February Business Meeting – Monica Eng

The February meeting was attended by about 75 people via Zoom.  President Jamie Sommer opened the meeting welcoming people and announcing that this year is the 75th anniversary of CALL.  We were the 3rd Chapter and started with less than 20 people.  We now have over 200 members.  A committee has been formed to plan events to celebrate the anniversary.  There will be networking after the meeting and thanks to Bridge Nelson of Lexis for our door prizes which were raffled off at the end.

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Scott Vanderlin introduced our speaker Monica Eng.  She is a reporter for Axios Chicago where she co-writes a daily newsletter with Justin Kaufmann about news, food, health, sports, education, culture and more. Before starting at Axios  Monica was the Curious City reporter at WBEZ, where she reported on food, health, cultural and environmental issues starting in 2013.

Monica started her journalism career in newspapers, writing and editing at the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times from 1985 to 2013. Monica has won multiple writing awards and been nominated for the James Beard Award five times. She is a fourth generation Chicagoan whose children are fourth generation Chicago Public School graduates.

Scott Vanderlin acted as host and asked Monica questions from a list of prepared questions and also opened it up to people to submit questions via Zoom.

Q: What lead you to a career in journalism and why do you focus on Chicago

A: Monica’s mother was dating Roger Ebert in 1985 and asked if any of her kids wanted a summer job at the Sun Times and at 16 Monica said yes and started working at odd jobs in the news room and continued working there during school. After school she worked in Uzbekistan when she was there with her husband. Came back and ended up with a job at the Chicago Tribune and worked there for many years and loved it and moved a couple of other times and ended up at Axios.

Q: Why Chicago?

A: every time she left she ended up missing it and always came back because it is so special and she wants to help fix what problems we do have.

Q. What contributed to your decision to move to Axios which is a new kind of news delivery? What motivated you to make this switch?

A. Initially she was reluctant to work in the newsletter format. But she realized the news delivery system was changing and what people want is short, accurate, and fast.  They do not really want deep dives all the time.  The people at Axios were also very nice and are a pleasure to work with.  They have a policy of no jerks – you are required to help your colleagues and being a good person.  It is different though to go from writing 8,000 words to under 200 words has been an adjustment.  But after you have done all the long stories working quickly can be freeing.

Q. What is your process for determining what stories you want to write and are there pieces you have always wanted to write or dig into that you have not had the time to do yet.

A. One thing she wants to look into is scam phone calls and has been talking to the AG’s office as to why the AG has not yet started working on the problem of scam phone calls. Maybe talking to the people who call you and asking them how did they get into the business.  Another one is what does it mean that you cannot be a jerk at work and how can the HR department enforce it.  She also wants to follow up on all of these stories that journalists have worked on over the years – what was the problem written about, what were the suggestions made, what was the outcome.  Maybe create a dashboard so people could see what had been accomplished and let people know that they were still being monitored.

Q. Have you ever met Irving Cuff?

A. Yes, she met him and had to answer his phone from time to time. Very nice guy.

Q. What do you think of media like the New York Times who still do long form stories?

A. She thinks it is great, but they can still afford it because many people who subscribe are wealthy and they still serve a purpose.

Q. There is an intersection of journalism and the legal community. What kinds of legal research do you do?

A. Monica is interested in what to look into the history of the law, what was behind the decision.  She does not know how to do that research.   Scott offered our services in finding legislative history – and we could help.  Not sure we can find something.  For example when looking into the story on dibs for parking spots she found older laws saying you cannot store part of your property on city ways – but this changed.  What was the reason for the change?  She did a story on why dibs was tolerated – even if there are laws.  One reason is because it is beneficial to society so the laws are ignored.  For example in the snowstorm in the 1970’s Mayor Daley asked for help digging out the side streets and then they got to treat the property as it is theirs.  Many Mayors will not answer the question.  You can call 311 to file a dibs complaints.  People did not know.  A story was written about this fact and once it was written the complaints went through the roof.  Power of the press.

Q. What do you think of WBEZ’s acquisition of The Sun Times and is this a good thing?

A. Since the news rooms are going to remain separate there is little point. At the moment it is not going to change most. If you did actually join the news room they could reallocate resources to add coverage to things like arts and food and not lose out on the hard news coverage.  She feels they now have a pot of money to help they stay afloat, but unless they come up with a new model it will not be a big change.

