When I go on about the social consequences of the death of newspapers, I sound a little disingenuous even to myself.
First of all, as a professional writer I'm mostly upset about having to compete for my daily bread with a horde of talented, hungry, unemployed journalist jackals.
And second, I'm not exactly one of the investigative reporters without whose work dirty cops will torture with impunity, the mob will bounce back to Capone-era prominence and the trucks will be rehired.
I've done some investigative pieces over the years, and some political profiles, but I've spent most of my time -- and found most of my joy -- writing feature stories for the Trib, Chicago Magazine and the Reader about weird and wonderful Chicagoans doing things of varying importance that you'd never heard of.
Mike Royko used to refer dismissively to the Tribune's Features department as "Birdland." Funny once. But now, maybe it's time for a bird to stand up for his land.
Of course, I'm mostly thinking of myself again. Without a Birdland, who would have paid me to chronicle:
- The twenty-something dude brilliant enough to grind out a living playing online poker in his house, but dumb enough not to conceive of a better way to spend his life than playing 100,000 digital hands a month.
And who but a Birdland editor with space to fill and money to spend would have dispatched a writer and a photographer to cover the senior gay softball tournament where a jubilant call after a home run was, "It looks like Richard took his estrogen today!" Or the desultory pulp fiction conference at a suburban hotel. Or the hideously awkward spectacle of well-meaning octogenarian white Christian missionaries fishing for souls in a Cook County jail "boot camp" full of befuddled black Christian teenagers.
Of course, Chicago's population would not have suffered for a lack of any one of these stories -- or any of the thousands and thousands of other features that have been written in our newspapers about the novel things that go on here and the unique people who do them.
But once all these types of stories cease to be published -- and features by their nature rely on the leisureliness of print reading and generous photographic layouts that lure in the semi-curious reader -- I worry we'll have lost the shared understanding and celebration of Chicago as an infinitely unpredictable, loving, misguided, charming, ugly, pretty and charismatic city.
That's what Birdland was, and that's why Birdland was: Tucked into the hard stuff about the pols and businesspeople and celebrities who dominate Chicago news, a celebration of the equal truth that those people don't dominate Chicago people -- that we unselfconsciously flit through our lives singing own odd tunes, happy and sad and funny and mad.
So we'll lose that, which seems like losing a lot.
Especially if you're a bird.
Chicago writer David Murray blogs regularly at Writing Boots.