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What You Say and How You Say It

Guest post by Adriana Diaz (opinions reflect that of the author)

It’s been a week, and I’m still riding high from the warm, fuzzy feelings I garnered from the love-fest we call the Studs Terkel Community Media Awards.

As a fairly new addition to the staff at Community Media Workshop, I was asked during a staff de-brief Tuesday,  to share my thoughts on last week’s ceremony.  I found myself choked up as I tried to report back what I felt after attending my very first Terkel event.

It had been such a great party, the culmination of our staff’s months-work of planning and prepping. Mostly though, the remnants from the presenters’ and winners’ speeches still resonated with me; a sure sign of  powerfully good messages. It’s like Maya Angelou once said, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”

Hoy Chicago managing editor Fernando Diaz speaks after accepting his Terkel award. photo by Olga Lopez

These moving speeches, also made me reflect about some of the lessons we teach at the Workshop. When we coach others in their nonprofit communications; or provide custom spokesperson training, the Workshop promotes methods found in good storytelling: like use examples to help get a more general point across; use colorful words and contemporary references; create relationships.

It struck me that the messages that were delivered on Terkel night reverberated within me, not only because they contained the elements of a good speech (i.e. catchy intro; informing; inspiring), but because the speakers used stories, and found ways to engage the audience. Each of the speakers spoke with poise, deep humility, and warmth.

Megan, Fernando, and Dave are wonderful writers and engaging storytellers, but ultimately they’re connectors. They listen. They build relationships.

It’s like 2006 Terkel winner Mark Brown related in his introductory speech for Dave Hoekstra the night of March 14. Mark chuckled about the envy he often feels when he reads Dave’s work, wishing the subject had told him the story, “But they didn’t tell me. They told Dave.”

Please read excerpts from some of the night’s speeches and let us know how this text speaks to you. If you were present for the speeches, how did they make you feel?

Alden Loury, Better Government Association. photo by Olga Lopez

2009 Terkel winner Alden Loury, introducing Megan Cottrell:

As many of you are aware, as a nation, we’ve grown from a time when we wore our racism on our sleeves to a time when we hide and protect those feelings like our life’s savings–with the exception of the time when we log on and make anonymous comments on blogs spewing the n-word, racial epithets and other divisive language. Just about any news story with a hint of a racial undertone usually descends into a litany of comments that make you question just how far we’ve progressed.

We think about race, poverty, inequality and privilege all the time–all day, everyday. We just don’t talk about it. We don’t openly share those feelings. We’re too scared or too ashamed. But we still have those feelings.

But Megan Cottrell has helped bring down that wall, not all the way but enough for people to dialogue about our differences and gain some level of understanding about people of other racial or ethnic groups. As I was recently telling a colleague, in her blogging and reporting particularly about public housing, Megan has done well in reaching folks who are typically invisible and weaving her own perspective and experiences with those of her sources to pose compelling and sometimes uncomfortable questions about race and class.

She ran a successful blog of her own for awhile before joining The Chicago Reporter where I worked at the time. I was truly excited about her coming on board having followed her work. I thought she’d do wonders for our blogging and her impact was clearly apparent in her first six months. She has shown herself to be a 21st Century Terkelian journalist by telling stories and engaging readers online.

Please join me in congratulating the compassionate and courageous Megan Cottrell.


Megan Cottrell, reporter and blogger for the Chicago Reporter receives a 2013 Terkel Community Media Award. photo by Olga Lopez

Excerpt from Megan Cottrell’s acceptance speech:

A couple of months ago, I was asked by a nonprofit in Chicago to give a lecture to a group of people who would be tutoring kids in Cabrini Green. They told me I had about 45 minutes to give the new tutors a complete overview of public housing. There was obviously a lot of history and detail I could have gone into, but I tried to focus on telling the stories that had been told to me.

I talked about Audrey Johnson, the resident of Ickes Homes, who remembered the wholesome after school classes she took – sewing, folk dancing, cooking. It cost her family a dollar for her to go every day after school for the entire school year. She talked about her step dad dressing up as Santa Claus for the building Christmas party. I looked at a building and saw a place I wasn’t sure I was welcome or safe. She saw her history, her family, her entire life.

I told these new tutors about Doreen Ambrose, who had grown up in Cabrini Green. She remembered her third grade teacher reading her Langston Hughes, which inspired her to become a poet. She remembered living on the third floor of 325 W. Oak Street, the smell of her mother’s cooking wafting through the apartment while her dad watched TV after work and she scribbled poems in her notebook.

