From being the subject of an interview to writing stories – it’s been a fun year

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-ColorGuess who got hitched this time last year? Me and The Reporter.
And it’s our first anniversary!
One shouldn’t have an anniversary without a mushy story of how the union began. Far be it from me to ruin tradition.
The Reporter and I were first introduced November of 2012. I received a call from a previous staff reporter, regarding an interview. I’d just published my memoir, “Becoming a Mother While Losing My Own,” and a children’s book titled, “Children’s Church with a Preschool Pastor.”
The interview with the Reporter’s reporter was my first with any newspaper. It printed on Thanksgiving, 2012 and I was thrilled to see the story grace the front page.
That left an impression on me.
I became enthralled with the idea of being a reporter. I wanted to bark right out, “How can I get your job?” but that lacked class. About six months later I called to inquire about freelancing for The Reporter. Unfortunately, she was no longer with the paper.
“What? No shoe-in-the-door for me?” I thought.
I hate a cold-call but I dialed away. That landed me on the line with Jason Maholy, the former editor. Strike two! I happened to call on Maholy’s last day. He said, “…call back Monday, ask for Jeff Vorva, it’ll be his decision.”
“Aw geez”, I worried. “Another hoop.”
Writing is a subjective profession. Some love my style and some, not so much! My most memorable rejection was with a literary agent. After receiving a writing sample I submitted for representation she said, “Many thanks for contacting me about your work. I have now had the chance to consider your writing, and regrettably, I do not have sufficient enthusiasm for the project you’ve described to pursue representation.”
Days afterwards I’d find myself repeating “I do not have sufficient enthusiasm for the project,” while aggressively folding laundry or slamming dishes in the sink.
This business requires the ability to embrace criticism.
I recently pitched a Father’s Day tribute to a daily newspaper in the area and their folks swatted me away like a fly at a picnic. Undeterred, I solicited a Chicago newspaper and it ran that piece within a week.
Like I said, it’s subjective. Even when the feedback is good you could be left scratching your head.
Publishing my memoir was a horrendous experience. Everything that could go wrong, did! Once it finally hit the market the positive reviews led me to believe I’d be on the New York Times Bestseller list. However, there must be an awful mistake because I’m not on the list yet. I figured I’d freelance while waiting to be discovered.
The Reporter was my first solicitation. The following Monday, I called just as Maholy suggested. “I’m trying to reach Jeff Vorva, the new editor? I said.” His personality was larger-than-life. “Well I guess that’s me. I AM the new editor, he said.” It was as if being the head chief hadn’t settled in until that moment. I’ve been writing for him ever since.
My passion for writing was discovered seven years ago, shortly after resigning from corporate America to start a family. I traded suits for sweats and a designer handbag for a diaper bag. Writing professionally allows me to exercise vocabulary beyond a first grade level, that would otherwise lay dormant.  
My first year with The Reporter has been incredible.
I love being a part of a team that works as an ensemble, which I feel is reflective of our leader. Vorva serves more than he leads. I’ve learned the hard way writing for the newspaper isn’t like writing a novel. They’re entirely different creatures that I seem to unknowingly comingle. I’m absolutely a stronger writer because of him.
But, the depth of my gratitude belongs to YOU! The reader. The communities from which our stories exist.
Thank you for welcoming me into your lives. You bring hope, inspiration and encouragement to the world. I love sharing your accomplishments and I also love revealing your struggles. I applaud those who allow themselves to be vulnerable for the sake of helping others.
I celebrate your businesses, large and small. I appreciate the contribution you’re making to our economy. Those who haven’t found their name or establishment within the pages of this paper are equally important to me. You’re our faithful readers. The ones who reach for us along with your morning coffee.
We couldn’t print one page without you. I thank you for giving me the honor to write for you. Keep reading and I’ll keep writing, it’s been a happy, first year serving you!

Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author, runner whose columns appear the second and fourth Thursdays for the Reporter.

