2 places to see me next week, and 1 place to hear me right now

Wednesday, September 20, 2017
1. Tuesday, Sept. 26, I’ll be lecturing at the Downers Grove Public Library on the dangers—or not—of “fake news.” It’s free and walk-ins are welcome, but the library hopes you’ll register in advance.

2. Wednesday, Sept. 27, I’ll join a distinguished panel to discuss “Truth and Ethics Across Earned and Paid Channels” before the Chicago chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. That one’s not free.

Bonus: Can’t wait that long? Hear my Sept. 6 interview with President Obama’s strategist David Axelrod in podcast format anytime right here.

Turning a live event into a podcast: A case study

Sunday, September 10, 2017
Last week, I interviewed my former neighbor, Obama chief strategist David Axelrod, on stage. A sellout crowd of 1,000 people paid to see it, and many more told me they wished they’d been there. So I made arrangements to turn it into a podcast.

Photo: Alexa Rogals, Wednesday Journal
Our hosts at Dominican University, which recorded the event, shared the audio with me. In broad outline, here’s what happened next:
  1. I opened the audio in the free Audacity audio-editing software.
  2. I edited the audio lightly. The mics were too loud in a few instances, and they dropped out in a few other instances. Fortunately, I recorded the whole thing on an iPhone inconspicuously set on the small table between David and me, so I was able to patch the troubled spots with almost-as-good audio. (Can you hear the patches?)
  3. Once the edits were complete, I ran the whole file through Audacity’s Compressor function—raising the soft passages and lowering the loud spots.
  4. I wrote an intro and a close, and recorded them on an iPhone—being careful to isolate my voice by putting a blanket over my head.
  5. I edited those onto the event audio.
  6. I uploaded the completed audio to the free Archive.org website, whose goal is to “provide universal access to all knowledge.”
  7. I embedded the Archive.org audio player on ChicagoPublicSquare.com. (The player’s also embedded at the bottom of this page.)
  8. Then I shared the link widely on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Do you have an event whose audio would make great listening? Let’s talk.

Thank you, Chicago.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Forty years ago this week, fresh out of the University of Illinois College of Communications and student radio station WPGU-FM—technically, still finishing a master’s degree—I took my first job as a full-time professional journalist.
Gary Deeb’s Chicago Tribune column, Sept. 19, 1977

I signed on Aug. 15, 1977, for what would be a two-year run as news director and morning news anchor at WMRO-AM and WAUR-FM in Aurora, Ill.

It was the week Elvis Presley died and the week I learned—on the air—that “mausoleum” doesn’t rhyme with “linoleum.”

It was the start of a wonderful career blessed from start to, well, now—which I hasten to add is not the finish of my work bringing the news to Chicago-area audiences.

I was lucky to follow that assignment with a decade at WXRT-FM; almost nine years at the late WNUA-FM; a near-13-year run at the (also late) Tribune Co., including the Chicago Tribune, Tribune Interactive and WGN Radio; and a string of innovative startups: FM News, Rivet Radio and my latest baby, Chicago Public Square.

Even more rewarding than the jobs themselves has been the chance, at almost every stop—and at a few colleges and universities along the way—to work with smart and talented students and interns who would become the celebrated journalists and authors of the future.

If you’ve ever hired, been hired by or worked with me—or if you’re related to me—please accept my deepest sympathy.

If you’ve ever gotten your news from me—as a listener, reader or even occasionally as a TV viewer—please know how grateful I am for your priceless gift of attention.

And how much I look forward to more of the same.

Launching an email newsletter? 14 tips.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Poynter’s Kristen Hare has honored my Chicago Public Square project with a look at what makes it work.

I hope you’ll give it a read.

At her request, I shared 14 tips for launching an email newsletter. And here they are:


  1. Have a clear idea of your mission.
    One of the joys of email is that it can be as long as you’d like. Knowing early on what fits and what doesn’t helps establish your brand—and provides useful boundaries to keep you from going nuts.
  2. Make sure your From field is clear and compelling.
    It determines whether anyone opens your email.
  3. Put your most interesting words at the start of your Subject (headline) field.
    If your subject line’s boring, all the work that follows may go for naught.
  4. Include multiple links in each dispatch.
    Even—maybe especially—if you’re sending readers to off-site content, the relative popularity of those links gives you valuable intel.
  5. Track your metrics religiously—at least daily.
    Don’t let fresh and unique intel go to waste.
  6. Watch for engagement patterns within individual issues.
    For instance:
    • If one link is highly clicked within a cluster of poorly-clicked links, your audience is telling you that either the subject’s of greater interest than you expected, or you did a less-than-optimal job of presenting the surrounding material.
    • Or if one link is poorly clicked within a cluster of highly-clicked links, your audience is telling you either the subject’s of lesser interest than you expected, or you did a less-than-optimal job of presenting that material.
  7. Use social media shamelessly to drive signups.
    Your roster of Facebook friends is especially valuable in building a core audience.
  8. Stick to one responsive-design column.
    Smartphones render multicolumn email illegible.

  9. Don’t waste Subject field space with the date.
    Email software tells your subscribers when you pressed Send.
  10. Don’t capitalize every word in your subject line.
    Engaging, concrete words—proper nouns—get lost that way.
  11. Don’t give away the whole story within your email.
    Approach each item like a long headline. Aim to give readers enough to make the email itself a satisfying experience while also giving them reason (a “curiosity gap”) to click to learn more.
  12. Don’t worry about dispatch frequency.
    One of the joys of email is that it arrives when it arrives. Because everyone checks an email inbox all the way back to the last time, your email will be seen. More important: Make sure every issue is rewarding.
  13. Don’t use images for images’ sake.
    If they’re not vivid and compelling at smartphone screen resolution, they just waste space and push down more actionable content. So lose that hulking masthead or logo at the top of your email; people don’t open email if they don’t know who sent it, and your From field will have made that clear. Don’t make readers scroll any more than necessary to get to the good stuff.