Transparency Pages (the blog)

Behind the scenes of an online publication

Writing: Clean, Clear and Quick

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Writing for the web should be clean (not dirtied with excess words), clear (no obscure words) and quick to hammer though. Main ideas at the top, breakout a quote, keep your title sensible (for our buddies at Google), and follow Yahoo’s eye tracking.

Every subject, whether it’s technology, art or marketing, has different, yet amazingly effective ways of completely fucking up the writing.  ”Tech speak”, “art speak”, “marketing language” all mean that no one knows what the hell anyone is talking about.

How I wish we could all just cut and paste. But lo.

Below are some editorial notes:

“When we’re using information from their company’s site, we want to paraphrase so it doesn’t look like the marketing from their site. The very tone confuses our readers and makes them think it’s a paid spot.

I’ll touch on a couple concepts, we’ll start with paraphrasing:

Their copy
XYZ’s vision is to use software-based technology to improve patient care and safety while providing a platform for doctors, hospitals and suppliers to communicate and work collaboratively. Their scalable solution should steadily improve communication levels between institutions, doctors, and suppliers, which will improve levels of patient care.

XYZ’s software shifts the focus of medicine to the patient by improving the technology used in their care and by ensuring that all components of their caregivers communicate, including their physicians, hospitals, treatment centers, suppliers, sales reps and beyond.

We “flatten it” to read more like:

XYZ uses software to improve patient care and safety, and provides a platform for doctors, hospitals and suppliers to communicate and collaborate. The goal of their software is  to improve communication levels between institutions, doctors, and suppliers.

So this change in language is what I call “flattening” – changing the voice to be more matter-of-fact and less spokesman-like.

Now… next level – what in hells bells does this company do? This is pretty vague. Now, my aunt had a heart machine/pacemaker thing that she would … no joke, somehow plug into the phone, then call a phone number and it would send her heart’s data through the phone. Now that sounds cool, that’s a story.  So let’s try to find something specific and if we can’t… we’d have to call them.. so let’s take a look…

…Ok, I literally spent 60 seconds looking at the site. This is what I know:

They don’t do my aunt’s heart thing (this).

They do software for everything related to medical care. The software for the hospitals does things like keeping track of scheduling surgeries. The doctor’s office version coordinates billing.

When it’s dry, just keep it as short as possible. Now the question is their tag line is “Data Software for Implanted Medical Devices”. So I searched their site for “devices” and found,

There is a direct relationship between patient safety and how well a physician and a provider of implantable devices communicate with each other.

Ok, that’s too bad. I wish this was the cool story about my aunt dialing in her pacemaker data, but this is about practitioners communicating.

And that’s okay to say too. Again, we’re not their marketing firm, so we can simply state,  their tag line “Data Software for Implanted Medical Devices”, refers to communication of patient data between health care providers.

Written by admin

February 4th, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Buzz Marketing Success Story

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Written by admin

February 4th, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Business Plan for a Blog Network

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We’re embarking on some serious partnering, so we had to write some preliminary documents before creating a formal business plan. Now, I said I’d be as transparent as possible, and if putting this online doesn’t make our organization transparent, I don’t know what does.

Business Overview: Chicago Art Machine

We currently have the following magazines:

  • Chicago Art Magazine
  • Chicago Art Collection (art trade magazine)
  • Chicago DIY Film
  • Chicago Performance (theatre)
  • TINC Magazine (tech)
  • Chicago Art Map (software/database) for gallery exhibits


Currently the dollar amount coming in is increasing slightly each month, and is based on how many hours the sales force is working.  Basic operational staff is about $1800/mo. The reps are commission-based.  We and we have only $53.99 in fixed costs each month, the rest of the budget is for the writers.

The cost of content is as follows

Content per magazine, per month (average):

Magazine Number of times it posts content per week Cost of each article, average Total costs for writers each mont
Chicago Art Magazine 5 $25 $562
Chicago Art Collector 2 $35 $315
DIY Film 3 $20 $270
Chicago Performance 3 $20 $270
TINC Magazine 5 $20 $450
TOTAL 18 $21 $1,867

So the mathematical breakdown is as follows:

Operations $1800
Content $1867
Fixed Costs $54
Total $3721 per month

Income and Potential Income

Current Income

One sales rep can sell out all the spots (8) on one magazine by working 10-15 hours a week.( It takes about 3 months to build up to that point). So currently, we generally sell out the following spots

Chicago Art Map -  $150/mo, sold out for the next 2 years
Chicago Art Collector – $250/mo – one “slide show” is sold out for the next year
Chicago Art Magazine  – $3,600/mo

Total=  $4,000

Q1-Q3 2011 Revenue

This fall we launched theatre and film sites. But like art, cultural institutions are crunched for cash, so ramping up has been slow, as expected.

