An Important Message From Mark J. Valentino
Editor and Publisher
Whether someone is a long-time reader of Gazette Chicago or came across it more recently, the conversation we often have centers on one or more of the following questions: How did it all begin? How were you able to create such an excellent publication? How are you surviving in today’s world of shrinking advertising revenues?
I could write a book on answering these questions in the detail they deserve (look out world, there might be one inside me yet).
Let me share how I reply to those who also seem to hold dear the value and impact of community journalism.
First and foremost, the launching of Gazette Chicago, its maturation as the “paper of record” in this community over 37 years, and how we’ve survived all this time isn’t a matter of “me” but of “we.” I often get the credit for something that literally a hundred or more dedicated people have been a part of for three-plus decades. The list is too vast to share, and many are still with us while some have passed on, but if that book ever gets out of my head (and heart) and makes it into print, I promise they will be recognized.
A vocation to give back; not a desire to become rich
In a nutshell, the hows and whys of the newspaper’s evolution remain at the core of who we are today. It should be noted that this has never been a business model of how to become rich; it is much more of a vocation to try to do good and give back.
So, why did I start this newspaper?
Because ever since I was a young boy growing up along Taylor Street in Little Italy, I heard stories of injustices occurring.
Those with ties to City Hall and/or the infamous old First Ward wielded the power of eminent domain and were forcing long-time families out of the community.
Our neighborhood showed signs of decay from urban blight. Valuable, yet limited, resources were being doled out unfairly by those with clout to make themselves and their friends rich. Racism, cronyism, loss of jobs, crime, lack of public school choices; these and other factors were driving people out of our community in the 1960s and ’70s.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, and the more reason that community newspapers such as Gazette Chicago need to survive.
I graduated from DePaul University in spring 1980, and during my last year there, I served as editor-in-chief of The DePaulia, the student newspaper. It was my baptism of fire in journalism.
After graduation, I decided to try and do something about the injustices that had been seared in my mind from the time I was ten years old. Three years after earning my degree, the Near West Gazette came to life.
As the newspaper expanded over the years, our commitment to community journalism only grew deeper and stronger. The same injustices that our fledging staff saw in the neighborhood I grew up in were present as we expanded over the years into Tri-Taylor, the South Loop, the West Loop, West Haven, Heart of Chicago, Bridgeport, Chinatown, East Pilsen, and Bronzeville. Yes, even “new” neighborhoods like the South Loop and West Loop had their growing pains.
We’ve changed our name several times over to reflect the expansion of our coverage areas. However, we continue to work diligently to provide a voice for the voiceless and to “even the playing field” against those who often make decisions that fail to benefit the majority.
Let me share with you a few things related to the history of this newspaper that are really important.
First, we purposely didn’t expand into the “rich and glitzy” communities of the Loop, River North and River West, or Lincoln Park—we sought out similar “blue collar” neighborhoods that were facing many of the same issues as Little Italy and the Near West Side. In some cases, residents and local political and community leaders invited us in. Gentrification didn’t hit many of these communities until more recently.
Second, we expanded with the vision of building bridges in these diverse neighborhoods, and for that reason Gazette Chicago received the prestigious Bernadine C. Washington Human Relations Award from the City of Chicago Council on Human Relations in 1997.
Our list of other awards for excellence in journalism, which include Peter J. Lisagor and Apex awards, currently stands at 71; but it is the Bernadine C. Washington Award of which we are most proud.
Third, please flip through the pages of this issue. How many advertisements do you see from each of the ten communities that we serve? A select few neighborhoods are very supportive and helpful to our mission; others provide very little advertising resources or none at all.
Yet, we power on and continue to cover each community with impactful news coverage despite the limited resources that we have.
This is the crux of why I am writing to you today.
What is your personal value of Gazette Chicago?
How much do you value Gazette Chicago? How many years have you been reading this publication? What is the value that you would put into dollars for the monthly publication, whether you read us in print or on-line?
Do you embrace what we steadfastly believe—that we are making a difference in the lives of the residents, business owners, community organizations, and institutions within the communities we serve?
We certainly hope so and we strongly believe that you do. Or else, why would you continue to seek us out?
If so, then on behalf of everyone here at Gazette Chicago—especially our hard-working and talented journalists—I am asking for your assistance. Today.
Free and independent with revenue sources that might surprise you
Do you know where our revenue sources come from? Simple. Our advertisers. That’s it.
There are no rich family backers. My dad drove a newspaper circulation truck for the former Chicago’s American and then the Chicago Tribune. Prior to that, he drove a Yellow Cab part-time and also sold newspapers on street corners. My mom was a homemaker. They never owned their own home.
In addition, there are no investors—we never wanted anyone else telling us what stories we should write (or avoid) or what should go on our editorial page. That’s why our motto has always been “A free, independent community newspaper since 1983.”
That means that in all these years we have never charged anyone one nickel to read our newspaper. So, what is it worth to you?
I don’t just mean what you would be willing to pay each month via a subscription, to read on-line, or to get a copy from a newspaper box. A dollar? Maybe two?
No, I am asking you something far more important:
What would life be like for you and the residents in our coverage area if Gazette Chicago no longer existed? It’s a question similar to that asked of the character George Bailey in the legendary movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. And, it’s certainly one worth asking.
Please, take a moment to reflect on this.
How you can help keep community journalism alive and well
This month, Gazette Chicago has launched a Go Fund Me campaign. And, it has a very specific appeal: to support our hard-working journalists.
