through a bramble of thorny problems: Parking and zoning
and crime — oh my!
Introducing me to this blogging gang is Tom Mannis, resident
blogger of the Cafe Ennui, producer of the Rogers Park Bench, and
high critic of my headline writing. He countered a Sun-Times real
estate section story we ran on Rogers Park headlined “Chicago’s
Venice Beach” by running photos of scantily clad young women
roller-blading on the Venice Beach, Ca., oceanfront, saying “Venice
Beach has girls like those seen here on the beach — Do you see
this in Rogers Park?” Mannis is uncharacteristically silent
“We wanted a basic journal of our side of the story,” says Sandy
Goldman, 76 and retired, the self-described Rogers Park Community
Curmudgeon. Technically Goldman is an essayist, not a blogger. “I
don’t think being the bloggiest in the nation means an iota of
anything,” Goldman says.
“Perhaps it’s a symptom of something else in this community,” I
“No it isn’t!” Goldman says.
“I think the number of blogs is a symptom of dissatisfaction with
the way the neighborhood is run,” says Toni Duncan, whose
howardwatchers.blogspot.com regularly refers to newspaper reports
and links to the dozen or so other Rogers Park Web sites. “You
don’t plop down several thousand dollars to be a prisoner in your
I ask: “Why would you live in a neighborhood you apparently dislike
“I love the one I hate,” Goldman says.
“Rogers Park has a lot of great qualities,” counters Craig
Gernhardt, publisher of Gay Chicago Magazine, owner of a condo near
Morse Avenue and producer of the Broken Heart of Rogers Park.
“We’re trying to get focused on the problem and work together to
The bloggers met initially at community meetings, but now their
blogs host a virtual community meeting. They say they have little
in common except a unified vision of what they don’t want for their
“It’s clearly a divided community. It has been for years,” 24/7
Howard Watchers’ Duncan says. “The ‘haves’ versus the ‘have nots.’
Do you take either side? “There’s good ‘haves’ and there’s good
‘have nots’,” she says. “It’s just that we need to get together.
Credit: The Chicago Sun-Times -COPYRIGHT- Â© 2007 Chicago Sun-Times.
By Sally Duros
Chicago Sun-Times Real Estate Editor
There’s something rotten in Chicago neighborhoods, and it looks a lot like condo fraud.
Condo fraud is a scam where a developer, mortgage broker and an appraiser work together to inflate value and steal mortgages from legitimate institutions.
“In the past two to three years, we’ve been looking at 97 buildings with 770 units where we feel the sales prices exceed the value, based on the condition of the units,” said Angela Maurello, vice president of Community Investment Corp., a pooled-risked lender that has worked to turn around abandoned apartment buildings in Rogers Park and other neighborhoods.
Here’s a typical problem: A nice-sized, classic Chicago-style brick apartment building sits abandoned, unsecured, filled with trash, occupied by squatters or simply serving as a lurking place for ne’er-do-wells, and it sits on your neighborhood’s corner. You know, the corner your kids walk by every day on the way to school.
These neighborhood menaces appear when buildings are converted into condominiums – but not really. The deals themselves aren’t actually that complex. It’s taking them apart once they are done that is.
Maurello says that although the deals appear to happen every quickly, and the “converted” units are sold fast, it takes three to four years to bring back a building that has been destroyed by a condo fraud deal.
Here’s what the deal might look like done by a crooked developer for a six-flat on Chicago’s South Side in a developing neighborhood. Our crooked developer doesn’t need a loan of any kind. He buys a 6-flat for $300,000 and he pays cash. He doesn’t bother with a construction loan because he’s not going to replace the plumbing, roof or mechanical, or make any structural changes to the building. Instead he’ll spend maybe $5,000 per unit skim-coating the building, putting in cheap new windows or redoing the process so from the outside, the building looks like something has been done.
It’s all eyewash.
Our crooked developer is now ready to sell each condo at the market rate of $280,000, but he’s invested only $55,000, the purchase price, plus rehab-in each unit “conversion.”
Who’s going to buy a condo for $280,000 that from the inside looks like an unimproved Chicago apartment unit?
And who is going to arrange for a mortgage for this phony buyer? You guessed it – a crooked mortgage broker. And who is going to see a $280,000 condo where there is really an an improved Chicago apartment – an appraiser tending toward criminal overstatement.