Let me say this about that - They’ve become phone follies

  • Written by Charles Richards

Treating the customer as The Enemy

Have you recently tried to order a product from a large company using your telephone?
  Has a recording answered your call by stating “due to an unusually high call volume, we are unable to take your call at this time so please call back later” tone? This happens just as often at midday as after regular hours. Or you may hear “if you wish to place an order, please visit us on our Internet website at bla,” They apparently are unaware that 30 percent of American households still do not have Internet access in their homes.
  For my own information, whenever I get a real live person on the telephone line, I ask what state they are in. Lately they refuse to give me that information. So I ask which time zone are they in (i.e. Eastern, etc.) That doesn’t work if they are located in India or more recently in the Philippines. I have found that the foreign order-takers are usually nicer and even smarter and perhaps just better trained that the average American-born representative.
  How about the endless telephone menus asking questions you probably can’t answer like “if you know your party’s extension...” If you make up an extension number, you will be greeted with a nasty lady’s recorded voice stating that “you have dialed an invalid extension.”
  “Geez, I’m so sorry,” I silently reply. No longer can you simply press “0” and get a live operator. That, too, is invalid.
  The general impression you get is “go away, we don’t want you bothering us.” They seem to see the potential customer as THE ENEMY. Why is that? One answer is that management refuses to hire enough people to take phone orders for their products. When their sales volume drops, they just fire more order takers. This is laissez-faire capitalism run amok.
  It appears that management is more concerned with getting enormous raises. They only see the company’s future in the next three months (a financial quarter). If they ever get fired, they feel they can go out and get another big job at a different company. Sadly, at least lately, this is true.
  Another unpleasant development is “voice mail.” If you leave a question or special request, you may or may not get your call returned. Too many executives now follow the practice of never answering their own telephones. And of course most secretaries have long ago been eliminated. But the worst practice of all is intentionally keeping a voice mailbox “full” so your comments cannot be accepted.
  Then “if you wish to make a call please hang up and...”
  Much of the American economic system is based on companies making and selling goods and services in return for cash or credit card dollars. American consumers provide the majority of purchases in our country. Why dump them?
  I am sending a warning to American industry! Remember what happened to the businesses in the early 2000s. They based their business plans on the concept that they never needed to show a profit. They would make their fortune eventually by selling to a bigger organization. Most, ultimately, ended in bankruptcy. As it was said, “the bubble burst.”
  I fear that treating customers as enemies is ultimately courting disaster. “Don’t keep biting the hand that feeds you.”

Editor’s note: Please share your experiences with this subject by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

DeJesus at Christ turns into a big career change a year ago

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Had Steve Metsch been able to cover David DeJesus’ appearance at Advocate Children’s Hospital last year, I likely would not be writing this column.
DeJesus, a member of the Chicago Cubs last year, visited children at the hospital, a part of Christ Medical Center, in late August. The night before, I received an email from a SouthtownStar editor (I was freelancing there at the time) asking me to fill in for Metsch.
I accepted the assignment and, while waiting in the hospital lobby for DeJesus to arrive, bumped into Jeff Vorva, the new editor of the Reporter. Vorva had covered the Cubs for the Southtown longer than DeJesus played for the team.
But the most recent stop on his journalistic journey was at the Reporter. Not long after covering the DeJesus appearance, Vorva sent me an email asking if I was interested in working for the paper.
I enjoyed freelancing for the Southtown and had done it for a long time, but a fulltime position at the Reporter sounded appealing. I interviewed for the job and was hired a few days later.
Thanks, Steve. Had you covered the DeJesus assignment, who knows what I’d be doing today.
I see Steve quite a bit in the towns we both cover, especially Oak Lawn. He’s a solid, veteran reporter with whom I enjoy competing.
Of course, that’s a big part of what I enjoy about working at the Reporter. I’m covering many of the same towns that I wrote about while at the Southtown. I know Oak Lawn, Chicago Ridge, and Evergreen Park—the communities, the issues and their leaders.
The transition was simple. I merely told mayors, trustees and school district officials that I was still around, just working for a different paper. And covering the same towns means there’s no learning curve, no period of adjustment.
At first, I passed on an offer to write a weekly column. But when my closest elementary school friend died, I had to say something—commemorate him in some way.
And so the B-Side was born.
Unfortunately, I had to use the column space again to recall my relationship with a close high school friend who passed away. I’ll be just fine if I don’t have to write such a column a third time.
We struggled with a name for the column at first. But Vorva knows music, and I once said his musical knowledge was so deep that he knew the names of all the B-sides—the other side of a 45 record for all of you under 45.
Without hesitation, Val Draus, our sales rep, looked up from her desk and said, “The B-Side. That’s it.”
Writing the B-Side is one my favorite parts of the job each week, and I enjoy the feedback I’ve received. People are reading the column—my serious and not-so-serious musings about my family, the community, the old days and so forth. Thanks to everyone who takes the time.
The B-Side and ImPRESSions, Vorva’s weekly column, are two highlights of the Reporter that he and I work hard to produce each week. But the columns are just part what make us proud of the paper.
Jeff’s got a great eye for page design and creative flair, especially when it comes to headline writing. I possess neither skill. When I arrived, we struck up an agreement of sorts. He’d lay out the paper, write the headlines and edit copy while I kept a close eye on the six towns the Reporter covers—writing news, crime and feature stores and staying in touch with my sources.
It’s been a pretty good strategy, and readers have reacted positively to the look and content of the paper.
I’ve worked on some memorable stories during my first year. I cover Oak Lawn, the good, the bad and the ugly, as well as towns where the political tension isn’t so evident, such as Evergreen Park, Worth and Chicago Ridge.
I’ve written about the comeback of James Sexton, the Evergreen Park mayor who fought and beat West Niles Virus. I’ve known Jim a long time and truly admire what he went through during his return.

