Set up a tiny monthly contribution to join in my stories and learn the craft


Police watch protesters on the University of Chicago campus. Photo by Sydney Combs. (

I set up a “Patreon” page this week. I’m telling my family, friends, and supporters around the country to check it out. I hope you do, too. It allows you to set up a small recurring monthly contribution to my work. Every dollar lets me do that much less work on odd jobs, and thus that much more journalism.


I don’t just offer the warm fuzzies of a donation. Rather I offer a legit product. A product which, if you’re into holding powerful people accountable, you might be excited about. Treat it like a super-cheap education.

The rewards build, BTW, so whatever level you choose, you get all the smaller levels too.

$1: “Office hours” (chat room) access and emailed links when I release pieces or episodes of my forthcoming YouTube series.
$2: Bumped sticker or bike bag button that says “I read journalists who care about all people”
$3: Opportunity to join my book club, “Need-to-know: A woke book club”
$4: Invites to my twice-a-year journalism-wonk parties
$6: First dibs on helping me with stories if you’ve been vetted to do so, and my help in crafting, filing, and responding to two FOIA requests a year
$10: Up to two hours with you in a teach & learn session. I recommend an encryption tools tutorial but the sky’s the limit!

Higher levels give you access to my stories shortly before they’re available to the general public, or access to my story notes once they’re published. If you’re into it, take a look.

Serious work a-brewing

You heard it here first: a new journalism outlet in Chicago, in collaboration with…


CivicLab is a new-ish space in the West Loop for folks who want to innovate in the public sphere–their tagline was recently changed to “Making Democracy.” As I understand it—and this is a gross over-simplification—they’re piggy-backing on the makerspace/hackerspace movement to do some good in the body politic.

At any rate, as their first resident reporter, I’ll be host and editor of a new audio show we’re calling “Some Assembly Required.” A show about civics. Broad enough to generate awesome content for years to come. Focused enough to not be a cop-out.

Just don’t call it a “podcast.” We’re having fun, but we’re doing serious work.

More to come.

Chicago: the greenest city *snicker*

Based on the frequency of news coverage about polluted soil or buildings in Chicago, you might think there really isn’t much of that here. After all, only a single EPA National Priorities List site exists in Chicago. But it was tough to get listed because the city would rather not have those blemishes on its record.

And cleanups of pollution happen all the time, all over the city, as the map below shows when you zoom into Chicago. Have there have been any near your house or workplace in recent years? The key below explains the different colored pins.

BLUE: Federal CERCLA (“Superfund”) sites in Illinois that are on the National Priorities List. There is only one NPL site in Chicago, at Lake Calumet on the far south side. (Note: Except for the location of the Lake Calumet site, these pins are approximations based on the city associated with the listing.)

YELLOW: CERCLA cleanups that are NOT on the NPL, whose city is listed as “Chicago.” Exact addresses were used in this case. These cases, as you’ll read below, are interesting.

TURQUOISE: “Non-voluntary” (usually court-mandated) cleanups performed or supervised by Illinois EPA. Again, exact addresses used.

A few disclosures after the break…

Continue reading

Green campaign at my former school

A prefab modular home with LEED Platinum certification. Chicago should have its first Platinum-certified prefab residence in 2011. (Flickr photo from Heather Lucille. CC.)

Here are some links to my 2009 project to reduce Cedarville University’s environmental impact. I was collaborating with school administration to implement the project when I moved to Chicago to attend a more well-known journalism school.

CU/Green on transportation

CU/Green on clothing and consumer goods

CU/Green on building upkeep and construction

CU/Green on water use and landscaping

CU/Green on good air and energy

CU/Green on our refuse

CU/Green on everyday stuff

Before I left Cedarville University in May ’09, I was one of the founding members—vice president—of the environmental organization on campus. I got that gig in part because of the extensive plan I had proposed, above.

The plan took into consideration what was feasible for the college’s budget at the time, as well as what was socially responsible. One thing I stressed for administrators was that once our campus learns how to weatherize buildings, we should go into our community and do it for lots of residents there, many of whom are poor. Why? Free labor from students, minimal expense from the college, savings that make a big difference for families, and massive PR.

We could even serve as a knowledge hub for the community about “green” choices, and as a pilot program for similar universities across the country, I demonstrated.

P.S. — Here’s a link to an article on colleges who have voluntary student-funded offices of sustainability. Here’s a link to the only organization that evaluates colleges’ efforts toward sustainability and transparency, something the group considers essential to continuing sustainability.

Industry turmoil

The Chicago Tribune sports the largest newsroom in the midwest, according to its advertising campaign. I chuckle at that choice. I wonder how many other journalists do, too. (CC Flickr photo from Alex Barth)

When I turned to the journalism field for my career, the thought that most plagued me was this: generally, to make any money, one must join a very large corporation—likely a conglomerate with lots of power.

That just never sat right with me. With lots of power comes lots of responsibility, which isn’t usually handled properly. Not that I could do better. Just that I know people are human like me.

But in the past couple years and months, the larger news corporations have fared much worse than smaller ones. …Am I the only one who’s happy about this?

Continue reading

Writing for interaction

Spotted a story yesterday about the rise of (and grand question about) the cupcake boutique on the New York Times site, and I had to check it out.

I’m sharing it with you not just because cupcakes generate more saliva than I have fluid in my body, but because there’s a really interesting paragraph that reads like a blog. Even though the story appears in the Small Business section (at least that’s their header):

“Cupcake stores are taking the place of ice cream stores,” said Adam Borden, whose Baltimore-based venture capital firm, Bradmer Foods, specializes in food-focused enterprises. “Cupcakes aren’t seasonal like ice cream, and they appeal to people who want the authentic experience. They have an allure based on nostalgia.”

All of which suggests a couple of questions: How many cupcakes do you have to sell to pay the rent? And are cupcakes a viable business? These are still very early days in the Great Cupcake Rush, but the answers appear to be, respectively, a lot and maybe. (What do you think? Click HERE to leave a comment.)

I like it. It recognizes that readers expect to have interactivity built into the text they read, and they are becoming more and more comfortable with writers acknowledging that interactivity, rather than what I call “playing dumb.” That’s where the story is written as if for a printed page, but oops, there’s something we could link to there. Let’s slap some HTML underneath to appease the surfers. Well you didn’t appease me. You just made me wonder, for a split second, why this word was underlined and in a different color.

Even though I’m the first generation to literally grow up with the Internet, I still trip up with that. So I don’t think it’s a generational thing; people will continue tripping up over writers’ “playing dumb.” Thus, they shouldn’t be told they have to by silly, out-of-touch editors. Nice job New York Times Small Business section.

But wait, isn’t there someone who’d been writing casually and “to” the interactivity for a while now? Yes. Political reporters Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky, at the Chicago Reader.

Joravsky’s column last week was mostly journalism, but written in a casual tone. People don’t read it for his opinion, they read it for the journalism. And for the directions on how to see where their money is going, if not what it’s being spent on.