What does Chicago magazine have against the media?
Once again the editors of the esteemed monthly have issued their list of the 100 most powerful people in Chicago. And once again they’ve given short shrift to their media colleagues. It’s the worst showing by the media in the four years the magazine has been ranking the city’s movers and shakers.
As you would expect, this year’s list is heavy with politicians and CEOs, sports team bosses and investment types. Among The Power 100 are two married couples — Governor Bruce Rauner (No. 2) and Diana Rauner (No. 53), and George Lucas (No. 15) and Mellody Hobson (No. 14). The editors even saw fit to include five restaurateurs. Yes, five.
But nowhere will you find a local media figure. Not one Chicago columnist, critic, editor, news anchor, talk show host, reporter or producer. Not one working journalist who possess “the influence, ability, or potential to make big things happen, for good or for ill,” as the editors defined their criteria for the list. Not Pulitzer-winning architecture critic Blair Kamin, who stood up to Donald Trump. Not investigative reporter Tim Novak, who brought Rich Daley’s nephew to justice. Not millionaire meteorologist Tom Skilling, whose mastery of the weather may be exceeded only by his power over the Nielsens.
The only names associated with TV on the list are Robert Abt (No. 99), CEO of the big box store that sells TVs, and Andy Shaw (No. 100), head of the Better Government Association, who used to be a political reporter on TV.
Beth Fenner, editor-in-chief of Chicago magazine, argues that it all depends on how one defines media.
“I do consider Andy Shaw to be a media figure,” Fenner said. “We as well as many other media outlets in town partner with the BGA for journalism that makes a difference.
And, according to Fenner, “other media figures include Linda Johnson Rice (No. 83), the power behind Johnson Publishing; Joe Mansueto (No. 25), whose magazine investments are looking pretty darn smart right now — Inc magazine and Fast Company are among the two few bright spots in a dismal year for magazines; Mellody Hobson, who among many other things is an on-air contributor to CBS News, as we noted; [CEO] Jack Griffin (No. 44), who of everyone at Tribune Publishing has made the biggest moves this past year — betting big on Chicago area media — the Sun-Times suburban papers acquisition is an example; and [Leo Burnett exec] Susan Credle (No. 89), a media figure from the ad side.
“Add in the filmmaker and authors, and we’ve got quite a few folks from the media and creative worlds. One word on Skilling: Our staff has debated his inclusion on the list before. He is a terrific weatherman, but he does not control the weather.”
We obviously disagree. I think any list that says five restaurant owners wield more influence than the editor of the Chicago Tribune (who didn’t make the top 100 this year) is ridiculous. But Fenner did acknowledge that the debate says something about the current media world.
“The fact that media has gotten so fragmented is clearly a factor,” she said. “People get their news anywhere and everywhere. One single local anchor no longer has the sway he or she had a generation ago. Writers and reporters — Rich Miller [of CapitolFax.com] is an example; we considered him this year — are breaking out and starting to create their own brands. It’s an exciting time, but also a scary one in some ways, a time of fragmentation and consolidation.”