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The [Thursday] Papers

By Steve Rhodes

You can imagine my thoughts when an e-mail from the county with this subject line arrived in my in-box yesterday:


I didn't go to this particular Town Hall meeting last night - I was busy cutting my toenails and watching The Real Housewives of New York City - but I suspect Stroger first denied there was a swine flu, then denied it had anything to do with any relative of his, then said he hired the swine flu because he believes in second chances, then accused county commissioners of trying to blame him for a flu that's been around for a long time and that's "just the way things are," then blamed the media, then sent his cousin to bail the flu out of jail, and finally told everyone to wash their hands.

Going Viral
"Opportunistic scammers and spammers are actively exploiting the swine flu buzz across the web by spamvertising links to pharmaceutical scams, and bogus 'Swine Flu Survival Guides' using search engine optimization of typosquatted domains related to the outbreak," ZDNet reports.

Flu Stew
Sunday at 3:30 p.m. on CAN TV21:

Public Health Inquiry: Disaster Preparedness: Dr. Terry Mason, of the Chicago Department of Public Health, joins other public health experts to discuss how individuals can prepare for public safety, health and environmental disasters.

Twitter Bitter
I'm still thinking about the query put to me by Jay Levine for his report earlier this week on whether Twitter was contributing to swine flu hysteria.

Just to expand on my thoughts . . . some of which Levine included in his own reporting.

First, I haven't been able to determine if panic is appropriate or not. So there's that.

Second, yes, I'm sure Twitter is contributing to hysteria and a lot of falsehoods floating around.

But so what?

There will always be reckless users of any communication technology. After all, the New York Times and the Washington Post created a panic about Weapons of Mass Destruction that is still killing American soldiers.

Conspiracy theories about 9/11 flourished quite well before Twitter was a gleam in any texter's eye.

Orson Welles caused a panic with his infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast.

Millions of Americans still believe Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet, among other patently false statements put in his mouth by the mainstream media.

And there was that whole tulip thing in Holland. You get the idea.

I don't dispute that today's technologies can spread misinformation faster, wider and more amplified than ever. But what are you going to do about it? You can't outlaw Twitter and the like; instead you have to engage it.

It is more incumbent than ever for journalists to do so; their value has actually gone up even if that isn't yet reflected in business structures either crumbling or in their infancy.

Technology is generally neutral. That's not to say the nature of technology doesn't shape messages - that was Marshall McLuhan's central insight. But what's important is how responsible messengers combat the reckless ones.

So, for example, the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and so on have to be on networks like Twitter during these kinds of times. They should be Twittering the hell out of everyone with the facts as they see them.

This is, again, why there is a real opportunity for journalists to stake an online claim - people generally want and need news sources they can trust.

In a world of so many voices, brand authority is crucial.

Flu Fact
The "regular" flu killed more than 13,000 Americans between January 1 and April 18.

- Tim Willette

Poor Chicago
"Quarter-Million Chicagoans On Brink Of Poverty."

Including 87,000 children.

High School Musical Chairs
"An ambitious districtwide effort to overhaul high schools is in limbo," Catalyst reports.

"After a three-year rollout that spanned 43 schools - just shy of the target of 50 - there are no schools in the pipeline for next year. Previously, schools were selected each spring to adopt the beefed up curricula that underpin High School Transformation.

"Funding for the project, some $80 million ($20 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), has nearly run out, leaving a cash-strapped CPS to foot the bill. Weeks ago, funding for a long-planned evaluation of the project was pulled. Gates spokesman Chris Williams declined to comment on whether the foundation will fund the project in the future."

Ad Fad
"Since pulling all its national TV spending in January, Century 21 Real Estate has been making digital the focus of its marketing efforts in a bid to make lead generation more efficient," Ad Age reports. "This week, the company is venturing into the next phase of its digital transition via online radio, social networking and Twitter."

Playboy Prime
"Not to sound all 1987 here, but the May issue of Playboy magazine is a real keeper," Richard Roeper "writes" today.


How 'bout 1975 . . . and even then, hard to stomach.

That's Todd
Todd Stroger promised Cook County Commissioner Timothy Schneider during a public meeting last week that if he'd just shut up about Tony Cole and Donna Dunnings in front of the reporters he could get all the answers he wanted in a private meeting.

Despite two requests since the promise, the meeting hasn't happened - unless Schneider crashed Stroger's swine flu Town Hall soiree.

Bunny Brothel Begs Blago
Arenda Troutman as backup? Or Richard Roeper?

Bringing In Burge
But will he talk?

Fightin' Words
Apparently if you use them Chicago cops are free to kick the shit out of you.

The Beachwood Rocks
* Part 2 of our two-part authorized excerpt of Tribune reporter Jeff Coen's Family Secrets: The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob. See how the Spilotros got whacked.

* Ready For Reform: Chapter 1. The first of a six-part series culled from the pages of the Illinois Reform Commission's final report.

* And Then There Was Maude. A final tribute in five video parts.

* A preview of May appearances in Chicago by Bloodshot bands. Including The Detroit Cobras.

* Who's Meeting Up Now. Including people who used to work at Baker's Square.

* COMING FRIDAY: Kentucky Derby picks from our man on the rail, Thomas Chambers.

The Beachwood Tip Line: Off the hook.


Posted on April 30, 2009

MUSIC - Millions Of New Guitar Players.
TV - "One America News" is AT&T.
POLITICS - When Wall Street Came To My Mobile Home Park.
SPORTS - Tonyball, Bears On The Run, Eyes On The Sky & More!

BOOKS - China Holding Swedish Publisher.


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