Thank you, Mr. President — Barack Obama supports gay marriage


Here’s a rare story about gay marriage and how Barack Obama’s views have changed since he has become President.

In 2004, Michael Burke and Robert Charles wrote a letter to then Illinois State Senator Barack Obama and enclosed a modest check of support for his campaign for the U.S. Senate.

In the letter they told State Senator Obama that they “enthusiastically” supported his candidacy for U.S. Senate, but were disappointed to learn “that while you support civil unions you do not support gay marriage. While we understand the political calculation of such a strategy … we are disturbed by the moral dissonance that such a stance tolerates.”

They mailed the letter off to Obama’s Hyde Park address, hoping to sidestep the hoops of his campaign office. Imagine their surprise when they received two to three weeks later what appeared to be a personalized reply from State Senator Obama explaining in detail the political history and strategy informing his stance.

Continue reading Thank you, Mr. President — Barack Obama supports gay marriage

As dots connect, whole emerges for future of news

First published Huffington Post, June 12, 2010

The online dots are quickly connecting. Gov2.0 entrepreneurs are building a strong backbone for a hyperlocal new stream. And much of the innovation is seated here in Chicago.

Everyblock and SeeClickFix have formed a partnership.

Many Chicago alderman are signed up for SeeClickFix. We are forming new communication channels on the Web for talking to our governments, creating a crowd-sourced complaint system and measuring the quality of government’s response to our complaints and requests for service. [I’ve embedded it here on my website – so give it a spin.] More to come on the feedback systems that could drive all this.

I haven’t talked with OutsideIn for a while but I see that the creators of the conceptual framework of the Emerging Ecosystem of News Delivery have a robust stream of information coming in from news blogs.

There’s no formula for bringing all this together and making it all work like a well-oiled machine. But – as was evident from a panel on models for news and the optimistic viewpoint of Steve Rhodes about revenue models at Chicago’s Community Media Workshop last week, we have many reasons to look brightly to the future.

We also have the “Big” thinkers now stepping forward and touting tools for getting the information you want, many of which James Fallows outlined in this June piece in the Atlantic Monthly. Give GoogleNews a spin – you’ll like it. Even the New York Times Magazine is taking notice of the plight of New Journalism Entrepreneurs in this May 10 piece by Andrew Rice “Putting a Price on Words.” It’s something I first noted in a ChuffPo post last year.

At this rarified high level of information exchange online, there’s much going on front stage and behind the scenes. There are more moving parts than can be counted.

I was reminded last week that all this blue sky can quickly go gray from the clouds cast by the lack of online access for underserved communities. Committed community news activists and journalists (no longer news-room bound) gathered in Detroit for “Create or Die” an open space on Journalism that Matters.

That’s a conversation that is continuing at a higher pitch and urgency June 24 at “From Blueprint to Building: Making the Market for Digital Information,” which Bill Densmore calls an action congress for trust, identity and Internet information commerce serving newspapers and beyond. Trust is our currency on the Web, and we’ve made much progress defining that since Pierre Omidyar made his first discoveries on eBay. Now even Omidyar has gotten the news bug and has launched Honolulu’s Civil Beat. Densmore hopes his “Blueprint” will dot the “i’s and cross the “t”s on the next phase of online trust. We’re hopeful and we will see.

As the Chicago News Cooperative continues to explore the idea of the low-profit limited liability, or L3C, business structure, the Pt. Reyes Light in Marin County says it is taking the plunge and will become a mission-driven newsroom.

As Steve Yelvington explained so well in this presentation last year at the University of Minnesota Economic Models for News, journalism has never had a business model of its own. My thinking is that it is about time it does, as I explained at Community Media Workshop panel last month. That’s why I am continuing to follow and braid the threads leading to a social enterprise news stream.

It can’t be long now before this all comes together, and when it does it will be in several robust forms that will provide access to volumes of information we’ve not had access to before. And it will be up to a diversity of journalists to do the job of helping to create, vet, sort and distribute these streams.

Hold on for a wild ride.

