Power failure: Clout list snubs media

Gerry Kern

Gerry Kern

Maybe it says something about the diminished importance of the media in Chicago these days. Maybe it says something about the low regard journalists have for their own profession. Or maybe it just says that I’m a sucker for meaningless lists.

Whichever the case, the March cover story of Chicago magazine left me scratching my bald head. For the third year in a row, the respected monthly ranks “the 100 most powerful Chicagoans.” And for the third year in a row, it gives short shrift to the city’s media constellation.

“You must have the influence, ability, or potential to make big things happen, for good or for ill,” reads an editor’s note on the criteria. "When you talk, people listen.”

Nineteen writers are credited with contributing to the list, and yet they couldn’t come up with (or agree on) a single columnist, critic, reporter, news anchor, meteorologist (hello, Tom Skilling?), talk show host, newspaper publisher or broadcast executive worthy of mention. Not one.

With Roger Ebert gone (he ranked No. 23 in 2012 and No. 74 in 2013), so is the magazine’s token acknowledgement of his professional colleagues.

In fact, only two media figures of any stripe made the cut — and they're both near the bottom: Gerry Kern, senior vice president and editor of the Chicago Tribune, was cited at No. 97 for “[holding] the line on credibility for the city’s paper of record (owned by Tribune Co., Chicago magazine’s parent).” And Tavi Gevinson, a 17-year-old fashion blogger whom I’d never heard of, was cited at No. 98 as “an entertainer and all-around culture maven.”

As usual, the list was top-heavy with government and corporate types, including four local moguls with large media ownership interests: Joe Mansueto (No. 16), John Canning (No. 26), Fred Eychaner (No. 32), and Linda Johnson Rice (No. 61).

Curiously, Michael Ferro, chairman of Sun-Times parent company Wrapports LLC, who ranked No. 69 last year, didn’t show up this year. Perhaps his unflattering profile in Chicago magazine’s November issue undermined his perceived power. Peter Liguori, CEO of Tribune Co., also was overlooked by his company's magazine.

Media people weren’t the only ones who ought to feel short-changed. As political scribe Carol Felsenthal pointed out, no one named Daley made this year’s list either.