These women had sad stories too. Audrey’s stepfather was murdered when she was a young teenager just a few floors up from their apartment. Doreen remembered when the stable families started moving out and more and more troubled families started moving in. She could distinctly recall a young man, a classmate of hers, being murdered blocks away and the terror that she felt when it happened.

After I spoke about this for awhile and played clips of these women telling their stories, a young woman raised her hand at the back of the class. She said, “I think I get it now. I always looked at those buildings and thought, ‘Why would anyone want to live there? And why would anyone be sad if they tore that place down?’ but now I see – these were people’s homes.”

That moment was a little victory for me. That’s all I really want out of my career. I hope that something I write helps bring people’s experiences to life in a way that makes them real to my readers, real enough to understand their point of view.

In short, I want to create empathy in the world. That’s a word that makes most journalists nervous, because it borders on advocacy or editorializing. But in my view, empathy is what creates change — change for the better. We cannot take care of our neighbors until we understand them, and a well-told story can help us understand them in ways that lists of statistics or news briefs will never do.  We don’t have to agree with someone or say that they’re right, but we can listen to them and understand where they’re coming from.

We live in a world where empathy is not widely regarded. Studs talked about how we have national amnesia. I think we also have a national empathy deficit. Our news, our politics, our discourse is so polarized that we are quick to talk about “those people” and how we could never understand them or be like them. In a world of sound bites and constantly scrolling headlines, we have no room and no time for empathy.

But we desperately need it. I stand in a room full of people, who despite claiming to be unbiased and objective, all deeply care about their city. That’s why we do what we do.

Studs Terkel once said “I want people to talk to one another no matter what their difference of opinion might be.”

These days, people don’t talk to each other. They don’t want to. Maybe they’ve forgotten how. But we can tell their stories. We can bring people together, even when they don’t think they want to be brought together. That’s our job. That’s our legacy. That’s our gift.

“Red socks. Studs Terkel wore red socks,” 2013 Terkel Award winner Dave Hoekstra, begins his acceptance speech. photo by Olga Lopez


Read Dave Hoekstra’s full acceptance speech, reprinted here.


Celebrating Studs’ Legacy

“I have after a fashion, been celebrated for having celebrated the lives of the uncelebrated among us; for lending voice to the face in the crowd.” – Studs Terkel

Last night we hosted the Studs Terkel Community Media Awards, honoring journalists Megan Cottrell, Fernando Diaz, and Dave Hoekstra, whose body of work exemplifies the celebrated work of Louis “Studs” Terkel.

Earlier this week two of the three 2013 Terkel Award Winners, Cottrell and Diaz,  were on WBEZ’s Afternoon Shift with Rick Kogan. The panel unpacked recent Chicago news surrounding the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, ( and their controversial move to include photos of the remains of unidentified persons on their site), SROs and the Chateau Hotel, and CHA’s plan for transformation. They covered a lot of ground.

You can listen to clips of Cottrell and Diaz on the the show below:



Remembering Studs Terkel

The Community Media Workshop held the 22nd annual Studs Terkel Community Media Awards last night at the Chicago Cultural Center. Catalyst Chicago’s Founder Linda Lenz, Freelance Reporter Kari Lydersen, and the Chicago Tribune’s Antonio Olivo received awards for outstanding reporting on Chicago’s diverse communities and the people who live here.

Studs, long considered the Workshop’s patron saint, is missed. The 2007 event was the last time he was able to attend, and he passed away in 2008. The Workshop continues to host the Awards to remember the great work of Studs Terkel and to honor those journalists who follow in his footsteps. Last night, we honored Studs with a moving video about one of his most famous books “Working.” As Studs said, “I think everybody would like to be remembered.” Take a look.

Thank you to everyone who sponsored the event, purchased tickets and attended. We are grateful for your support.

Burge torture scandal a reminder of why we need investigative journalism

Photo by Andrew Huff, used under Creative Commons

Photo by Andrew Huff, used under Creative Commons

Years ago, through smart reporting and good sleuthing, it came to light that Jon Burge and his men were torturing suspects on the South Side of Chicago to obtain confessions. One of the biggest stories in Chicago’s recent history, the Burge torture scandal and the news stories that exposed it serve as a reminder that investigative journalism is vital to the health of our communities. After all, someone needs to keep those in power honest.