Follow Sally Duros on Twitter:

As dots connect, whole is emerging for future of news

Chicago Journalism Townhall
Chicago Journalism Townhall (Photo credit: sally garden)

As dots connect, whole is emerging for future of news

The online dots are quickly connecting. Gov2.0 entrepreneurs are building a strong backbone for a hyperlocal new stream. And much of it is happening here in Chicago.

Continue reading As dots connect, whole is emerging for future of news

Chicago news hounds have put enough skin in the game

Originally published in Huffington -Post
Show us the money.

“Us” being the new newsrooms.

The whole world has weighed in on solutions: Combine online with newsprint, news blogs with legacy investigative reporters, news aggregation with editorial curation, then crowd-fund, throw in some Google analytics, and subscription and accessibility fan clubs.

I’m not making this stuff up. To make your head spin do a Google or Twitter search on future of news or follow my Twitter stream @saduros.

Newspapers are meeting “secretly” and Google, Yahoo and other Web whizzes are conjuring new delivery systems.

I’ve talked at length with Tom Stites, who has worked at the Sun-Times, the Tribune and the New York Times. He has some great ideas for the future of journalism as a co-op that he’s laid out at the Banyan Project.

But as he says:

“The revenue model for making money from online journalism is a Rubik’s Cube that somebody’s got to crack the code on.”
It’s going to happen so let’s be ready.

Ideas float about like so many soap bubbles. It’s time to stick pins in a few and see which ones don’t pop.

There’s been little talk about the “m” word. The real dirty little secret that it takes time (and money) to report and write news.

Finally the respected Jon Margolis, formerly of the Tribune, weighed in gently May 12 on the “m” word and how it relates to professional journalists vs. citizen journalists.

“That doesn’t mean there’s no place for the devoted, or even obsessed, advocate. But let’s save a place at the press table for the professional journalists, careerist though they may be (and those citizens are not? Gimme a break). Not the worst trait, careerism. Wanting to get ahead by doing the job right helps one…do the job right.
“And it is a job. Jobs in our society do and should come with paychecks, bringing us back to our basic questions: How big should the paychecks be? Who or what will finance them?”

As I write, Senate Bill 0239 creating L3Cs (a low-profit limited liability company that can accept grants) is awaiting Gov. Quinn’s signature. Upon its signing, any social entrepreneur will be able to create an L3C in Illinois.
It’s way past time to stop quacking and launch some new newsrooms for Chicago.

Let’s get everybody who has a stake in Chicago’s news world into a room to advocate and put to laptop their brightest ideas. Then let’s launch a competition to seed the most promising among them for start-up or, if they are already going, sustainable growth.

Let’s create an L3C seed fund for new-style newsrooms. And maybe we’ll find a few hardy news-web entrepreneurs who want to go the L3C route, too.

Come on Chicago. Let’s be bold. We gave the United States its first African American president. Why stop there? Paradigms are made to be shattered.

When I say “Let’s” and “We,” who do I mean? I mean Chicago’s philanthropic community, like the Chicago Community Trust, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the McCormick Foundation. I mean family foundations who care. In the L3C, they take on the greatest risk that they will not receive a financial return. Also in the mix should be local businesses that would find an audience for their advertisements on these news vehicles — they represent the second tier of investment.

But I’m betting the seed fund will get a return, maybe some slow money, but money nonetheless. I’m betting the dozens of local entrepreneurs who have so much skin in the game won’t let anybody down.

Let’s build something new that works.

I say this because I have heard enough and seen enough dimness in the news business to last two careers.

Will the light bulbs over the heads of editorial types ever light? Do they really need to be told why their newspapers are sinking faster than slabs of concrete?

On May 21, yet another group of veteran journalists debated the future of news at the IFC Media Luncheon at the Newberry Library. A smart group of good people including my former boss, Don Hayner from the Sun-Times and Carl Bernstein, yes, he of toppling Richard Nixon fame. The end result? Poetic, eloquent mumblings about what used to be and little understanding of future direction, except for this nugget of wisdom that has been thrown at me twice: duck and cover if you are a journalist over the age of 35.

I asked the panel a question. Are there lessons to be learned from the way big businesses have run their newsrooms that could be useful in the future?

The panel response: blank looks.

This in the town where robber barons sucked the Sun-Times dry and Sam Zell is playing monopoly with the Tribune.

Lessons to be learned? No.

