Alden K. Loury came to The Chicago Reporter as a staff reporter in 1999. He became senior editor in 2002 and spearheaded more than 50 investigations before assuming the role of editor and publisher six years later. In 2009, he was a recepient of the Studs Terkel Community Media Award for excellence in covering Chicago’s diverse communities. In 2011, he returned to his reporting roots as a senior investigator for the Better Government Association. Late last year, he made a comeback of sorts when he began writing for the Reporter’s blog, Chicago Muckrakers.
What are some ways in which your childhood in Chicago affected you later as a journalist and publisher?
Being in Auburn-Gresham and then my experience in LeClaire Courts, I think, gave me a real good grounded-ness about Chicago. And I think it taught me a couple of things. It showed me all of the issues and the problems and the disparity that exists in Chicago. But it also showed me the strength and the motivation and the resilience of people in these neighborhoods, and I got a very different picture of public housing from my years being in LeClaire than what, as I grew older, I would come to hear and learn how people thought about public housing.
What are the differences between the skill sets of a publisher and reporter?
Well, as a reporter and as an editor, you are kind of examining issues and thinking about what out of that is worthy for public consumption. You’re thinking about story angles, you’re thinking about data, you’re thinking about what those things tell you.
And as a publisher, you had to relate to people; you had to be a salesman in the sense of selling The Chicago Reporter as an editorial product or as a change agent, if you will, in terms of its ability to affect policy. And you also had to find supporters for the product and the operation so that required knowing who the potential supporters might be, cultivating those people, getting them familiar with you, and you getting familiar with them.
Did historical events during your time as the publisher affect the magazine?
Well, yeah, the economic crisis. That really presented some challenges. The major source of funding for the Reporter had been foundations. There were some foundations that told us they just couldn’t support us anymore. We lost a couple of big grants.
And then what was happening with regard to the world of journalism impacted us as well–perhaps not as directly because we were never reliant very much on advertising income, but the world in which we were operating as journalists was changing around us.
It required us to adapt and change to some degree as well–even if not necessarily for financial reasons, we had to do it for the sake of being relevant and staying in front of people, particularly online.
How did the business model of the Reporter change?
Since we had never been terribly reliant on circulation [to generate income], we didn’t necessarily have a financial motivator to change. But what we knew was that–at least what we believed is that–the way the Reporter remained relevant was to have the Reporter to be in front of people. So we had to connect with other media outlets in town that were able to reach far more people than we were in the sense of them picking up our work.
We also had to focus on issues that were of importance to the people we thought would be providing us a good deal of our financial support. But we were also interested in growing our individual donor base–with it being like 5 percent of the revenue that we were bringing in. With the media landscape changing and the advent of the enormous popularity of the Web, that was a place for us to grow.
We had enlisted the aid of pro bono consultants, some of them grad students, some of them professionals. The thing that we heard was that the Reporter has a print product that is really being kept alive by a small, but very committed, group of Reporter readers and supporters who seem to prefer the print product. But for the Reporter to really grow in the 21st century, the Reporter really has to put more of its resources and emphasis online.
And so that led to the creation of the Chicago Muckrakers blog. That led to what will now be two redesigns of the website. That led to offering the PDF edition of the Reporter online. That led to the Reporter investing in social media, to the Reporter having a bimonthly event [its “Drop Parties”], to the Reporter negotiating with vocalo.org to create a weekly radio show.