THE CME STORYThe Chicago Media Examiner has discontinued publishing for personal reasons. Thank you for your support.
Without any real explanation, I put that message on the CME website on Monday, February 16, 2004 and deleted all the work posted for the previous five years. Eric Zorn wrote about it, as did Michael Miner (see below). At the time, I could not tell everyone why the site was REALLY shut down.
NOW I can tell you...not that it's a big surprise.
The Tribune Company made me do it.
A little background: I was born & raised in Chicago and became a newsie in high school. Went to Columbia College to break into TV, and though I'd wanted to be a reporter, my first job was as the Research Director for a TV station in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Five years later, in 1997, I was hired as the research manager in the corporate offices of Tribune Broadcasting. When I came back to Chicago, I was desperate for better quality news reporting. The two markets where I had been, Albuquerque and San Antonio, were basically one newspaper towns and small enough to have sadly laughable TV newscasts.
When I came back to Chicago, the great "Eyewitness News" was now a passable "ABC 7 News", Channels 5, 9 and 32 seemed to have regressed and there were rumors of news programs on Channel 2. On top of that, the Tribune was pretending the Sun-Times (and any local stories they uncovered) didn't exist while reporting about parts of the world that no one cared about. The Chicago news media had changed for the worse, and I was pretty bugged about it.
In 1999 I decided to do something about my buggedness, so I started a website called the "Chicago Media Muse" (later renamed the "Chicago Media Examiner") where I could rant about the bad things in Chicago Media and rave about the great things. Believe it or not, I did find a ton of things that I liked.
Eventually, people would run across my website via search engine links, and at some point I started to have regular readers (cool!). I was always very upfront about who I was and what I was doing - the VPs at Tribune Broadcasting knew about the site (some would laugh and shake their heads in agreement to many things), and I used my real name as opposed to an alias (such as Ed Gold for example), which I believe is very lame to do when publishing opinions.
Sometime around 2002, I decided that it would be best if I kept my negative comments about Tribune entities to myself, just in case the company found something I said distasteful and canned my ass. Of course, since I didn't like the Tribune newspaper and thought the Channel 9 news was sucky, that rule was sure to cramp my style. It also made it difficult to portray myself as an independent critic while working for one of the big media companies while not saying much about those media companies. Still, I wanted to continue, and continue I did.
Then, in 2003 I made a dumb mistake and wrote a letter to the daily newsletter "Shoptalk" asking if Karaoke Tuesday on WGN's Morning News was a sign of good journalism. I stupidly signed my name to it and that I was an employee of Tribune Broadcasting. Argh! Larry Potash made fun of it on the air and theorized that I was an Executive who golfed every day (showing his journalistic talent, I suppose). The next day I was called into the office of one of the TBC VPs, ironically the VP who used to run WGN and was savagely ripped by the news staff when he was kicked upstairs. He asked about the letter and the website, and mentioned that the folks in the WGN newsroom were concerned about things I was writing. He also told me that the negative statements could be considered insubordination and grounds for dismissal. Since I enjoyed being paid every two weeks, I promised to no longer comment on anything Tribune again. I left the meeting knowing two things: The WGN-TV Newsroom complained about my criticism and requested I be silenced, and that I could continue with the website minus any references to Tribune properties. I was wrong about the latter.
On Monday, February 16, 2004, my boss called me into a meeting with him and the HR Director. I could tell it was a very serious issue. When I got into the office, I could see that the HR Director had printouts of several CME issues. Immediately, I knew that my days as a media critic were over, and I was totally fine with that.
The first question was: "Do you write this website, the Chicago Media Examiner?". My response was: "Yes, I do. Do you want me to stop and delete the site?" That response totally threw the HR person, who for some reason had expected me to fight my "first amendment rights" (which don't apply in this case). She continued with the meeting for another 10 minutes, but my total capitulation really shocked her. I ended up with a written reprimand and continued employment (provided I ceased and desisted-which I did). I sure did like that paycheck every two weeks. After the meeting, I did a little investigating and two sources told me that it was the WGN-TV news department once again who wanted me silenced (oh, my lord the IRONY!), and that the HR person (whose job it is to understand employees better than anyone else) had spent two weeks researching and reading my site to find evidence to throw against me because she was clueless that in the end, I would toe the company line. Duh.
Fact is, I knew that they could fire me at any time, and I chose job over non-revenue-generating website. I told Zorn, Miner and Steve Rhodes the real reason, and put the media criticism behind me in order to concentrate on my music hobby.
In November 2005, I was among 50 Tribune-Tower based people that the Tribune Company laid-off. I was bummed about that, but they gave me a good severance and set up with an outplacement company, so I have no hard feelings.
If you're interested in following my music hobby, go to my homepage at www.CupOfCheese.com or listen to my original songs on my MySpace page at www.MySpace.com/johnkuczaj
Thanks for coming by, and thanks a lot for reading my stuff!
WATCHDOGS PUT TO SLEEP(reprinted without permission)
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2004
Found on the Web this week:
"The Chicago Media Examiner has discontinued publishing for personal reasons. Thank you for your support."
"Because of the demands of the print magazine, Press Box (which exists only online) will no longer appear. We will continue to cover media stories in the print magazine and post them online when appropriate."
The CME, independently written and maintained by Tribune Broadcasting researcher John Kuczaj, was a quirky, highly opinionated Web publication that offered thoughts and analysis on Chicago media.
Press Box, written by Steve Rhodes of Tribune-owned Chicago Magazine for the mag's Web site, offered an assortment of critical observations on local media along with news items and transcripts.
I'll miss them both.
Not because I (or other writers at the Tribune) always agreed with the views presented, but because critical examination of the media is healthy and we have far too little of it in this town as it is.
In neither case was the Chicago Tribune newspaper involved in the decision to stop publication, but beyond that, out of respect for their personal office political situations, I'll let Kuczaj's and Rhodes' public statements speak for themselves.
Meanwhile, it's a big ol' Web out there with free `blog hosting sites available (my current fave is bloghorn) for anyone who chooses to continue their work.