Thursday, October 13, 2011

Chicago Reader can't go home to 21 Jump Street


It was news to a neighbor that the local community group no longer spends time at board meetings folding paper and licking stamps: The newsletter is locked up and delivered online in the time it would have taken just to phone the printer. Nostalgia for those days isn't lost on me: Collating involved at least a bit of wine and a lot of friendly chatter. But none of us would go back to the days when hyperlocal journalism involved Letraset type and library paste.

Even so, it was fun to sit back with the Chicago Reader 40th anniversary retrospective in print Wednesday night before it was let loose in cyberspace, though the issue took up less time than skimming a 1980s cover story. The nightclub and sex-shop ads were still there, so the experience hasn't changed that much.

Actually the entire Internet has followed the original Reader formula: Launch with a hazy business plan, and carry on when the plan falls apart because at least it seems like progress. Yet even though the sky's the limit (or at least the cloud) for computer space, the Reader's storied 21-page-jump expositions will never be duplicated in Web postings: In the future, every one will be world-famous in three paragraphs, or 120 characters.

I can only hope that future digital media will model the more incisive Hot Type format. Michael Miner has called me once or twice in pursuit of a story, and his keyboard clacking in the background would stop me mid-sentence: Where is he going with this? Readers ask the same question, and that's the point of the whole enterprise.

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