Selling software – We’ve had inquiries to selling the Chicago Art Map software. That would retail for $800. For $5,000 we can build a clone of Chicago Art Magazine for another region (e.g. Atlanta Art Magazine).

Film – we have no sales staff for this site currently – brings in just $200 or so each month. This will change in Feb.  Once sold out it could garner $3600

Theatre – brings in about $400 mo. Expected to increase in Feb.  Could also garner $3600/mo

TINC- we let every magazine run for a month before we begin sales. But again, lack of sales force continues to be the issue. That site, however, could be $8,100

Total as sales revenue (minus commission) if all sites are sold out = $19,300/mo

$231,000 per year (gross)
- $93,000 (costs)
$138,000 profit

What’s special about a  company that doesn’t even make $200,000 profit a year? One answer: scalability.


Due to the huge amount of sales force needed to sell all these spots, its unlikely we will be selling 100% of  all the spots out in 2011. However, with a cash infusion and sales reps making hourly wages, that  forecast could change.

Also ad prices are based on demand. Our motto, “as soon as we turn away a customer because the site is sold out, we raise the price”. So ads, which sold for $75 in 11/2009 are now $400-$600. Technology ads are more expensive.

However, what this franchise has in its favor is that it is, at core, scalable. The name Chicago Art Machine came to be because we were able to:

  • Quickly build an editorial focus for an unfamiliar subject
  • build websites for under $100
  • create formulas for content (see quick content production, and subject-matter-expert web),
  • take the guesswork out of growing traffic
  • optimize and automate our processes at an ever-increasing rate
  • continually cut costs

With our gross revenue and profits being so modest, the question is not of this current business as is, but the possible expansion and why our product and process is unique.  Below is a problem with other blog/online magazines that we “compete” with.

What Blogs and Online Journals Do Wrong, and We Do Right

What Blogs and Online Journals Do Wrong, and We Do Right
The Other Sites Chicago Art Machine
The content is badly written We hire out-of-work professional writers, and each piece is edited.
Lack of research or new information (pundits simply re-blogging) Although we use some short pieces, the majority of each site’s content is based on researched information (based on phone interviews)
Content is not frequent enough We post  5x’s a week on our “main” sites – a total of 18 pieces a week across the franchise. A mix of “evergreen content” and “breaking news”
Content is not optimized for the skimming “online audience”.  Articles are too long and appear as “walls of text” We put at least 4 images in each post, and paragraphs are often broken up by headers.
The content lacks focus – local sites repeat national news, go off-topic , reference themselves and use the platform to air personal  grievances Local art on the art site, etc. No exceptions. Our writing sticks to business, and comments are heavily moderated.
They have no revenue model other than investors, grants or partners We offer integrated marketing, marketing services (we help write the sponsored post) and social media  at prices clients could afford during the recession.
They don’t have a writing staff. All the content is based on one or two writers We have worked with 100 writers in the last 18 months.  Our posting schedule is not dependent on any one person, so we never take an unscheduled break.
They don’t promote the site (in general) Operational staff is separate from the writing team, and they are focused on growing traffic and improving the site.  We do mailings, regular press releases, and targeted PR efforts.
They don’t utilize the social networks We are on about 15 social networking systems.
Don’t “push” out individual articles Every article is manually aggregated to 5 sites beyond our own domains.
Don’t aggressively work to grow their number of followers  on Facebook, Twiiter and aggregator sites We spend 3 hours a week manually beefing up our social network following, a total of over 200 hours in the last 18 months.
Don’t know how to “game” the system of social networking SEO and social networks aim to connect people, not help businesses, so you have to push the rules a bit.
Don’t have a phone sales team (which, sadly, is still how sales is done) We thought we could sell ads online, but switched gears a year ago to phone sales.
They consider their site a hobby, and when it starts feeling like work for too long, they stop This has always been about re-defining a publishing business model that could work, as we watched the media industry collapse (founder had contract with Trib during bankruptcy)

Written by admin

January 24th, 2011 at 9:17 pm

Posted in publishing model

The End of the Review Strike

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Chicago Art Magazine’s Great Art Review Strike of 2010 has come to an end.