No. Of course, no.

For nearly two decades, newspapers have been challenged to evolve into knowledge-based organizations capable of adapting to the innovations of the Web. Instead of progressing, they’ve been traded as chits in a greedy money-grab game by short-sighted media conglomerates. Their mismanagement has buried the papers with debt and forced record staff layoffs.

The big-time editors have got to know this. Likely they don’t want to publicly admit to the corrosive effects of their industrial-age bosses that view newsroom staff as “things” to cut rather than “knowledge workers” to invest in.

Their policies have resulted in what Jane Stevens so rightly calls Zombie newsrooms.

“Definition of a zombie newspaper: a skeleton staff operating in an organization that provides them little support and no room to make a complete transition to the Web, holding a death-grip on the paper instead of modernizing it.”
Our dwindling newsroom staffs and move to wire copy has had an unintended consequence. In response to the dearth of relevant local news, a new ecosystem of Chicago blogs and news aggregators has developed on the web.

Web journalists operating out of passion found it easy to find stories to report.

There are a million stories in the naked city. And there are a million ways to report them on the Web. We are entering a golden age for journalism — right now.

Chicago has brilliant lights like Adrian Holovaty, who with his partners has created Everyblock, which is a digital age “aha”! How does data delivered by Everyblock — crime, zoning, businesses — change the job description for reporters and editors? Chicago is also home to the much-publicized online non-profit newsroom — the Chi-Town Daily News.

Other sites like those I recently wrote about, LISC’sNewCommunities, and the BeachwoodReporter are run by journalists committed to telling the local stories that the legacy newspapers haven’t had the capacity — or the mission — to report. You can see an extensive list of these types of sites at Community Media Workshop’s site.

As I write, all of these valuable newsrooms — and more –are looking for cash to sustain themselves.

These under-reported and neglected areas of coverage are the bread and butter of tomorrow and many of them are running on vapor.

High-quality local information — which is what readers demand– is something the legacy newsrooms have lost sight of as they have jettisoned staff. News is not throw-away wire copy to wrap around ads but real information that provides insight and history. Editors know this, but what to do when papa corporation needs to pay the shareholders? Look at the collective shrug at the IFC event to understand the answer to that.

A lot of smart people have been sitting round the table at the Chicago Community Trust trying to understand how Chicago’s foundation community can assist. Many of us believe that we must evolve a new way to finance newsrooms and we are looking with hope to the new social enterprise hybrid, the L3C.

As Dean Stackman writes in the Columbia Journalism Review on the failure of the business press to cover its beat and alert the public to the systemic Wall Street’s boiler rooms that led to this “economic winter:”

“Never, ever underestimate the importance of editorial leadership and news ownership, for in them rests the power to push back against structural conflicts and cultural taboos fostered by industry, to clear a space for … journalism to do the job it is clearly capable of, the one job that really needed doing.”
Newsrooms are all about mission, and mission is set at the top.

When newspapers start charging for online news they’ll need to recalibrate their value system. And they’ll need to understand their added value.

The added value for newsrooms online and in paper is local news. Local news that serves the audience. And advertising that delivers information to the targeted audience — and that is local advertising. The businesses that own and operate our new newsrooms will have to understand those values.

There’s a conference June 16 in Minneapolis on Economic Models for News, and several local conferences on Chicago’s news future. You can learn more about these on my blog at

Carl Bernstein, Chi-Town Daily News, Chicago Community Trust, Chicago Media, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Community Media Workshop, Don Hayner, Everyblock, Future Of News, LISC New Communities, Macarthur Foundation, McCormick Foundation, News Blogs, Newspaper Industry, Newsrooms, The Banyan Project, The-Beachwood-Reporter, Tim Stites, Chicago News

How to save newsrooms [papers]

Published in the Huffington Post – Chicago.

By Sally Duros
Chicago’s newspapers could find a lifeline to solvency and a return to social purpose in a new kind of business structure called an L3C, or low-profit limited liability company.

Why is that?

Illinois foundations have $350 billion in assets and they are required to invest 5% of that, or $17 billion, in programs that serve a social purpose each year. If the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune were to be reborn as L3Cs — a structure that encourages foundation investment while allowing a profit –they could tap into some of that $17 billion. With foundation heavyweights on board, other investors seeking a decent, but not excessive, return might contribute to the coffers.

