Up next on MSNBC: Lori Lightfoot (again)

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Though the lack of access clearly has irritated portions of the Chicago media—Crain’s last interviewed Lightfoot on Oct. 15, 2020, and has had multiple interview requests turned down since then—observers say more than granular, inside baseball-style coverage and local media bragging rights are at stake.

"Local journalists should have more access than national reporters who drop in and don’t have the basis of knowledge to ask needed questions," says David Greising, a former Tribune columnist who now contributes a monthly column to Crain’s and now heads the watchdog Better Government Association.

"Chicagoans have an interest in the mayor being available to reporters for in-depth interviews where nuances can be explored," he says. "If national reporters are getting the lion’s share of those, Chicago residents are being short-changed."

In part, the data on Lightfoot’s interviews reflects the reality that modern media is splintered, making it difficult for any mayor to reach a mass audience. National media interviews allow the mayor to shape perceptions of the city while appealing to her progressive base by hitting the outlets those people watch and read, says former Tribune editor Tim Franklin, now a professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

But part of it is Lightfoot herself, he adds. "For whatever reason, she doesn’t seem to want to get into in-depth interviews with individual outlets where she may get pushed really hard on some of these very challenging issues facing the city."

A City Hall insider seconds that view, noting that when the mayor feels she’s under pressure on crime rates, school strikes or other woes, she is inclined to seek a friendly venue to talk about it, and those sympathetic ears are likely to be found at outlets like MSNBC. The mayor understands that worsens her relationship with local media, the insider says, but "she doesn’t care."

In a statement, a Lightfoot spokesperson says the mayor’s office has used a variety of media to "communicate with residents and advocate on behalf of Chicago," including panel discussions, social media and public events. Since September 2019, they say, the mayor has held 180 press conferences—an average of two per week—"which offer reporters an opportunity to ask an array of questions, both on and off topic."

"We will continue to use a variety of opportunities to both advocate for our beloved city, and communicate with residents, all for the betterment of all."

MSNBC did not respond to a request for comment.

Lightfoot, of course, came into office with a compelling story: a self-made attorney and nonpolitician who rose to become the first African American woman and openly gay person to be Chicago’s mayor.

Here’s what the record shows:

• While the mayor often spends a fraction of the scheduled time reflected in her records on the air, the total allotted minutes for MSNBC also exceeds that of local papers: MSNBC interviews accounted for more than 17 hours of the mayor’s scheduled time since May 2019, while together, the Sun-Times and Tribune got just over six hours.

• The mayor granted 25 interviews to CNN, involving nearly 10 hours of her time. That outpaces WGN-TV and radio, where she had 18 scheduled interviews, totaling 4.5 hours.

• There were 13 scheduled interviews, plus one photo shoot, with the New York Times and its magazine—as many as the hometown Tribune and more than the Sun-Times. The Washington Post received four scheduled interviews. Time magazine and the New Yorker were each scheduled for two. The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Rolling Stone, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour and Elle were each scheduled for one.

• On the local airwaves, public media outlets—WTTW, with 13, and WBEZ, with 10—ranked in the top 10 for one-on-ones with the mayor. But Lightfoot was an even more frequent guest on WVON-AM, the oldest Black-oriented radio station in Chicago, where she had 15 scheduled interviews. She also had eight scheduled with V-103, the R&B and throwback station, mostly with "Chicago Speaks" host Darryl Dennard.

• Smaller or independent local media, including ProPublica, the Triibe, the Windy City Times, and N’Digo, were scheduled for one interview each, though some could have been part of smaller ethnic media roundtables the mayor has hosted. The Triibe was also granted an interview as part of the mayor’s two-year anniversary tour, which is blocked off on the mayor’s schedule for two hours on May 19, 2021.

While on the presidential campaign trail, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama employed the same "go national" technique, avoiding local interviews that might touch on sensitive subjects like his relationship to power broker Tony Rezko in favor of chats with TV networks and the like, recalls former WLS-TV reporter and former BGA chief Andy Shaw. National correspondents "are not going to hold her accountable. . . .You get much more of a pass from the national media."

Still, Lightfoot’s style is different from those of earlier mayors. Richard M. Daley "frequently declined national interviews because Chicagoans didn’t much care about the mayor’s national profile," says former Daley deputy press secretary Carolyn Grisko. Sources close to Rahm Emanuel say he routinely gave only about half a dozen national media interviews a year for much the same reason, though he’d often pick up the phone to call for an off-the-record chat.

In national appearances, the mayor is "not going to get pressed on the specifics of all the shootings over the July Fourth weekend, how they happened and what she’s going to do. It’s more big-picture existential issues," Northwestern’s Franklin says. "I think that’s probably why she’s doing it. And I would expect her not to stop doing it anytime soon."

via Crain’s Chicago Business

July 9, 2021 at 08:02AM

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