The review strike was always more complicated than people made it out to be. Yes, I was angry because the galleries, who desparately need media exposure, don’t support local publications. And I was frustrated by the insincerity of some gallerist, who, when backed against a wall and asked “Do you really want criticism, or do you want press?” generally conceded that all they really wanted out of reviews was free ink. And as a former publicist, I refused to be a free PR service while we slowly went bankrupt.

During that time I spouted off on Facebook that we were going to blacklist venues. But we never did. We just cut reviews all together. And it became know as the Chicago Art Magazine Review Strike of 2010.

But I repeat, it’s more complicated than that. In the crisis of art criticism, I think a huge generalization is being made – that people’s lack of interest in scholarly criticism and reviews  means people simply aren’t interested in reading about art.  I have always felt that the style of writing was driving the demise, and I’ve always proposed writing about art (not around art) in a new way (and I’ll get into that below).

Beyond criticism, I’ve felt the mose urgent need was for more information rather than commentary. People are quick to say that I’m not an art critic. That’s not true. Right now my hands are tied, but that doesn’t mean my head isn’t churning away, processing art behind the scenes like a quad-core microchip processor. I also know enough about the audience, and am versed enough with the problems artists face, to make another type of writing/publishing a priority: vast, yet basic information about art. We will never increase the base of local, knowledgeable art viewers without stepping back and providing a rudimentary vocabulary for the art that is being shown locally. They (I believe) need a vast, illustrated survey, from which they can at least pick a starting point. A starting point based, simply, on something that caught their eye.

In a nutshell, you can’t get people intellectualizing about art until they’ve fallen in love with their first artwork. I implore that we let the audience fall in love before we bombard them with a circular discussion about our relationship, yes?

It’s also worth mentioning, since I’m writing so much about myself already, that I didn’t get into publishing because I was a critic or a scholar.  I’m just an artist (and writer) who got tossed into this art writing /publishing thing because I couldn’t even get listed when I did an exhibit. The paucity of press and absence of audience was so profound that my first thought was to take a couple years off from trying to make it as an artist in order to built a better Chicago Art World in which to show my own work upon returning to art making.  Technically that’s still the plan, as I miss the shit out of making art. (I was sewing my daughter a doll and was hit by a craving –  a literal craving – to physically get my hands back into my art practice. I can’t not have a practice for too much longer, artists begin to drown when the don’t make art, and I’m no exception. So although I believe I am helping “my kind” (meaning the art community) by publishing, at the end of the day, I belong on the side of the artists, and not the critics.

And that was the perspective of the magazine, not a critical look at art, but an artists’ look at art.

Anyway, this need to fix some of the local art media problems was the reason that the first thing we did was build Chicago Art Map. Again, create a visual art vocabulary. The sorting of good and bad exhibits can come later, but let’s start with a complete overview.  Even if we have to close the magazine someday, I really want to keep the map going. Until someone else does it, I want for others what I wanted for myself: let me list my show without censorship and judgment. Let me put my toes on the starting line like everyone else.

That said, my artistic goals and definition of success has forever changed after what I’ve seen. I don’t think I’ll ever seek gallery representation. It used to be my goal, but now my only goal is audience. From the publishing vantage point, I see the complete ecosystem of artists, handlers, consumers, institutions, and commentators, and it’s taken a long time to come to peace with the nightmare it is – not just for artists, but for the entirety of the scene. I ultimately forgave the galleries for not advertising because I realized they weren’t the power – they’re as broke as the next guy. The museums are similarly hosed, at the mercy of donors and endowments.

So I’ll close on that happy note, the idea that visual arts in Chicago is a ghetto for one reason. The audience is too small.  To think that reviews is the road out of the quagmire is moving chairs around on the titanic. As people stand by, and defend reviews, I ask everyone to consider, if only for one moment, what reviews are in the model of economics:

Art galleries are stores.

Art galleries are stores that have an inventory of product and the goal is to sell that inventory at a profit. When we “write criticism”, feeling like, in some way, we’re changing the tide away from consumerism, we are merely a part of a consumerism chain in which, like Consumer Reports, experts rate the products so that other consumers can get the best return on their investment.