Bill SB 239 creating the L3C hybrid was introduced to the Illinois legislature Feb. 4 by Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago). Prospects for the bill are good, supporters say.

The L3C structure was signed into law in Vermont in 2008, and into law in Michigan and the Crow Nation in January. Legislatures in Georgia, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon are also expected to pass L3C legislation this year.

In Washington, D.C., draft legislation called the Program Related Investment Promotion Act of 2008 is being considered by staff in the Senate Finance committee. While many types of businesses–from community yoga centers to affordable housing–could benefit from L3Cs, the successful creation of newspaper L3Cs is largely contingent on passage of the Federal law, which would effectively expand charitable purposes to include newspapers.

The L3C structure plays well in Peoria where the Peoria Newspaper Guild, and a coalition of
Journal Star employees and community leaders have been quietly looking for two years at alternatives including co-ops and employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) to operate the Peoria Journal Star.

The one idea that really clicked was the L3C.

“We are looking at long-term ownership that puts journalism first,” said Jennifer Towery, President of the Peoria Newspaper Guild and also Neighbors Editor for the Peoria Journal Star. “[The L3C] just resonated. It has so much potential.”

Because it can tap into foundation money, an L3C is sustainable, and because an L3C business must meet a social purpose, it realigns newspapers with their mission of community service.

“It insists that serving the readers is your mission,” she said. “If it doesn’t serve the readers to cut your newsroom staff you can’t do it.”

While good news judgment is essential to accomplishing the social return, the L3C structure has significant sweeteners to generate returns for investors.

“The participation of the foundation, which is seeking high social return but low monetary return serves as a catalyst for high investor return,” said Marc J. Lane, a Chicago-based attorney who authored the Illinois L3C legislation and last year launched Chicago’s chapter of the Social Enterprise Alliance, which believes in investing in businesses that do well by doing good. “You can end up with a blended financial return that is fairly modest but skewed toward the private sector investor.”

“Capital is formed,” Lane said. “Social purpose is achieved.”

The L3C is different from a typical nonprofit because it can earn a return, but the social purpose must trump the financial purpose.

Lane says that he expects the Illinois law will pass with little debate. “I see it sailing through,” he said. But even if it doesn’t, Illinois news gathering organizations could incorporate in Vermont or other states that have legalized L3Cs.

The creator of L3Cs, Robert Lang, CEO of the Mary Elizabeth & Gordon B. Mannweiler Foundation, says the Federal legislation is essential for any of these good news scenarios to play for newspapers.

Lang, an economist and businessman by trade, devised the L3C structure to address the problems he was having while trying to invest family foundation money in a sustainable and effective way.

“Historically, the IRS has not accepted newspapers as nonprofits,” Lang said. “The Federal legislation mentions L3Cs specifically and it lists newspapers specifically.”

The problem newspapers are dealing with today is that investors turned news-gathering into Wall Street product.

“The Peoria paper still makes money,” Lang said. “The problem is it cannot make enough profit for all the games normal for-profits get involved in.”

But in the L3C scenario, newspapers can make “enough” money.

“What we are looking at is the newspaper as a self-sufficient entity,” he said.
“It will not be a high profit entity.”

The idea of the Newspaper L3C is to bring back those journalistic contributions like neighborhood reporting, music reviews and book sections and make them part of the community service. And ads are part of the mix too.

“I think there is a lot of viability to newspapers still,” Lang said.

Could the L3C save Chicago’s newspapers?

“Somewhere you still need a newsgathering organizations,” Lang said. Newspapers still drive much of the news circulating on the web, he added.

“I’m not saying that we can save the Chicago Tribune and make it what it was 10 years ago,” he said. “But at least the money that’s made today can go toward improving the product not paying off leveraged debt.”

Meanwhile back at the Journal Star, which has an owner and is not for sale, Peoria Guild President Towery says, “We are all interested in finding models that others can replicate. It’s not saving the paper, it’s saving journalism. ”

“One of the bright spots is that [newspapers] have lost so much value that it is now feasible for communities to buy their newspapers.”