In 1990, Chicago Reader reporter John Conroy wrote the story “House of Screams,” the piece that would introduce torture in Area 2 to Chicago and eventually lead to thousands of local and national stories about the subject. But this one story wasn’t enough. Conroy followed the Burge torture scandal for 20 years, and eventually other reporters and outlets began digging as well.

Tonight, freelance writer John Conroy (also a Studs Terkel award winner for his Burge coverage), and Michael Miner, Chicago Reader editor and columnist, will talk about police torture in Chicago, the wrongful convictions that happened as a result, and the role of journalism in exposing the atrocities. The first of a two-part series airs this evening on WFMT radio.

Part One: Monday, August 2nd — 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. CDT on 98.7WFMT Radio Chicago and via free streaming at

The second part in the series airs next week.

Part Two: Monday, August 9th — 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. CDT on 98.7WFMT Radio Chicago and via free streaming at

After airing, each part will be available indefinitely for free download, streaming, and podcast at WFMT.

I was fortunate enough to handle communications for MacArthur Justice Center for a number of years while Locke Bowman, legal director at the Justice Center, represented some of the Burge torture victims. It was some of the most rewarding work I have had the opportunity to be involved in. So many people like Conroy and Bowman have spent countless hours and days over the years working on the Burge torture scandal. The guilty verdict last month was a long time coming, and the reporters who followed this story for years, unraveling the pieces and bringing us the news, are a reminder of why good journalism is not just necessary, but a critical piece of a healthy society.

Remembering Studs

by Thom Clark
One year ago today, as we all awaited the final days of an historic election campaign, our mentor Studs Terkel passed away, his absentee ballot un-cast. The self described eclectic disk jockey, Pulitzer prize winning author and cheer leader for humanity would have railed against the media for it’s mis-coverage this past week of worker protests against bonus-buck bankers conferring in Chicago, just as I remembered him yelling at the tube’s cable talkers on a Sunday morning 54 weeks ago when I last visited him at his home. “Will Barack make it?” he wondered as the latest debate was being parsed. “What a mess the Cubs and Sox made of their seasons, again,” Studs moaned in the next moment. Then he moved onto our 2009 Terkel awardees (Scott Simon, David Jackson and Alden Loury). There was never a dull moment in Studs’ living room.Studs & Thom March 2007We miss ya Studs!

Smooth Jazz features Studs tribute Sunday

Eric Zorn, Mary Schmich, Studs & Chris Walz lead 2006 Terkel benefit participants in rendition of "This Land Is Your Land."

Eric Zorn, Mary Schmich, Studs & Chris Walz lead Terkel benefit participants in rendition of "This Land Is Your Land."

Our staff tribute to Studs Terkel will be broadcast this Sunday morning at 6:30 am on WNUA 95.5 FM throughout Chicagoland.

Celebrating Studs

We’re planning a small and thoroughly un-official gathering of folks to celebrate Studs’ legacy tomorrow (Friday) evening: Come share yours Studs stories and enjoy some great food, drinks and company.

5 – 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 7619 S. Wabash, Suite 201To RSVP, contact Maggie Walker at or call 312-369-6402  

If you can’t make it, here are some links to stories and celebrations of Studs on-line:

  • History Museum press release
  • WFMT’s In Memoriam comments page
  • Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion song (listen to it!)
  • Terkel Award winner Rick Kogan’s Chicago Tribune obit
  • Terkel Award winner Tom McNamee’s Sun-Times remembrance
  • Terkel Award winner Mary Schmich’s Tribune column reflections on Studs and the election
  • NPR’s coverage by Terkel Award winner Cheryl Corley
  • CNN’s obit
  • Mike Doyle’s blog entry
  • (Thanks for these to Andrew Patner): 1. One of Studs’ last interviews on Andrew’s show Critical Thinking on WFMT, August 2005, discussing music + Studs’ book And They All Sang; 2. Studs talks about his time at University of Chicago with Andrew from 2004-quicktime movie here. (Awesome comment from the latter: Andrew asks, “You had a complex relationship with the University, right?” Studs corrects him, it was not complex, it was “Mixed.”)

And visit the Studs Terkel Awards page on our home web site to see the video from 2007, the last year he was at our event (Did I miss a link? Let me know if something else should be on this list).

Remembering Studs Terkel, Share Your Comments

Remembering StudsWe here at the Community Media Workshop are very saddened by the loss of who we consider our patron saint. We want to provide a space for you here on our blog to comment and share your stories about Studs.


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