In the old days at Chicago Art Magazine, we did reviews because they were cheap and easy, people would line up around the block to write $5 gallery reviews.  We will not, I repeat, not go back to that.  We will, instead, start with the writer who has, patiently and gently, made a more convincing argument about why we need to review important (and worthy) exhibits, and that writer is Robin Dluzen, our Managing Editor. I had argued that we can just talk about the artists and not the venue, and Robin would defend the importance of context and curatorial intention. Robin, in her own very gentle, soft-spoken way, successfully argued what no one else could convince me of: that reviews need to be done; these were special pieces of writing that were irreplaceable.

So like a wounded divorcee who tentatively re-enters the dating pool, so Chicago Art Magazine begins publishing reviews – cautiously and more carefully this time. I hope we discuss the art experience that was created within those particular white walls, and not give a nod in a direction of what to buy.

So whereas in the past reviews weren’t even read, let alone edited, before they were published (not to mention not read by the audience, either), Robin’s single monthly review will be the most discussed and edited piece of writing we do. It’s a portion of our editorial schedule designated to  help re-imagine the review form, a review that assumes no previous knowledge on the part of the reader (no art speak or obscure references), puts this exhibit in the larger context of the artists work, and studies the curatorial context that is created. The curatorial fulfillment is reviewed along with the art itself.

Thus with with the arrival of 2011, we end the review strike and pray to God the tech magazine will cover our expenses.  :)


Written by admin

December 22nd, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Quick Content Production – The Art of the $20, snappy post

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QCP – Quick Content Production

There’s the old fashioned way that lead publications to bankruptcy – three levels of editorial, including fact-checkers that documented their sources – it’s the right way to go, but deathly expensive.

Then there’s content farms. As much as I’m an it’s-all-good person of extreme populist sensibilities, even my stomach starts to heave when I look at posts on content farms. I won’t belabor it too much, posts about them abound, but the nutshell version is that content farms are based on looking at “things” people search for on google, i.e.  ”best restaurants in Dallas”, “how to put a worm on a fish hook”, “How tall was Abraham Lincoln?”. Then these “things” are posted in a list, and anyone, I repeat, anyone can write about them.  The posts are then sent in to the content farm, someone hits a button, and up it goes. The writer gets $1. Maybe.

The obvious problem is this: you don’t have to have ever put a worm on a fish hook to write that post. Your post on Abe’s height could be a complete guess, and best Dallas restaurants could be based on the first 5 restaurants that came up in a Google search.  

If you don’t believe me, search the content farms for something you actually know a lot about. It’s fairly horrifying.

So there’s the Chicago Tribune in Chapter 11, and there’s content farms, what’s in between?

Quick Content Production

Our issue is this: if a writer spends 8 hours researching a post, plus 2 hours writing it, we will generally compensate them about $10/hr. We post every day, which means out content expenses alone would be $700 a week.  We’d go broke.

But what if … someone had a basic concept for which to start research, and researched for 2 hours. Based on those findings, and a discussion with the editor, a draft of a quick introductory “survey” post is created in draft form. And based on those two hours of research, more interesting questions get posed. Thus 4 more hours are spent exploring those issues further, and those findings are broken into 2 shorter posts.

In a nutshell, you can say it’s a longer article broken up. Well, not really. One critical difference is that when you work for a magazine, you’re told to explore a very specific story and the story is pretty much set. You do your work and fill in the blanks, making the point they tell you to make (that’s been my experience). With this method, you “go where the road takes you” and write about what you find, rather than what you’ve been assigned.

 After just 2 hours of research (and working with writers who are smart as hell) you know enough to know the issues that are being discussed. Take zombies, within minutes of delving into the zombie-movie-fanbase-discussion sites, you’ll know about the war that rages between fans of fast zombies (the latest zombie incarnation – “28 Days” is a fast zombie movie) vs. slow zombies (seen in classic zombie movies, like “Dawn of the Dead”).

Ok, let’s play the zombie example out, and how I would do that in QCP. As an editor, I want a cool piece about zombie movies. Within 2 hours, my writer comes back and explains the controversy above.  (And “lines in the sand” pieces are always great fun to write about. Every community, without exception, has “camps” and lines in the sand (in clay, the potters hate the sculptors, printmakers vs painters).  Us vs Them is human instinct and humans inevitably divide into camps . Therefore, you can always find “divided into camps” articles that everyone loves.

