Newcity’s best at rocking the boat

NewcityNewcity is about to come out with its annual Best of Chicago issue, and once again editor and publisher Brian Hieggelke is rocking the local media boat.

Who else but Hieggelke would proclaim the besieged Sun-Times “best local daily newspaper,” declare an architecture critic “best Chicago news columnist” or project a landslide election for governor next week?

Brian Hieggelke

Brian Hieggelke

But that’s typical of the free Chicago arts and culture weekly that Hieggelke, a former investment banker, started with his wife and younger brother in 1986. The Best of Chicago issue has been a staple of Newcity since 1993.

Only the Best: Newcity's Twentieth-Second Best of Chicago will be posting its 200 or so winners online through Thursday night. The print edition appears on news racks starting today.

Here’s a sampling of Newcity’s media citations for 2014:

Best local daily newspaper 
The Chicago Sun-Times
But for how long? Sometimes street, often silly, intermittently scrappy, filled with youngish reporters ready to make a name for themselves, or at least investigate the manner of hangovers their predecessors revised on deadlines on a daily basis while toiling at typewriters in the barge-like building along the Chicago River that’s now the sub-basement of the Trump Tower. The Chicago Sun-Times persists even as Wrapports LLC, its holding company, peels off a cortege of diminished suburban dailies and weeklies, letting the newly reduced print-only TribCo continue the triage. Failed experiments in business and social coverage are quickly cast aside under publisher-editor-in-chief Jim Kirk’s reign, but a newly redesigned, fresh-faced web presence and successes like the Homicide Watch Chicago website (also on Twitter as @chicagohomicide) show an admirable local focus, and even micro-focus. (“Mark every death. Remember every victim. Follow every case.”) And the still-feisty political coverage provides a fistful of punchy front pages each week. Of course, this could all just be preparation for a rumored reduction to a web-only play, akin to the fate of the print edition of Time Out Chicago, which could reduce the storied tabloid to another DNAInfoChicago. Worse are the late October developments leading up to the November election, in which the newspaper allowed interference in its news-gathering by the campaign of former co-owner Bruce Rauner, leading to the resignation of Sun-Times political reporter Dave McKinney, the paper’s Springfield bureau chief. “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,” McKinney wrote in a letter to the paper’s chairman, Michael Ferro. “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… I’m convinced this newspaper no longer has the backs of reporters like me.” And only a few days prior, the editorial page, which recently bowed out of making any kind of political endorsements, issued a single kudo for this election: Bruce Rauner.

Best Chicago news columnist (other than Tony Fitzpatrick, of course)
Blair Kamin, Chicago Tribune
It's not that often that a columnist, let alone an architectural critic, makes national news, but when Blair Kamin became the leading critic of the Trump Tower sign, well, consider this correction that NBC's "Today" show ran, according to Jim Romenesko's blog: "We do have a clarification on something you may have heard here on Friday after our report on the controversial Trump sign on Donald Trump’s new Chicago building. During a live phone interview, Trump said of the controversy: 'This was started by a third-rate architecture critic from the Chicago Tribune who I thought got fired. He was gone for a long period of time.' Well, in fact that critic—Pulitzer Prize-winner Blair Kamin—has been with the Chicago Tribune for more than twenty years and also spent the 2013 academic year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard." We're tempted to just let this quote stand as our entire argument, but consider this: long before the Donald throwdown, Kamin's column, a pointed and probing exploration of architecture and urban design in one of the world capitals of such things, has long been arguably THE reason to read the Tribune.

Best attempt by a media organization to ignite social change
The Chicago Tribune’s “12 Ways” series
It’s way too early to tell if the Trib’s print attempt to save the city will have any impact, but the attempt—in all of its auspiciousness and optimism—has to be recognized. And even though it’s not being written for the people who really need the help or need to change, there’s something to be said about one of the country's largest media conglomerates making its core readership feel guilty about its own arrogance and apathy.

Best stereotypical, incomplete, single-minded documentary depicting the black men of Chicago
“Chicagoland” on CNN
Of all of the positive, non-celeb, law-abiding African-American adult men (from investment manager Marc Brooks to pastor Corey Brooks to civil activist Cobe Williams to morning radio personality Leon Rogers) that play a role in shaping a larger part of the city’s narrative, the producers of CNN’s “Chicagoland” couldn’t find one non-rapping, non-ball-playing black male over thirty to profile in their eight-hour, eight-part docuseries? It was as if normal black men went from a species endangered to a species extinct.

Best local general-interest blog
Gapers Block has been a beloved local powerhouse since the early Bush years, while Chicagoist started as a humble branch of the national Gothamist network, hungry for an identity. But the underdog has come into its own. Chicagoist recently updated its UX design for a sleek,  magazine-style browsing experience—and it doesn't just look important. Editor Chuck Sudo knows that, if he wants to compete with Gapers kahuna Andrew Huff for well-connected local coverage, he has to seek out interesting minds (and sometimes polarizing figures) in every niche. So he recruited star writers such as film critic Joel Wicklund, an acquaintance of the late Roger Ebert, and political activist Aaron Cynic (speaking of underdogs...), who posted riveting coverage of Occupy Chicago and the 2012 G8 protests from a risky, personal perspective. The Chicagoist team has worked hard to make it an essential local read, and it has become a crucial part of digging the Chicago scene circa now.

Best execution of media activism
“Feminist Wednesdays” are the best. No, it’s the domestic violence in immigrant communities conversation with Sangeetha Ravichandran and Neha Gill of Apna Ghar that’s the best. No, it’s Ayana Contreras’ “Reclaimed Soul” that’s better than anything else on radio in the city. No, it’s Friday morning’s too-honest “Practically Speaking.” No, it’s the fact that nowhere else on Chicago radio are you going to hear a Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar song followed by a Vic Mensa and Thundercat song. Whatever the program director over at 91.1FM is doing over at Vocalo, every PD in the city needs to take heed... and bow down.

Best outcome of the CNN miniseries "Chicagoland" 
Monster movie battle royale
After Mark Benjamin and Marc Levin’s eight-part constructed documentary about Mayor Emanuel being the baddest-assed of civic monsters, wouldn’t it have been amazing if the original Mayor Daley had rocketed from the crypt, his can’t-be-killed Michael Myers unstoppable against Rahm’s mom-jeaned budgetary Freddy Krueger? Cue an essential John Carpenter score…

Best internet station to soon hit the radio dial
CHIRP Radio may not surpass WBEZ anytime soon as the definition of listener-supported radio, but it’s on its way. CHIRP has been laboring in diligent support in its playlist of the local music scene for many years now. In 2013 the internet radio station submitted its application to the FCC after the agency opened its low-power window to make room for urban applicants with the signing of the Local Community Radio Act. CHIRP may be soon going live on the air, opening a whole new chapter in the availability of the station to listeners. Stay tuned.

Best new online radio station
Rivet News Radio
As the fifth estate goes digital, Rivet News Radio is changing the game. They offer a news service to your smart phone covering an array of topics: architecture, sports, music and film and more. Features focus on what’s happening locally at the neighborhood level, but don’t overlook national and international coverage. Programming is pulled together from notables who’ve developed their voice on Chicago’s airwaves and newspapers, including Charlie Meyerson, James Van Osdol and Lee Bey. The news is digestible yet sharp—just what we need to get us through those slow zones on the way to work.