Winter 2018

Big Ten Media Days continues with Urban Meyer and Lovie Smith

By Nick Mantas
Medill Reports

Day 2 of Big Ten Media Days featured coaches with different realistic goals. Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer is searching for another national title while Illinois Head Coach Lovie Smith is looking to win a single game in the Big Ten conference this year.

Our reporters weighed on on both coaches and how one team is looking to heal after a death in the off season.


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Big Ten Media Days kicks off with Fitzgerald, Harbuagh & more

By Nick Mantas
Medill Reports

Big Ten conference head football coaches stepped up to the microphone to face the media and talk about their upcoming seasons. The Medill Reports sports team was at the 2018 Big Ten Media Days as well.


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Is entrepreneurship the next Cuban revolution?

The story of a small one-year-old magazine encapsulates the still-tough media and business atmosphere in Cuba

By Vangmayi Parakala

HAVANA – Halfway through our nine days in Cuba, when a colleague and I find a bilingual magazine on Cuban entrepreneurship, we are intrigued at its very existence.

Itself a fledgling media start-up, Negolution’s aim to cover business-culture in the country is far removed from the state-run style and socialist ends of Cuba’s one-party system.

But the magazine we learn, is now close to two years old. Run by Marta Deus, 31, and Rigo Garcia Berriel, 26, Negolution covers a range of stories—from profiles of up-and-coming Cuban businesses to interviews with established international entrepreneurs. It also disseminates information useful to all possible stakeholders inhabiting a brand-new ecosystem within the Cuban economy: private businesses.

Deus and Berriel ensure that the magazine is printed in Spanish and English— an important marker of their ambition in a country that branded the United States as “Yankee imperialists” and constricted English education after the 1959 Cuban revolution.

“English is the language of business. We think entrepreneurs should know English,” says Deus. “We were very clear about this from the beginning.”

Negolutionis headquartered in Miramar, one of Havana’s most upscale neighborhoods. As Deus and Berriel welcom me into its sparsely-furnished living area, I can’t help but ask if I was reading the magazine’s name right: “Negolution” felt like a clever and deliberate comment on the anti-privatization sentiment in Cuba’s socialist history. Was “negocios,” the Spanish word for business, mashed up with the English word “revolution?”

“Solution, too,” Deus is quick to chime in. This, she says, is what the magazine wants to provide for young and struggling entrepreneurs, hungry for better access to news and advice about developments in the business world.

This is no small mission.

In a country where any media—other than otherwise sclerotic state-run mouthpieces—are legally contentious, Negolution itself has also to deal with the near impossibility of access to forms of production-and-distribution that would be routine in any modern economy.

Yet, in the past five years, a crop of many such independent, Cuba-focused magazines and news outlets have started mushrooming across the country. There are now roughly 20 magazines like Vistar (covering art and culture), El Estornudo (focusing on long form journalism) and OnCuba (which covers a range of topics including culture, politics, economy, sport and science), that have flourished in a legally gray, and logistically chaotic area.

Living between the laws

Negolution’s goal of becoming a catalyst for socio-cultural change risks running afoul of Article 52 of the Cuban Constitution, which prohibits the existence of privately-run media. Article 53, while recognizing freedom of the press does so by limiting it towards the “ends of the socialist society.”

Despite putting together a year’s worth of monthlies, with stories from 17 different contributors located in different parts of Cuba and the world, Negolution is run as a website registered in Mexico. The apartment that they’re located in—the one where I’m meeting them—is a “casa particular” or private property, belonging to Deus’s father.

Of the two other rooms in the house, one is for her other business venture, a financial consulting firm, and the third room is a large and handsome office-space. It overlooks Miramar’s neat tree-lined streets that are home to countless international businesses and foreign diplomats and entrepreneurs.

While the room we are sitting in has a stack of printed hardcopies of the magazine’s latest issue, Berriel tells me that these are courtesy copies reserved only for advertisers and guests. Negolution, like most of its counterparts, is produced like a print magazine, whose .pdf copies are circulated through El Paquete de la Semana (The Package of the Week), a system that is itself also illegal but operating in a gray zone.