Q. Now articles about companies now seem to be mainly press releases and are not deep dives into the company. Why is this?

A. If you are just going to be reporting on a takeover or something there is just not the people power look into detail into what is going on – so they will just take what is given to them to just report what is going on. But at the moment there is just not the money to take the time to look into detail.

Q. To what extent do you find yourself interacting with librarians or law librarians? Do you have a go to librarian?

A. The staff at the Harold Washington Library has been very helpful in the past. She has not reached out to law librarians in the past, but now that she is aware of our skills she will reach out.

Q. What challenges have you encountered when researching the law?

A. Understanding what the laws actually say? For example there is a fight between CPS and Lightfoot over opening the schools back up. She filed a FOIA request in December and they are supposed to respond in 5 days.  Asked for an extension and then finally came back with only 32 pages of redacted information.  All citing cases and such that said they have the right to withhold information based on many criteria – and she does not understand what the criteria really means.

Q. The Axios newsletter feels very personal. How do you engage with your readers and do you think you can build a sense of community?

A. E-mail from the community do come back in after every story. Unlike the Tribune the e-mails are generally more friendly. Editors do tell writers to put themselves into the story to make it more personal.  They do try to reply to some e-mails.  Newsletter should be both reporting the news and a community newsletter.  Want to make sure you see the culture and the community.  The newsletter is only 4 months only and they are still feeling their way.

Q. Do you have a favorite question you have answered?

A. Why did they force boys in Chicago public schools to swim naked for 40 years? Men reach out to say thanks for trying to answer this question. CPS has said they have destroyed their ed manuals from this time.  One answer was because it was cleaner.  She never  thought to ask law librarians as to if there are other records.  They claim that they were following American Health Education policy recommendations – but they dropped it 20 years before CPS did.  Another answer was a lot of gym teachers were former military and were used to this standard.

Q. Do you see more or less interest in journalism as a career with all the changes?

A. She was teaching at the McGill school of journalism last year and wanted to ask the question, but did not. With all the changes Monica does wonder, and newsrooms and not the same. Someone is going to have to figure out a new model – like Axios to help save local journalism.

Scott thanked her and said do not be a stranger and please do reach out and we will be happy to help you.  Monica said she loves librarians and does not find anything to criticize about our profession.

Committee Announcements:

  • Community Service – Lisa Winkler – in December 5 memners helped packaged at the Chicago Food Depository. GCFD prepared about 18,000  meals with the food they repackaged.  In addition CALL members donated $402 wonderful work.
  • Membership – Stacia Stein -there is a new member breakfast on Feb 17th. Open to all new members.  Not many people signed up.  Please encourage your staff to attend.  Do not need to be CALL members.  Information will be going out via e-mail and also will be on the website.
  • Meetings – Jill Myers – March 3rd at 5:30 the media meeting will be discussing Legally Blonde. Claire Willis will
  • Continuing Educations – Joe Mitzenmacher – there is an upcoming meeting on Blockchain, joint session on adaptive leadership. If anyone has any ideas please pass it along to Joe or Tom
  • Nominations and Elections – Jessie LeMar – Elections will open on Tuesday, February 15th until March 14th.  You will get an e-mail from AALL with a pin.  If you lose this e-mail reach out to Jessie and she can help.
  • Bulletin – Matt Timko New bulletin was posted yesterday. Next deadline is early May. If you have any ideas for the 75th or anything in general.  There is not much of a response to a call for news and accomplishment.  Librarians will not do it themselves – so please supervisors submit on the behalf of your staff.  If your committee has any news please

Community Service: CALL supported the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM).

The CAAM is a nonprofit organization dedicated to presenting stories about Asian American experiences to the broadest audience possible.  Their work challenges negative images of Asian Americans and inspires empathy and inclusiveness. The CAAM funds, produces, distributes and exhibits works on Asian American experiences in film, television, and digital media; provides filmmakers with training, funding, distribution, and access to professional networks; and connects filmmakers to people and communities in schools, community centers, theaters, and neighborhoods.

The Center for Asian American Media accepts donations over the phone, by check through the mail, or online. To donate over the phone or by check, click on the “More Info” link on their online donation web page for instructions. To donate online, go to their website.

Door prizes:

Sally Wise and Judy Gasgill were the door prize winners.  Bridget McMillian will send those electronically.