Editor's Notebook: Illinois Issues critiques a decade of culture

Dec 1, 2005

Peggy Boyer Long
Credit WUIS/Illinois Issues

We began with a question. What could capture readers' attention in this busy time between Thanksgiving and New Year's? Ten years later, Illinois Issues' December arts issue has become a tradition, popular with subscribers and staff alike.

Over the years, these issues have been visually appealing, as we meant them to be. But here's the surprise: Reporting on the relationship between culture and politics is a challenge, as intellectually demanding in its own way as any form of public affairs journalism. 

Perhaps that's why we followed that first question with so many others over the past decade. Will the literary arts survive in the high-tech 21st century? Who really chooses what we read, hear and see? Do mass markets diminish choices in art and culture? What, after all, should government's responsibility be in promoting access and diversity in the literary and visual arts, in theater, music and dance?

From my own perspective, some of this magazine's most compelling articles and essays have appeared between the covers of those December issues. Certainly some of my favorites.

Among them is an essay by Robert Kuhn McGregor. Is reading in danger of dying? we asked. His answer, "The book is dead, long live the book," was published in 2000.

"The written word holds as much magic as ever," he wrote. "The magic does not appeal to all, nor perhaps even to a majority, but it does attract a large, word-worshipping minority."

McGregor had this assessment on the relationship between reading and public policy. "We readers exercise a power out of proportion to whatever our numbers may be. We are the ultimate sources of societal images, the gatherers of information. In the era of the printed word, it is the readers who give shape to a culture's collective mythology."

A question we have returned to again and again is why government should play a role in promoting culture and the arts. After a decade, our conclusion continues to be that art is capable of knitting together a community and, by extension, a state and a nation. Art can generate jobs, foster identity, nurture a sense of place.

Shirley Madigan, chair of the Illinois Arts Council, says as much in this issue. "If we don't use government funds for the arts, then only the wealthy are going to have access to the arts," she tells interviewer Barbara Ferrara. "I think that everybody must have an opportunity to know the arts, to have the arts around them. Because I believe that it's only through the arts that we are human."

We have many individuals and institutions to thank for helping us put together a decade of arts issues. But we owe Managing Editor Maureen Foertsch McKinney the biggest thanks of all. For the past few years, she has conceived and directed each December issue. 

Until next year, happy holidays. 

Indiana politicians better watch out

Illinois Issues is proud to be a place where young, talented political journalists can get a strong start in their careers. There's a down side to that, though. It seems we're always saying goodbye.

After a couple of years in our Statehouse bureau, Pat Guinane is moving on to become the Statehouse bureau chief for the Times of Northwest Indiana, a daily newspaper based in Munster that has a circulation of approximately 90,000.

Way to go.

All of us at the magazine are proud of him. We'll miss him, of course. And everyone who reads this magazine regularly likely will miss him, too. 

The reality is that, while we gave Pat a chance to hone his skills, he gave us a chance to take the magazine to a higher level.

Illinois Issues has always been strong on explanation and analysis. Over the past two years, we extended our reach to encompass documentary investigations.  

Pat, it turned out, has a particular interest in reading the fine print on state contracts, in sitting through lengthy government procurement meetings, in tracking projected costs and savings and — a skill that is especially useful in this administration — writing and rewriting endless Freedom of Information requests.

All of these interests were on display in "Public work, private gain," his February feature. The piece won him an award this year from the national Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. And for good reason. Pat raised questions surrounding a $24.9 million state contract to a politically connected consortium of consultants — a move to privatize state real estate practices. 

Two months later, Auditor General William Holland raised his own questions about the contract between Illinois Property Asset Management and the governor's Department of Central Management Services. The debate about how much that contract did or didn't save the state is ongoing.

We expect Pat to turn over a few rocks in Indiana.

We're proud that our bureau chiefs have moved on to such newspapers as the Times, the Rockford Register Star, the Peoria Journal Star and the Columbus Dispatch

We think that reflects well on us, too. 


Peggy Boyer Long can be reached at Peggyboy@aol.com.

Illinois Issues, December 2005