So within 2 hours not only do you have your slow vs fast topic for zombies, your writer has probably figured out who the grassroots, outspoken experts are. Then out goes the email – write one set of questions, send it to a bunch of people. Unless they’re a star, stick to email. 

By work-hour 3, a few days later, the emails have come back. Now you have quotes and experts. The experts add a new layer to the discussion – new, interesting information is brought to the table. By now, your writer also knows all the good sites that the zombie debate devote visit (because that was one of the questions)

Now the experts bring up some interesting ideas – that leads to the final 3 hours. In hour 1, you’re drilling down, laying out the most interesting of the thoughts.  Hour 2-3, you’re writing to new people, asking for resources and sources, and following up with the first batch — asking what guy A thinks of guys B’s idea.  Remember, every single person who ever wrote a book on the topic is just dying for press – no matter how long ago the book came out. You’ll always be able to contact them, they’ll certainly have a site.

Two hours to finish stamping it all out.

Based on the 6 hours of research, 2 hours of writing, you can create the following:

  • An introduction about the topic, the controversy, the leaders and where the fights take place
  • A roundup of Zombie sites (those will drive more traffic than all the other articles combined)
  • 2-part post – An “in-depth”, 2 part story about that elaborates on two major issues in the community. You can especially do a two-part thing if you got “thought leaders” that really drive a crowd, are true authorities on the subject, or really have something amazing to say.

Voila. Say you pay the person $10/hr, total cost $80. Four article – cost per article $20.00

The trick is to keep articles to 700 or so words and put in lots of pictures.  Between the content in your links and all the posts combined (which should all be linking to each other) – it’s really about as much information of the topic of slow vs. fast zombies as anyone is going to want.

Also, keep in mind, you could double the research time, which we are doing in another series, each article is $40, but they’re fairly detailed, and excellent resource articles.

One last thought – some writers appear out of our league for this kind of writing, yet most writers need work, cash and flexability. Because this isn’t their strongest work, the option of not putting their name on the posts may be a solution for a serious writer who doesn’t want to be associated with “bloggy”, loose content.

Written by admin

July 21st, 2010 at 9:33 pm

The Gestapo of Craig’s List: More failures of Web 2.0

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So here’s a sad thing I didn’t realize until I experienced it. People troll Craig’s list and “flag as objectionable” any post they don’t like – for any reason.  If your job offer doesn’t pay enough, if someone is selling the same thing, poof, off it goes. No questions are asked of the flagger and there’s no recourse to get it back up there.

And it happens all the time. A guy looking for actors for a short project for just $20 for a couple hours work – zip. Gone.

Our post, looking for a theatre research person, got “flagged as inappropriate”. We’re we looking for a hot, nude research person.  Now, just someone who would work from home, doing a short project for pay. Graphic design RFQ, flagged, and I got an email from a graphic designer calling us “sleezebags” because we’d like to see a mockup before we pick a designer.

Craig’s list doesn’t monitor, nor care. You can’t dispute or re-post, the content is tagged.

Craig’s list, on this page,  they link to this “unofficial FAQ page” (yet, if it’s unofficial, why are they linking to it?)

Consider that having your free classified ad taken down is hardly a big deal. It’s not like your dog came down with herpes or your (now) ex-roomie skipped on the phone bill AND scored your favorite Flaming Turds CD. It’s just an ad. Cost you nothing but a bit of time. If you are getting a big emotional reaction over it stop reading right about now. You have emotional issues. You need a therapist, not a FAQ. The authors of this humble document cannot help you. You could post a flaming “suggestion” in the FeedBack Forum filled with passionate references to Flag Nazis, unfairness, censorship,Freedom of Speech, injustice, etc., etc. Many people do. Perhaps it makes them feel better. But nobody will care except for a few trolls who will be mildly amused at your distress. So get Help, really.

 Wow. Except my half hour spent writing it up, and money I have to spend to post on another site.

(And here’s someone else complaining about it.)