An offline data delivery system, The Package makes sure that Negolution reaches Cuban doorsteps in a 1-terabyte drive, through a network of trusted distributors. The latest soap operas, movies, and music from neighboring countries, too, are included.

Initially, Berriel found that there were three verticals of El Paquete, with different source-distributors.

“So, we released the magazine on all three, with a unique digital code on the cover released through each one,” Berriel says. “When someone tells us that they’ve read us on El Paquete, we ask them to recall the code, the version, so that we can keep track of which matrix is doing well for us.” After months of trial and error, Negolution figured which particular matrix of The Package was doing better for them than the others.

Many Cubans we spoke to referred to The Package with a common phrase: “illegal but tolerated”. As long as there is no pornography or anti-government propaganda circulated through The Package, the government allows it to exist.

The government, according to one theory, turns a blind eye to these otherwise-illegal ventures because they provide to the public what the government has yet not been able to. These also serve as safety valves, taking care, at least temporarily, of rising public discontent about the country’s inferior infrastructure and poor access to information.

When seen through The Package’s circulation, these magazines seem almost as unregulated as the party flyers handed out on Havana’s streets past midnight. And The Package, too, is an unregulated network of piracy, growing every day. Unless internet access and mobile data services in Cuba really pick up, Deus and Berriel’s job will only keep getting more complicated.

Change through reform

Despite existing and circulating under these constraints, the magazine El Estornudo even went on to win an award at the 2017 Gabriel Garcia Marquez Journalism Festival in Medellin, Colombia. The awards, instituted by the Gabriel García Márquez Foundation for New Ibero-American Journalism aim to “acknowledge and incentivize the search for excellence, innovation, rigor in dealing with facts, and ethical coherence on the part of journalists publishing regularly in Spanish and Portuguese for audiences in the Americas, Spain, and Portugal in an age of upheaval in journalism.”

Whatever its legal status, The Package’s popularity has helped these independent magazines create cracks in the well-cemented hold of traditional, socialist news publications: Granma, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party and Juventud Rebelde, run by the Young Communist League have both been operational since 1965, and Trabajadores published by the government-controlled Central Union of Cuban Workers has been running since 1970.

In 2017— the year that Negolution turned one— the number of Cubans engaged in non-public sector jobs grew to about 567,000 from 157,000 in 2010 when then President Raul Castro had pushed for privatization. This increased number translates to roughly 12 percent of Cuba’s workforce.

As Deus and Berriel try to ride and help raise this tide, they note that the government is also learning through the process, just like they are, as to what enterprises need in order to thrive.

“This is a government that has never had private business before. They have to deal with this new reality,” says Berriel. By being “respectful in covering this change, he says they’d “achieve more things and help in it.”

But not all journalists though toe this reformist line. Some journalists sidestep government scrutiny by avoiding words that might trigger government scrutiny, says culture reporter Veronica Vega.

Vega writes for Havana Times, another independent and online-only publication edited in Nicaragua. Others, like Luis Manuel Otero and Yanelis Nunez Leyva protest by showcasing silenced or nonconformist voices on their website, Museum of Dissidence.

“A little more effort”

Meanwhile, President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who took charge in April 2018, has been hailed as an accessible, open-minded leader, pushing for greater internet access in Cuba. But in a leaked video from 2017, Canel was seen telling fellow party workers that the government would take down OnCuba, a website that, he said, was aggressively publishing anti-Revolution content.

Back at Negolution’s office, Berriel says that this uncertainty in Cuba’s media-and-entrepreneurship environment was already finding roots with Donald Trump’s ascension as President of the United States. The Obama-era thawing of relations between the countries had brought tourism and investment into Cuba. This, he adds, has slowed since Trump took office.

“We feel isolated again, like it was before Obama,” he stresses.

Despite this, Negolution is unrelenting in its international ambitions. At the end of 2017, Deus had attended the Global Entrepreneurship Summit—with 1500 participating delegates from 160 countries—in India.

