Thursday, August 06, 2009

MEDIA: An Alter-nate View

Newsweek senior editor Jonathan Alter reveals his Chicago native roots in "What's Not to Like?," an excellent column on the health care debate. Alter is a cancer survivor and he uses his own experience with the health care industry as a stepping off point for his commentary.

The reason I say Alter reveals his Chicago native roots is because "What's Not to Like?" recalls the spirit of Mike Royko, one of the city's most heralded newspaper columnists. Alter was born in 1957, and any aspiring journalist growing up here worth his or her salt would've been a regular reader of Royko's columns. One of the keys to Royko's unique style was his ability to cut through the noise surrounding an issue or event or person in the news spotlight and pinpoint clearly the nub of the situation. Of course, another key to Royko's style was his ability to use techniques like sarcasm and parody to vicious effect. He was usually a real straight shooter (and a remarkably tight writer), but when the situation required it, Royko could be a adept and subtle satirist.

I grew up reading Royko and I used to cut out his columns and put them on my walls or save them in a folder just so I could reread and study them. Royko is one of the reasons I wanted to be a newspaper writer at one point. And as a Royko fan, one of the greatest compliments I ever received when I was writing the original print "Roadkill" column through the '90s for the Chicago-based entertainment magazine Illinois Entertainer was when a record store owner I knew told me one of my columns reminded him of something Royko would do. The column was about Pat Buchanan and his race-baiting presidential run in 1992 or '96. If I recall correctly, I may have even used Royko as a character in the satire—so maybe that record store owner had a little help in making the connection. But it sure made me feel good whenever I went into that record store and saw that column (amid others—this guy was a "Roadkill" fan) taped up on the store wall.

Enjoy Alter's column. Pretty sure Royko would've . . .

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