Even in bad times, listen for the music that is playing for us

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-Color There’s value in experiencing comfort from unlikely sources.
  My youngest daughter, Rhonda-Rene (age 3), is adamant about who she prefers between my husband, Don, and I. Especially when she gets hurt. Don’t let me be the first responder to a tumble if Don is nearby, she’ll contort her body until she’s broken free of me, to get to him. It leaves me left thinking, “Why won’t she let me comfort her?
  I suppose most of us have preferences for whom we’d rather be there for us when we’re hurting. When our preferred source isn’t available, it seems to magnify the pain, making us feel isolated and alone.
  Alone is just how my friend, Carmen felt when her husband of 35 years told her he was leaving. Not just leaving their marriage, but also leaving the country. Prior to this blindsiding blow, Carmen had been happy and upbeat. Her kids were grown and finally out of the house. She said, “This was the opportunity for reconnecting, traveling, and exploring new things together.” Now, she said she questioned her entire future. She was devastated. The only solace she could find in that moment was in God. She fled her house on foot and into an unfamiliar parish not far from her home.
  With no parishioners present, Carmen sat in an empty pew for two hours, crying uncontrollably. With a spinning head and puffy, red, eyes she finally gained enough composure to hear music coming from a distant room. “What’s that?” She asked herself, as she walked toward the harmony delighting her soul.
  It was a full musical band playing worship music. A small crowd of people attentively tuned in as they played. Carmen eased into a seat near the back. Once the musicians came to a close in their performance, one of them bellowed into his microphone, “Let us welcome our new sister.”
  Carmen glanced from side to side looking for who to acknowledge but all eyes gazed back into hers. This group then stood to their feet, greeting her one-by-one with a full embrace. In an instant, the flame to her anguish was snuffed with love from these unlikely sources.
  Carmen’s experience was an inspiration to me.
  Less than a year ago, I was dealt a painful blow myself.
  Little Rhonda-Rene’s diagnosis.
  She has special needs. She’s considered globally delayed with a sensory processing disorder and also has a finger deformity on both hands. The most severe impact of her disability is her speech, she has Apraxia. Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) is a motor speech disorder. Children with CAS have difficultly vocalizing sounds, syllables, and words. The brain insufficiently plans movement of the lips, jaw, or tongue needed for speech. Receptively, the child understands language and knows what they want to say, but his/her brain has trouble coordinating the muscle movements necessary to produce those words.
  For people known to have Apraxia, an intense therapy regimen is likely to bring about improvement. However, the root of Rhonda-Rene’s overall diagnosis comes from a gene mutation called FOXP1. This gene is one of two, dominant for language. According to the Baylor College of Medicine, Rhonda-Rene is one of seven children in the nation to have this specific mutation. The geneticist said, “We don’t know if she’ll ever be able to speak.”
  I tried to nod throughout the remainder of our conversation but I didn’t hear anything else after that. Mentally, I was like Carmen, sitting in an empty, church pew, desperate to understand God’s plan.
  Initially, I was a little like Rhonda-Rene in that, I had a preference for whom I wanted comfort from. I thought the people closest to us would be our soothing balm but it’s been the unlikely sources.
  Once Don and I had the opportunity to collect ourselves. We too began to hear music playing from distant places. Each time our intrigue led us into one door, a melody of voices directed us toward the loving embrace of various community programs, our school district, respite service, team of therapists’ and an awesome social worker.

