2011 Antonio Olivo Acceptance Remarks

Thank you. I can’t tell you how honored I am to be introduced by the great Rick Kogan.  I’m humbled by this award, because of the name behind it, what it stands for and because it puts me in the company of such outstanding journalists like Kari, Linda and those, like Rick, who’ve set the bar with their clear-eyed, often soul-wrenching tales about every day Chicago.

I’d like to thank my editors at the Tribune who’ve elevated my reporting and writing – in particular Steve Kloehn and Hugh Dellios. Some of my stories would have been drivel without their keen insights and consistent nagging for me to try harder to get at the truth of whatever topic I was tackling. I’d also like to thank my super-editor, and wife, Margaret Ramirez, who hasn’t gotten paid for all of the contributions she’s made to my work. An excellent journalist, she’s my harshest critic and my fiercest supporter and I’m unable to remember how many times she’s kept me from sounding like a complete idiot. I also can’t begin to tell you how proud I am to be standing here receiving this award before her and our daughters, Maya and Dahlia, who are being extra good for hanging out with us boring adults.

I was pleasantly surprised when Thom called me to say I had won one of these awards.  I told my friends and family about it and they all had the same question: What are you going to say? What will you say? I don’t know, I thought. Am I supposed to say something? It better be good, my wife chimed in. No pressure.  I started to write a treatise on journalism and it was just garbage. Cliché after trite cliché. And I still hadn’t finished it when I got called on earlier today to work on a daily story.

But, then I started thinking about the Stateway Gardens White Sox. I had met them about 3 ½ years ago, shortly after I worked on a Studs Terkel-inspired snapshot about the last few tenants in what were 2 miles of public housing on the South Side. One of the parents I’d met on that story called me one day at about 4 p.m, letting me know that the baseball team had made it to the city championship in their league and did I want to go out and watch the game? It was the end of a long day and I was tempted to go home to be with my family. Instead, I walked over to my editor and told him I wanted to cover the game. He agreed and suggested I take a photographer.

The game couldn’t have played out more perfectly. They were only allowed to play 5 innings and, at the bottom of the fifth, it was tied: 3 to 3. With two men on base and the home team up, Derodte White slapped a double into left field. It was a walk off double and they’d won. The team gathered around home plate, lifting Derodte up in the air and with me and the photographer asking questions, he did his best impression of a big league player.
“I knew he was worn out and that I’d get a good one,” he said, about the pitcher.
With their world literally crumbling around them, they were standing on top of a mountain. And I remember the sound of traffic swishing nearby, threatening to drown out their joy, and that it was just me and the photographer capturing a great story that everyone else in Chicago was oblivious to.

I wrote that story with tears in my eyes and, when my editor read it, he walked into the Metro Editor’s office and pushed for better play. Originally, it was slated to run in one of the back pages of the Metro section. We didn’t make Page 1, but we did get the front of the Metro page, with a nice photo to go along with it.

Those are the kinds of stories that I love to do – the ones that take readers deep into Chicago to show them what life is really like in the city. With all the changes going on in the industry – trying to woo back readers with different approaches and, for me, trying to be more of a “watchdog” reporter – it gets easy to forget that. I want to thank the Community Media Workshop for setting my head straight and reminding me of what gets me excited about journalism. With this award, I’m going to go out and find another baseball team or some other way to show what this city is really about. Thank you.