I am not asking you to fill my coffers. I promise you that not one penny will go into my checking account. In fact, I haven’t earned a dime from Gazette Chicago personally in more than eight years. I guess that is question number four that I often receive: How crazy are you to do all this work and never make any money for yourself? I answer that honestly and simply: being editor and publisher is my vocation—it’s not a job. I have a full-time job—always have in all these years of publishing.
Your support will go directly to support our journalists. They are the ones who write the compelling stories that make a difference in our community and keep you and 40,000-plus of your fellow readers coming back each month.
By the way, we aren’t the first publication to seek support from its readership to strengthen its reporting and publications future. Last fall, the Reader in Chicago launched a similar effort, and newspapers throughout the United States and across the globe have done something similar.
Here are some other questions for you.
How much does Gazette Chicago pay its reporters? How long does it take them to write a news story? How does Gazette Chicago continue to have by-line stories from cover to cover while other community publications fill their pages (sometimes as early as the first several pages) with press releases, photos provided to them, want ads and legal notices, and other filler?
We pay $75 for a full-length by-line story and $45 for the “Update” and “NewsBrief” articles you read.
How long does it take a reporter to file a story? When you add time to cover a community meeting, travel to and from that meeting, interview sources—which can take endless calls in a day and age when politicians and public servants avoid the fourth estate at all costs, and then actually sit down and write the story, it could add up to four to eight hours of work. All for only $45 or $75.
And yet, Gazette Chicago is fortunate to have a core group of journalists who share the same passion and belief in community journalism that our management team does. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for each one of them.
I hope you are, too.
This is where you come in. If you believe in what we are doing and you see value in helping to increase the pay of our reporters and offering them the opportunity to attend conferences and workshops to hone their skills—then please go to the Go Fund Me site listed on page 3 and help us.
Or, if you don’t want to use a credit card, there is information on another way you can lend a hand.
I will continue to find the means for all of the other fixed costs related to bringing you Gazette Chicago each month: to pay our graphic designers who create the attractive page layouts and many of the ads you see; our advertising manager and associate and assistant editors; our circulation workers who spend four consecutive days each month to deliver the paper to more than 700 drop-off sites in our communities; the mobile phone bills, office rent and supplies, postage, and other operating costs; and of course, the printer.
Have you ever seen a more attractive looking community newspaper than Gazette Chicago? This doesn’t happen by accident. It takes a lot of work and a great amount of resources invested in our printing. The paper stock we use and the fact that this is a four-color product throughout is a significant investment. But, this is what our advertisers and readers have come to expect in every issue.
There you have it. At Gazette Chicago, you won’t find extravagant expenses or annual trips to exotic locales to attend “conferences.”
Will you partner with us?
I am at a point where I need your help. And, I am not embarrassed to ask you for it.
For one, I have poured a lot of my own money into this publication. So be it.
Much more important, I have always felt that what we have been doing for the past 37 years is a partnership. It is a partnership between this publication and its advertisers—for whom we are extremely grateful (please, support the businesses and institutions that you see advertise with paid ads in our publication each month). And, it is a partnership between you and us—our readers.
I don’t know each one of you, but I feel that I know the majority of you. We have a lot in common, even though we sometimes disagree.
I don’t expect you to always agree with everything you read in Gazette Chicago—or the positions we take in our editorials. But, that’s what makes us a family. And, it’s what makes this country the best in the world—the freedom of the press and the opportunity for a young man from Taylor Street to make a go of it and strive to make a difference in the lives of his neighbors.
Every family has its disagreements, but at the end of the day, it finds common ground in its shared values.
What are our common values? I believe we value living in the City of Chicago. I believe we value our neighborhoods; our children; our schools, universities, churches, and hospitals; our political and community leaders (yes, even though we often disagree with them); safer streets; our first responders, public servants, and municipal workers; respect for one another regardless of race, gender, religion, or political parties; and ultimately, one another.
So there you have it. Will you help us?
We have set a goal of raising $10,000. It’s a lot of money, but with so many of you out there reading Gazette Chicago each month, it’s a goal that is within reach.
If we reach our goal we can increase the pay of our journalists, offer them opportunities to grow their skill sets, and provide Gazette Chicago with sustainability.
We haven’t lost our passion of fighting on behalf of “the little guy” or providing you with one of the finest community newspapers in this country. I don’t say that lightly, with pompousness, or with great exaggeration. This comes from some of the leaders in the field.
And, we don’t mind the push back and criticism we receive from those who don’t agree with our positions, or frankly wish we would just go away. We take those hits for you—more times than you could imagine.
Please note that this is not a tax-deductible donation
Gazette Chicago is not a non-profit organization. So, we cannot issue you a charitable gift deduction.
I hope that doesn’t keep you from supporting us.
I do hope that you value and want to keep community journalism alive and well in Chicago and right here in your own neighborhood.
I also want to say “thank you.”
Thank you for listening to me today and for considering our appeal—for accepting this personal invitation to partner with us.
Thank you for reading and valuing Gazette Chicago.
Thank you for reaching out from time to time via the phone or email, or stopping me on the street to say “good job” or “thanks for doing what you’re doing.”
Thank you for your commitment to this community and for being a proud Chicagoan, or someone who reads us from afar and also values our diversity and vibrancy.
I look forward to thanking you for your support and wish you the very best in 2020 and always.
You are very much appreciated.