The deal goes through, fattening up the crooked food chain. Let’s see, $280,000 per unit, minus $55,000 equals $225,000. Multiply that by 6 units, and you have $1.35 million, or a profit of about 300 percent!
The most surreal aspect of this crooked deal is that these new “condos” actually are occupied by existing renters during the entire periods of their “conversion.” The renters are clueless about what happened. They think their building has a new owner — until about a year after their building’s been “crooked.” The developer and his crooked colleagues have pocketed their money and disappeared, leaving a building that is legally an association of condominiums with no real owners and no management.
Renters keep paying their rent, but nobody is maintaining the building, the water bill isn’t paid, and repairs don’t get done.
Then as the mortgages taken out by the phony buyers head into foreclosure, the lender sends mortgage collectors to knock on the doors of perplexed renters. The physical state of the building gets really bad. It’s becoming a slum, and the renters move out.
Our real estate boom [during the 2000s] has complicated this matter even more. These days it’s quite usual for the mortgage lenders to be in other states, and it’s quite usual for each unit to be attached to a different lender. These non-locals are unfamiliar with the neighborhood, the building or the condo. As the mortgages foreclose, the lenders look at the state of things from a remote location. Assessing the worth of condos online and through databases, they figure they will sell the foreclosed properties at a loss, for say $200,000 each at the Sheriff’s fire sale.
That’s the minimum bid accepted. When neighborhood people show up to bid and get a deal on what they know to be an unimproved unit in an eyesore building, they walk away when they realize they’d have to pay $200,000 for the unit.
And that’s how Maurello and others involved in the Troubled Buildings Initiative suspect we get an abandoned, umimprovable slum on the corner of our block. The Troubled Building Initiative is a task force of city agencies including the City of Chicago Department of Housing and Community Investment Corp.
“The initiative looks at buildings and why they’ve been in Chicago’s housing court,” Maurello said. They are usually referred by community groups and by the police department. We research who the owner is and what the real problem is. We look at the whole picture. Does the owner have a problem at this one building or is it among ten buildings?
“Because multiple lenders are involved and the are often out of the state, it’s difficult to bring these buildings to fruition,” she said. ” The bottom line is getting these buildings back on the rent rolls.”
If you live on a block or near a building where you think this might be happening, you can report it to the city through the 311 number or contact the Community Investment Corp. at (312) 258-0070.
Followup: Fight back against condo fraud
A while back we wrote about something called condo fraud. It’s a way that some crooked “developers” make a lot of cash while creating slums.
It occurred to us that some of you might not know what a legitimate real estate developer’s expenses look like so we’ve done a little run down here. It was news to us too.
Most developers expect a profit margin of about 20% on their investment, which is pretty modest compared with what our suspected “crooked” developers hope to make.
There are other elements to these suspected schemes. Mary Jane Haggerty at the Rogers Park Community Council, who dealt with a number of these buildings in the late 90s and early 2000s, said they can artificially inflate prices in a neighborhood too, which stands to reason, and this can have unexpected side effects.
To understand how an abandoned building is created, it helps to understand how a typical condo conversion is done. So here’s a hypothetical…
A legitimate developer buys a property in a neighborhood where the market for condos is already established. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say the building has 6 nice-sized units, and the developer buys it for $300,000. That’s $50,000 per unit, which the developer rehabs to the tune of, say, $70,000 per unit, or an investment of an additional $420,000 for the units, as well as an added $100,000 for the roof, furnace, electrical, plumbing — all the common elements.So we can see our legitimate developer is investing $820,000 into the building to convert it to condos. This is a sizeable chunk of money, and it is needed upfront. The developer usually borrows it from a bank or other lender.
Before the developer can make his vision of condominiums a reality, he has to file a number of legal documents. These include a condominium declaration with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds, and other filings with the City of Chicago’s Department of Buildings and with the Office of Consumer Affairs.
A very important legal action our legitimate developer takes is to create a condo association to manage the building. This converts the single-tax ID attached to his building on purchase into six individual tax-IDs, one for each unit. He finds a willing buyer for his first unit, which he has now priced at the market rate of, say, $250,000. The buyer goes to the bank and gets a mortgage. The home sale closes and the developer is paid his $250,000. As the developer sells his units he pays off his initial loan from the bank.
Usually after 51 percent of the units have been sold, he turns the association over to the new condominium owners. Generally our legitimate developer is happy with a 20 percent profit on a condo conversion.
It’s a simplification, but that’s basically what happens.