Q: “Several of my posts in the for-sale section got flagged, i have no clue why, they were not offensive at all, and were in the right category…The only thing I can think of is that there were people who were selling the same item, and did not want the competition…But I was under the impression that one person, using the same computer and I.P address, can only flag once per ad? So, how is it that one person can flag multiple times the same ad, and get it deleted? anyone know”
A: I cant speak for the for-sale section, as I have never posted there or anywhere else on CL except R&Rs [rants and raves]. I have had several non-offensive posts flagged. On R&Rs, your opinion gets flagged if it does not conform to the majority(generally racist) point of veiw.You dont have to use offensive language, swear or name-call to get flagged. You just have to object to the racism, and you get flagged, and the powers that be will delete your posts. Yet the racists rants are allowed to remain posted. This speaks to the mind-set of the majority of the people who post here,and those in control of deleting posts. Complaining about these posts to Abuse does no good- they never respond to or act on the complaints. What does that tell you?

Oh, and here’s the funny loophole: the paid spots never get pulled down. So you ultimately are forced to pay $25 to Craigslist for “post protection”.

Written by admin

June 23rd, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Road to Hell is Paved With Gallery Reviews

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A lot has happened since May 1. It’s hard for me to get out as much as I should — and need to if I’m going to be an art publisher, as the artworld is a pretty handshake/air kiss place.  So I was going to play catch-up shmoozing, and sell some ads. Then  I got a call and needed to fly out ASAP.

I missed most of Art Chicago, and with it, imagined myself with stacks of business cards, good impressions and verbal agreements.

I came back, the site was in shambles, and once I caught up, I looked at the advertising calendar:


May was blank. June. Blank.

So I began a largely solo trudge up the ugly hill known as cold calling, getting more bitter with each step. Everyone the same answer, “we have no budget” and worse, “we never buy advertising” .

And then this statement was always followed by a predictable pause and a sudden brightness as the assistant would say, “But you should come see the show! It’s going to be great!”

And funny how the truth just sometimes pops out of your mouth.  When the hundreth gallery assistant said, “we don’t believe in advertising”, … it just came out, I said:

“well I don’t know if I believe in giving free editorial to people who are committed to never supporting us.”

And in May, I proceeded to take 5 galleries off the critic’s pick list. About 10% of the list.

And then I micro blogged about it on Facebook and of course I got a lot of heat.  And it did get my thinking. And thinking and thinking. I thought about it so much that when I went to the grocery store I came home with a bunch of random items and nothing for dinner.

But I did have a conclusion:

The reason we can’t get advertisers is because we do reviews.

Think about it. If you’re great, we’ll cover you. And everyone else has to pay because they’re not “good enough” to get free editorial.

Who the hell is going to sign up for that?

Here’s a metaphor:  Imagine a group of women standing outside a nightclub, waiting in line, ready to pay a cover to get in (read galleries ready to buy a sponsored post). Then a bouncer comes and picks 5 attractive women out of the line, and escorts them for free into the building, cutting ahead of the line (read galleries that get reviewed). How does that make every other women in line feel? Pretty lousy.

So what would happen is that I would get on the phone and try to sell a sponsored post to a gallery. They would tell me flat out that I should just give them free ink.

Now I can safely let them know that there is 0% chance of getting free press about their exhibit.  If they want ink, they have to get a sponsored post, no exceptions.

And it’s a deeper issues than all that. The review pick process has gotten fairly skewed, it’s not as diverse a group of critics I had dreamed of (diverse in ethnicity, age, geographical interest, and type of art interest), and we started to slant towards the same galleries New City was reviewing.  And the same galleries over and over. This was on the road to remedy with bonuses for never-previously-covered venues, but .. well, reviews are tricky on lots of levels.

So for the time being, until we get finances in order, we’ll suspend gallery reviews of CAMag.

The next post will be about the editorial we’ll have in its place.

Written by admin

June 7th, 2010 at 7:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Why Does Chicago bother with Apartment Galleries? Oh, that’s right, our crappy aldermen

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What’s the Matter With Chicago?

and Seattle and New York and Boston…?

July 9, 2008


On May 15, 2008, a goose graced the right side of the Chicago Sun-Times’ front page, poking its beak into the paper’s masthead over the headline “Back on the Menu.” The day before, the Chicago Board of Aldermen had, by a vote of 37 to 6, repealed the city’s notorious foie gras ban, a 2006 animal rights–inspired ordinance that came to symbolize the City of Broad Shoulders’ remarkable transformation into the country’s biggest wet nurse of a metropolis.