Whither goeth the Chicago Tribune

  • Written by Charles Richards

 Remember the old saying, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall?” Or, referring to businesses, “The bigger, the dumber.”

  This column contains my personal memories of reading The Chicago Tribune for many years. Back in the 1950s and 60s, the Tribune was the dominant newspaper in Chicagoland. It actually printed every day on the front page “World’s Greatest Newspaper.” You will note that the first letter of each word is WGN, the designation of the Trib’s radio station and later WGN-TV. The Tribune was the darling of the Republicans, the conservatives and the wealthy. A lot of times those three designations applied to the same persons.
  The Chicago Sun-Times was the competing daily paper for the “working man” (i.e. the union member, blue collar worker and Democrat.) The Times was tabloid size, smaller than the “broadsheet” Tribune, also its circulation was markedy less than that of the Tribune.
  My earliest memory of the daily Tribune was the dominating two-inch high headline that ran at the top of page one. Also on page one was a big cartoon usually featuring excellent artwork and an appropriate caption. Inside each issue would be the editorial page, usually with a very clear conservative bias. There were lots of full page ads from stores like Marshall Fields. In short, the Tribune was a huge money-maker.

Our way or go away
  Like so many near-monopoly institutions, the culture of the majority of the employees in my personal experience was one of noticeable arrogance. In a phrase, their polices could be summed up as “Our way or go away.”
  Almost 40 years ago I spoke at a conference of weekly newspaper publishers and I listed the many times I had experiences in dealing with members of the Tribune staff. Then I concluded that someday this treatment of their customers could greatly harm the future success of The Tribune. And so I believe my warning ultimately came true, to some degree.
  Fast forward several decades. There erupted a major conflict between the handful of Tribune stock holders (many relatives of founder Col. Robert McCormick, a war hero and a wealthy man of strong opinions about Chicagoland, Illinois, Washington and the whole world.
  To solve the issue of letting this small number of stockholders cash in their stock holdings, the Tribune chose to “go public” meaning to sell shares on Wall Street. In my opinion this was the Trib’s first major mistake at least in my lifetime. (In fairness, I must confess that I don’t know of a better way to resolve the problem). As a point of local interest the Classified Advertising Manager Gil Paddock lived in Palos Heights, about a block from our family home. Upon retirement, instead of a gold watch, he was given one share of the original Tribune stock. Shortly after the firm went public, that single share was rumored to be worth one million dollars. In my opinion Mr. Paddock deserved that reward because about 60 percent of a daily newspaper’s income and profit comes from classified ads.

Radio Daze
  Later, in a shocking (to me) development, the top management of the paper was turned over, for the first time ever, to men whose primary experience had been in radio, not newspapers. In my personal opinion only, this marked the beginning of the decline of the once vaulted publication.
  Fast forward to more recent times. The Tribune converted from the old-fashioned “hot metal” production method to “offset lithography,” much as we did at my newspaper. This system was faster, cheaper, and produced a better appearance especially regarding photos. Newspapers had, for a number of year, been exempted from paying Illinois sales tax when buying presses. Unfortunately for the Tribune the exemption was not in place the year they bought the multi million dollar press line. I’m talking about a really huge amount of tax money. Over the years the Trib had accumulated a very large amount of debt which was not unusual for large, growing companies in all industries.

Debt is Evil
  I remember my Dad telling me that debt is evil, though sometimes a short-term necessary evil. His generation considered any bank loan rate above 3 percent was “usury” and that should be avoided at all times. He advised me to save up our income until we could buy printing machines with 100 percent down and NO monthly payments. I followed his advice and my company has been free of all forms of debt for almost 19 years.
  Most newspapers of all sizes and frequencies experienced “boom times” financially in the late 1990s through 9/11/2001. Changes in the business followed in short order. And these changed were not for the better!
  As the well-known philosopher on “Saturday Night Live” Roseanne Rosannadanna repeatedly stated, “Things will always go wrong. If its ain’t one thing, it’s something else.” How true her point proved to be when the internet burst on the U.S. main stage. Big daily newspaper were hurt the worst. Overnight they lost most of their classified ads and the accompanying revenue. Then the display auto and real estate advertising fled from newspapers to internet sites.