“Now more than ever, it’s very important to continue strengthening global relationships, and maintain exchanges and collaborations,” Deus says. “We want to show that though this is our reality right now, we’re still trying to do great things here. It’s just going to take a little more effort.”

Photo at top: A sample of some of Negolution’s issues. (Source: Negolution’s Twitter page)

Meg Wolitzer discusses “The Female Persuasion” at Women and Children First bookstore

By Gwen Aviles
Medill Reports

Seating was difficult to come by at the Meg Wolitzer author talk held by Women and Children First bookstore in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago on April 24.

The event was crammed with aspiring authors, feminists and aspiring feminist authors alike clamoring to get a look at literary greatness. Those who failed in the game of musical chairs were sprawled on the wooden floor with their Moleskine notebooks, craning their heads to get a peak at Wolitzer in conversation with Greta Johnson, a Chicago-based journalist and WBEZ host. When even floorspace ran low, some attendees plopped themselves on the stepping stools meant for reaching the highest bookshelves, while others leaned against bookcases.

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Chicago CTA performers bring happiness to your commute

By Nick Mantas
Medill Reports

When commuting on the L, we often find ourselves being serenaded by the musical artistry of some of Chicago’s musicians. Whether they’re seasoned musicians or still working on their craft, they always entertain in one way or another.

The life of a performer isn’t always a pleasant one, especially in the life of a CTA performer where the audience never asked you to be there. A ten-dollar license grants your permission to perform as much as you’d like at the designated performing stations that have wider platforms: Jackson Red Line station, Washington Blue Line station and Jackson Blue Line station.

This story looks at this experience from the musician’s perspective and what they get out of the experience to perform for you before your ride home.

Photo at top: CTA Performers at Jackson Station play for hundreds of commuters a day. (Nicholas Mantas/MEDILL)

The Chicago Wildfire: Chicago’s Professional Ultimate Frisbee Team

By Nick Mantas
Medill Reports

Chicago has a professional ultimate Frisbee team, the Chicago Wildfire. Professional Ultimate Frisbee is played within the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL), comprised of teams all across the country including three Canadian teams.

With a large youth movement of the sport in the Chicago suburbs, the Wildfire is reaching out to all parts of Chicago to spread their love for the sport.

It’s early in the season for the Wildfire and they’re looking to make a run for the 2018 AUDL Championship.

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Annual blessing of the Bodega Bay fishing fleet marks a shorter and uncertain salmon season

By Rebecca Fanning
Bodega Bay, Calif.

The Karen Jeanne rocks and sways as Dick Ogg steers out of Bodega Harbor, past the rocky breakwall where surf-casting fishermen wave from their perches.

Behind him, an array of boats fall into line, each decorated with signs and flags, their decks full of fishermen, families and friends. To some this route is a familiar morning commute, the first turn on a many-miles journey in pursuit of albacore tuna, salmon, Dungeness crab or sablefish, depending on the season. To commercial fishermen the harbor marks the safe haven after a dangerous journey. For others, today offers a rare boating adventure – a chance to picnic, take photos and crack open a beer before noon.

AN OCEAN IN TRANSITION

But today is about more than just socializing. It’s day two of the 45th annual Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Festival and time for the annual Blessing of the Fleet, a centuries-old tradition which began in predominantly Catholic, Mediterranean fishing communities. According to tradition, a priest or pastor blesses the community’s fishing boats to ensure a bountiful harvest and safe return to the harbor.

Family and friends on board Ogg’s boat the Karen Jeanne. (Rebecca Fanning/Medill)

Dick Ogg’s slender build, kind expression and his smooth, tanned skin makes him appear younger than his 65 years. He estimates that he has attended the blessing for more than 25 years, though he’s lived in Sonoma County for much longer, moving here with his family when he was 7. The retired electrician once used fishing as a way to supplement his income, but now he’s taken to the water full-time.