Legalizing goose liver pâté was a rare moment of good news and sanity in an odious national trend that Chicago has been setting for the rest of the nation. From New York to Los Angeles, from the People’s Republic of Cambridge to the west Texas town of El Paso, city governments are using and abusing their authority to tell the rest of us how to live. Two decades of healthy economies and dropping crime rates have given many city councils the luxury of worrying about less urgent issues, from the last wisps of secondhand smoke to the discomfort of fatted geese. So even while self-styled progressives in Seattle, San Francisco, and Boston take a more relaxed approach to sex and pot, they’ve adopted increasingly restrictive laws regarding alcohol, tobacco, and junk food. It may be easier to smoke a joint today than it was 20 years ago (except in New York City—see below), but it’s getting much more difficult to enjoy a legal cigarette.

Public health measures tend to be less harsh than criminal laws: Drug bans are enforced by scary SWAT teams, trans fat bans by geeky health inspectors. But Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi, author of The Nanny State (and of our entry below for Denver), argues that public health measures may be more successful at limiting individual choice, because they target suppliers. “Public-health nannyism is more pernicious,” he says. “Neither brand of nannyism can truly be enforced—a market is a market, after all. But when government deputizes owners to enforce laws, it streamlines the process. It unfairly punishes business owners for the actions of individuals. Even worse, it’s corrosive to other liberties, including property rights and freedom of association.”

To find the best and worst cities for exercising personal freedom, reason ranked the 35 most populous municipalities in the United States in eight areas: alcohol, tobacco, sex, guns, gambling, drugs, freedom of movement, and a catch-all category of food and “other.” Within each category, we looked at criteria ranging from helmet laws to restrictions on alcohol sales to how aggressively police target recreational activities such as drug use, prostitution, and gambling. (We used proxies for the last category—figuring, for example, that a high number of prostitutes advertising openly on Craigslist suggests lax enforcement in that area.) The higher a city’s score, the more restrictive it is. The rankings are presented from worst to best. After each city’s entry, we’ve included how that city stacked up against the other 34 in each of the eight major categories.


Chicago wins the booby prize for most meddlesome metropolis by a wide margin. After more than a century of Big Apple envy, the Second City now has the honor of finally beating New York in at least one contest.

Chicago finished in the bottom half of all eight categories. The Windy City’s litany of meddlesome laws range from a tax on bottled water to a ban on serving alcohol at all-nude strip clubs. Local gun controls and a public smoking ban are among the most restrictive in the country. (That smoky Chicago blues joint of yore is now just a movie cliché.) There’s a primary seat belt law, meaning motorists can be pulled over for not buckling up, and a ban on using cell phones while driving. The city is second only to New York in the use of surveillance cameras in public spaces and has more red light cameras than any metropolis in the country.

Shortly after taking office in 1989, Mayor Richard Daley blew the dust off an ancient ordinance allowing individual city precincts to vote themselves dry. Today, nearly one quarter of Chicago’s precincts are alcohol-free; the number of Chicago taverns has dropped from some 7,000 in the late 1940s to just over 1,300 today.

The place Carl Sandburg once praised for being “stormy, husky, brawling” and “a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities” has gone soft, even soggy, like the last bites of a chili-and-cheese-soaked sausage dog. “That reputation is long gone,” says Doug Sohn, owner of Hot Dougs, the city’s locally famous purveyor of encased meats. Sohn has the distinction of being the only restaurateur in Chicago to be fined for violating the foie gras ban—a citation that may have had something to do with his decision to name a duck meat and foie gras sausage sandwich after Alderman Joe Moore, the sponsor of the goose liver prohibition.

But the repeal of the foie gras ban doesn’t herald a freer future. The same week Chicago reversed the ban, the Board of Aldermen considered a law that would require all pet owners to sterilize their dogs and cats, an overreaction to a pit bull attack on a woman one month earlier. And after a year in which the city’s notoriously rough-around-the-edges police department endured a series of high-profile shootings, beatings, and allegations of corruption, the city council addressed these problems by considering a bill that would…give overweight cops a nutritionist and personal trainer.