A sample newspaper L3C

newspapers.jpgI write in the Huffington Post—Chicago February 9 about the potential for newspapers to incorporatebe set up as a new type of corporation business, an L3C, low-profit limited liability company.corporation. This would allow them to meet their community purpose, and qualify for foundation money while providing a return for private investors committed to the social good. Here’s a sample of what a newspaper L3C might look like, according to Robert Lang, who developed the structure.

Sample Newspaper
Project Goal
Purchase and restructure the Community’s Newspaper as a locally based independent newspaper with a focus on community service and news targeted specifically toward the local market. The emphasis includes the recognition that newspapers are the only business specifically recognized in the U.S. Constitution and the information provided is vital to the proper function of a democracy. The newspaper is also an important engine of the economy of the area and is an vital source, through both news and advertising, of information significant to the commerce of the area. Additionally, many of the cultural and nonprofit venues depend on a healthy vibrant newspaper for dissemination of information regarding their services. Lastly, government at all levels needs newspapers for the same dissemination of necessary information.

L3C Advantage –
The operation can be a profitable, self sustaining venture by expanding its role and restoring many services that have been reduced or cut. It will be profitable enough to maintain and purchase equipment as needed and to explore and develop ways to use and integrate new media with the newspaper model. But as an L3C it will not be under pressure to generate unreasonable level of profits or diminish services in order to increase profits or service highly leveraged debt. The L3C structure will permit the paper to direct its effort to providing the kind of community service the subscribers, advertisers and other stakeholders have a right to expect. It can operate as a public service vehicle rather than emphasize the maximization of return on investment model that has become so common in the industry and is ruining newspapers all over America. As an L3C, it will, by law, be charged with placing community service ahead of profit.

Amount of Investment Required -To Be Determined

Possible Members of L3C

Equity or First risk tranche
Foundations through PRIs and tax deductible donations by individuals to Community Foundations turned into PRI investments by Community Foundations. Community Foundations in particular have a stake in the successful operation of a local community newspaper since in many ways it is vital to the basic spirit and health of the community served by the Community Foundation.

Mezzanine tranches
Employees, local businesses such as auto dealers or restaurants, local merchants and banks, supermarkets and other national chain retailers and theater chains all of whom depend on the viability of the paper for delivery of their message to local customers. Local individuals and investors who see the value in a viable local community even if the return on investment is not spectacular. An example might be a large local employer that needs a strong, prosperous, cohesive, vibrant local community in order to enhance their ability to attract the best employees to come to our community to work there. The community often makes a difference as to the level of compensation a large corporation has to pay since prospective hires may demand higher pay if they perceive the need to leave a community for some of the services they will desire or to compensate for a lower quality of life.

Senior tranche
Foundations through Mission Related Investments of endowment, State and local Pension Funds, insurance companies, foreign sovereign wealth funds and other very large scale institutional investors who are looking for very secure long term income paying investments with a return compatible with the risk.

Members not making cash investments -to be determined

Management Structure
A hired professional staff reporting to a management board which may include members of the present management structure.

Structure of investment
Stability of the project for the long run indicates an all equity transaction. It is obvious that certain groups such as the local members of the Newspaper Guild will have a relatively small financial stake in relation to their role in say over the quality of the product. Other investors such as local businesses will put in more dollars for substantially less day to day control. Others such as pension funds will be far more passive investors.

Projected Sales, Expenses, and Gross Profit -tbd

Projected investment and Return per Tranche-tbd

Unique socially beneficial aspects of this project
The newspaper means many different things to many different stakeholders. The key to the success of the newspaperas an L3C will be the drafting of an operating agreement that assures all the stakeholders that the paper will live up to their expectations and yet permits those in charge to be able to make the needed business decisions on a day to day basis without having to clear each and every decision with the various stakeholders. It is going to require new thinking to some extent on all sides. The advertisers, for example, will have to understand that they are investing to be sure of the success of a tool necessary to the marketing of their products. The management will have to understand that the employees are the most valuable asset, while the employees will have to make tough decisions sometimes that are important to the viability of the paper and think like the owners they will be. But once an operating agreement has been crafted a newspaper as a pillar of the community will finally be a reality.