“I’m always reminded of guys I’ve known who aren’t around anymore. Things happen out at sea.” – Dick Ogg

Ogg tells the story of a friend who was run over in a shipping lane, and another who passed away out at sea. But death is only one kind of tragedy that strikes the area’s fishermen.

In Bodega Bay, the blessing tradition began nearly 60 years ago and marked the start of a once-fruitful salmon season. But as regulators scramble to protect declining salmon populations, the season has become shorter and shorter. The California Fish and Wildlife announced earlier this month that commercial salmon fishing in this area would open late – not until July 26 –  and would run for barely two months. The late start cuts the commercial season in half, and with it the chance to make a living.

“The salmon fishery has been diminished to the point that there’s not enough money to make it through the season,” Ogg says, adding that Dungeness crab is the only fishery remaining that provides close to enough money to support working fishermen in the bay. And even then the owners of boats often can’t afford full-time employees when crab season slows.

“I have some bills that aren’t going away,” says one of the crew members on Ogg’s boat.  He tells me about his fear of a less-than-lucrative salmon season and his plan to seek summer work in Alaska’s more fruitful Bristol Bay or as a tuna fisherman in his native Atlantic waters off the east coast.

He says he’s not planning to wait to find out how the salmon yield. He’s already contacted several commercial fishing vessels in hopes of hopping aboard.

For now Pacific salmon join red abalone and Pacific halibut on the list of closed California fisheries. This year marks the first-ever closure for recreational red abalone, though the commercial fishery has been closed since 1996 and other abalone species placed on endangered species lists.

BLESSING WHAT REMAINS

Right now, Ogg is fishing for black cod, a sustainable white fish often called sablefish, considered a best choice or good alternative by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s seafood watch. But black cod quotas are limited, and the real money still comes from Dungeness crab, a declining industry.

As the boat turns the bend, dense waves crash against Bird Rock, a local landmark named for the persistent birds that land on its surface, their white waste leaving a kind of organic graffiti on the gray stone. The skies are a brilliant blue, but dark clouds linger at their edges, a reminder of the dangers that lurk in open oceans.

Out on the water the harbormaster radio announces the start of the ceremony. The priest leans over a woven flower wreath and the prayers begin.

On board the Karen Jeanne, the crew goes silent, necks craned as all listen to the Lord’s Prayer, reminders of fishermen past and a few references to Jesus and his admiration for fishermen.

Ogg steers the boat closer to the action. “I could use all the blessing I can get,” he says.

As storm clouds cover the sun and boats speed back to the safety of the harbor, the priest blesses each boat, scattering holy water from a gold chalice into the salty air. Before he’s fully docked, raindrops speckle Ogg’s glasses and guests duck into the cabin, reminded of the uncertainty of nature and life on the water.

Photo at top: Fisherman Dick Ogg steers his boat the Karen Jeanne to the Blessing of the Fleet ceremony on Bodega Bay. (Rebecca Fanning/Medill)

Local candy store takes customers on a sweet adventure

By Loumay Alesali
Medill Reports

Customers at Windy City Sweets come for the variety of handmade fine chocolates and candies, but they also get a unique experience.

Store owner John Manchester builds strong relationship with shoppers through a welcoming customer service, making small conversations and having holiday or special-occasion-themed candy.

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Syrian refugee women building a new life in Illinois

Loumay Alesali
Medill Reports

The journey of Hanan Fayoumi and her four children from Damascus, Syria to Rockford was full of struggles and unpredictability.

She left her home with her husband and kids after violence escalated in 2012 and went to her parents’ big house in a safe village. They stayed with all of her siblings and their families who fled their houses too.

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These women of color in Chicago are shattering gender and racial stereotypes through improv

By Jonathan Skinner
Medill Reports

At the Annoyance Theater, a place known for celebrating more absurd brands of comedy, Matt Damon Improv is doing something that shouldn’t be absurd, providing a place for women of color to perform freely in the acting community. Their variety show tackles social, racial, and cultural issues every Sunday Night at 9:30 pm.

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