Teaching a seminar about the Chicago media in 2004 resulted in an unexpected outcome for Steve Macek, associate professor of speech communication. Now five years later, he finds himself immersed in researching the history of journalism in Chicago and writing book chapters that already have been published in other formats.
Macek first became fascinated with the Chicago Journalism Review, which was established by journalists in 1968 in response to editors who aligned their loyalty with Chicago politicians and police instead of the writers who covered the Democratic National Convention. Some journalists had actually been beaten by police and felt they had been targeted because they had pencils and notebooks in their hands.
Later at a Social Science History Association conference, Macek presented his research about the historical importance of the Chicago Journalism Review as a watchdog publication for the media. “An acquisition editor [for Northern Illinois University press] approached me and said, ‘Are you going to write a book about this?’ I realized there really wasn’t a good history of Chicago journalism, just scattered books about specific topics. So I decided to focus on media outlets that are typically ignored in academic histories, like the Review, and more familiar institutions like the Chicago Tribune. ”
Macek embarked on researching a book that will ultimately cover the role journalists have played in the history of Chicago in the 20th century, starting with the immigration and labor press in the 1880s up through the recent sale of the Chicago Tribune Company.
During summer 2008, Macek and a student researcher, Alyssa Vincent ’09, delved into the fascinating world of the underground and alternative press in the 1960s and early 1970s. “This was a culture of hippies, radical politics, the women’s movement and civil rights all covered by the alternative press,” says Macek. “And the publication of the times was the Chicago Seed.”
Without complete indexes or even dates on some of the issues, accessing the content meant visits to the University of Illinois-Chicago library, the Chicago Historical Society and the Charles Deering McCormick Library in Evanston, IL. Personal interviews with Abe Peck, a founding editor of the Seed and professor emeritus at Northwestern University, helped shape the picture of a memorable era in Chicago history. Macek learned that the Seed ’s editors attracted the Yippies (the radical Youth International Party) to the Democratic National Convention by promising a “festival of life” but knowing that a confrontation was possible. There’s also evidence that J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI possibly tried to shut down the Seed by pressuring record company executives to pull their advertising, according to Macek.
Articles based on Macek’s two completed chapters on the alternative press and Chicago Journalism Review were published in December 2008 by AREA Chicago magazine, “68/08: A Local Reader on the Legacy of 1968 in Chicago.”
“It’s going to be a long-term project, probably with two more years of research,” says Macek. “But I wanted to publish some of these pieces now rather than later.”
North Central NOW Winter 2009