One of the best examples I can think of is coverage of the death penalty when I was running the newsroom at the Chicago Tribune. Our reporters examined whether the death penalty was fairly applied -- that is did a poor, black man living in Illinois have a better chance of being sentenced to death for a crime than a more affluent white man? Our reporting suggested that the answer to that question was “Yes” and the stories we wrote prompted the then Republican governor of Illinois to slap a moratorium on executions in the state until reforms were undertaken. That is an excellent example of public interest journalism, the kind that gives voice to those who can't afford a megaphone.
One of our first stories at the CNC was a piece in which we reported on the huge profits being logged by the company that paid the city to take over Chicago’s parking meter franchise. It is a secretive process and we showed how the company that got the contract was making lots of money off it and raised questions about whether citizens of Chicago would have been better off keeping the franchise.
O’Shea: I agree with Dan. I am an optimist. So is Peter Osnos, the co-founder of Chicago News Cooperative who played a huge role in getting this organization off the ground. When I got into journalism, you had to be a wealthy person like Sam Zell to start a newspaper. We just started a news organization in Chicago with next to nothing.
Moro: How has your experience of editing the LA Times and the Chicago Tribune helped you run a news coop?
O’Shea: My experiences in Chicago and LA taught me to stay focused on what you are trying to do and don't get distracted by criticism and all of the people who like to take shots at you. I also learned the value of great journalism and picking people you can trust. There is no substitute for good people.
Moro: Why and when did you get into journalism?
O’Shea: I became a journalist in 1967 when I was in the U.S. Army. Basically I got into journalism in the Army to get out of the infantry. After the Army, I returned to journalism school at the University of Missouri and got my master's degree. I then went to work at The Des Moines Register in 1971, my first job on a daily.
Moro: Can you say anything about your forthcoming book?
O’Shea: I am working on a narrative about the collapse of the Times Mirror Tribune merger as a microcosm of what happened to the American newspaper. It is an epic tale.
Moro: O.K., I wish you the very best, Jim. And I hope that Chicago News Cooperative will pioneer a new business model for the news industry.O’Shea: Thank you, Nikhil.