Free Falling
  It got even worse because circulation numbers began a free-fall as citizens got their news electronically at no direct cost to the viewer.
  Small local weekly mail-delivered papers suffered the least. But they did suffer. Why was that? Neighborhood newspapers cost only about $40 a year for a mail subscription or a dollar a week on the newsstands. Weeklies had a much more diverse adverting base and much less income came from classified ads, as little as 10 percent.
  But, most important, people truly wanted the very local news that they couldn’t find on the internet. Also local reporters knew their territories in depth. As cameras became instant and cheap, each reporter could double as a photographer, often using their cell phone. Furthermore color pictures became easier and cheaper to reproduce. The one thing parents like better than seeing their child’s name in a newspaper, is viewing their offspring in a color photo printed for all the town to see.

Hell under Zell
  Now back to the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune company was sold at the beginning of 2008. Investor Sam Zell was the buyer. About a year after Mr. Zell bought the Tribune, the entire company declared formal bankruptcy claiming $7.6 billion in assets and $13 billion in debt. Over 4,000 employees lost their jobs since the Zell purchase. Zell’s past experience had been in real estate, with none in newspapers. The Trib’s purchase of the Los Angeles Times proved to create more problems than solutions in my journalistic opinion.
  The Tribune Company emerged from bankruptcy after close to five years. In my opinion, today’s Tribune is a mere shadow of its former self. Most of my friends have cancelled their subscriptions, some moving to the Sun-Times, others to the Southtown Star, fewer to the many Internet sites. I am reminded of the TV show of my earlier mention, Saturday Night Live... still on, but barely worth watching.

Strange Approaches
  The Tribune, in recent years, tried some really strange approaches. One was printing two version’s each day, one tabloid and another broadsheet with identical content. Another project they put out was a really thin weekly stand-alone tabloid product called TribLocal which is free. It contains almost no local advertising and only a few local stories. Working in the newspaper business for over 40 years, I have absolutely no idea what prompted that publication.
  I sincerely believe everything in this column is true but I must admit that the happenings at the Trib may not be in perfect chronological order because all came only from my memory.
  I was recently asked on a local cable TV show, “Mr. Richards, how can your newspaper remain profitable when so many others are falling by the wayside?”

  I froze for a moment, fearing that my answer might be considered too egotistical. I finally responded with what I thought was a terrible answer. I said, “I guess it is simply because we (my staff and myself) know what we are doing.”
  Later my wife who is much smarter than me said “ there is nothing wrong with what you said because you spoke the truth.
  I told you she was smart!

CR 2About the author
Charles Richards was born in 1942. He began working weekends as a janitor at the Regional Building at 123rd and Harlem in Palos Heights. He began working summers in the print shop at age 16. He ultimately mastered every process in creating a newspaper. At Blue Island (now Eisenhower) High School he served as sports editor of the student newspaper. In 1960 he enrolled in the well-known Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. In his senior year he took a summer internship at a weekly newspaper near the Lake of the Ozarks. In his final year at Mizzou he served as a reporter, then copy editor for the town daily, The Columbia Missiourian, while working toward his masters degree in business, Richards assisted in teaching copy editing to undergraduate journalism students.
  After graduation he returned to the family owned “Palos Regional” weekly community newspaper. There he spent four years selling display advertising to local businesses. He later managed the conversion of the printing process to offset lithography.
  When his father Carl retired in 1970 Charles bought the company. When The Regional began serving Orland Park, the paper’s name was changed to The Regional News.

  In 1986, Richards bought a neighboring weekly paper called the Worth Palos Reporter. Later the name was shortened to The Reporter Newspaper. The Regional, in the 1990s, was named the “Best Small Weekly in Illinois five times by five different panels of judges from five different states in contests sponsored by the Illinois Press Association.
  The Regional Printing Company specializes in printing high school and college student newspaper and college class schedules. The company employees 25 full time and 15 part-time staff members. The Palos Regional will celebrate its 74th anniversary in October. Its circulation is stable.
  When asked the reason for his successful career, Richards replied, “My grandfather was a newspaper publishers, my father was as well. I had the best possible education as well as on the job training. Failure was never an option he said. If I did fail, I would have no one to blame.” Now, in retirement, he is excited that his daughter Amy had taken the reins as Regional Publisher.