Sohn says this is typical of the way the Aldermen operate. “The board thinks, ‘This is our job; we pass laws,’” he says. “The trans fat ban, the smoking ban—these are easy problems to look like you’re solving. It’s easy, it’s elitist, it’s black and white. People don’t like smoking, so let’s ban it. Chicago is the fattest city in the country, so let’s attack McDonald’s with a trans fat ban. The knee-jerk stuff is a good way to look like you’re leading. It’s much more difficult to fix something like the broken sewer and street systems—why we have so many potholes.”

While the aldermen are fond of legislating health, the city is also subject to laws passed by the more conservative Illinois legislature. Chicago gets moral prudery and public health fanaticism—the worst of both worlds.

But personal freedom hasn’t totally suffocated. “There are black and gray markets in Chicago for all of these categories,” says Dan Miller of the free market Heartland Institute. “These are funny sorts of restrictions. For every prohibition you’ve named, there are ways around them. Everyone knew where to get foie gras when it was banned. You can find poker and dice games all over the city. The newspapers are filled with ads for escort services. Just don’t flout the laws openly, and you’re going to be fine.”

Radley Balko

Sex: 23 Tobacco: 34 Alcohol: 27 Guns: 33


Written by admin

May 12th, 2010 at 7:51 pm

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All Hands on the Advertising Sales Deck

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With some exceptions (features), we’re back to unedited content (gallery reviews) until we sell ads for May June. We’ll start the boiler room teams Monday and Thursday.

I had a flash of thinking about what a total drag it would be to work for the magazine at this point. And my husband’s mother’s day gift to me was letting me spend the morning in bed, feeling depressed and anxious about the magazine’s finances.

But the bright side is that I deeply believe that more than making a magazine, we’re working to fix an infrastructure that’s been making art publishing in Chicago prohibitive for the last decade. The biggest issue being that galleries don’t advertise.

So the first goal is to teach – yes, I said teach – galleries about the value to themselves and to their peers when they advertise. Don’t blame a lack of press for the art scene not being stellar, blame a lack of support for the press from the art scene.

Second, it’s back to sitting down with each gallery and crafting a marketing plan, something that can not only raise awareness to their exhibits, but actually help sell the art.

So here we go – 2 days of boiler room = 10 hours. I think we could do 100 emails and I could make 60 calls.  Or until we sell out May and June.

Thank you Leslie Hindman Auction House, Addington Gallery, Peter Fetterman and 57th Street Art Fair for your generosity.

Everyone else – stand by. We’re coming in.


Written by admin

May 9th, 2010 at 6:42 pm

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New Publishing Models Part II – Virtual Workplace Tools and Freelancer Optimization

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We’ve written previously about our business model for online publishing (  But as the months have passed, we’ve also taken the idea of the virtual workplace, skeleton crew and skeleton budget, and built an entire magazine network around it. We’ve created a new business environment with two main components: an enhanced virtual workplace, and a business optimized for freelancers.

Virtual Workplace Tools:

We’ve given up paper and we don’t pay rent. But one remote worker is a different ball game than 20 freelancers all working at home. Problems arise. So we innovate:
  • A cheap microphone and free software is all you need to make an online instructional videos to teach someone how to work the software. Wish someone could just show you how to create a photo slideshow instead of directions? They’re quick to make and always available for a refresher. See an example here:
  • Time-Shift Editorial Meetings – editorial meetings are recorded and made into downloadable podcasts.
  • Skip the rent, but rent a conference roomthey can sometimes be found on a cheap, hourly basis. We meet at this “co-workspace”, so we’re not all gathered around a tiny kitchen table.
  • Google Docs as 2-person bulletin boards – each staffer has an online document that serves as a communication sheet with their supervisor. Freelancers can log in, see what’s on the list, and get to work, regardless of who else is working.
Optimized for Freelancers:
  • Slow payment (or non-payment) is a plague for freelancers. When writers and editors start, we do “PayPal-Per-Day”, which allows the starving writer to buy dinner at the end of the workday.

  • “Find a real job while working for us“. We can’t offer benefits or a salaried position, but we can help you find an excuse to meet someone whose radar you want to be on.
  • If you’re not going to get paid much for a piece, make it short. If it gets long, make it into two posts and get paid double.
  • “Ask not what you can do for the magazine, ask what the magazine can do for you.” – with our pay, we’re not a final destination for our writers. The most critical question is to find out what the writer wants to do, and allow our freelance opportunity to help them be better positioned for their next step.

Written by admin

May 8th, 2010 at 6:24 pm