Les Jacobson at the office of the Evanston RoundTable (Photo by Karen Young)

I am thrilled and privileged to write and edit for the RoundTable. My odyssey with the newspaper began some 15 years ago when I approached Mary and Larry Gavin about…But wait! I’m getting ahead of myself.

The actual odyssey began in New York, where I grew up in the 1950s and early ’60s and loved reading the city’s seven daily newspapers – from the august New York Times in the morning to the sprightly World-Telegram and Sun my father brought home every night and which I pored over for news of my beloved Yankees and Mickey Mantle.

I came to Chicago in 1963 to attend the University of Illinois and worked at the Sun-Times/Daily News as a classified ad-taker (3 lines for $9) to pay the (can you believe?) $97-a-quarter tuition. On graduation and after a stint in the Peace Corps I started at Lerner Newspapers as a reporter and worked my way up to editor for the weekly Rogers Park, Albany Park, Ravenswood and Uptown editions. I graduated to the Chicago Sun-Times in 1979 and spent three years editing columnists Mike Royko, Irv Kupcinet and Roger Simon as well as handling wire stories and business news. I loved working in a busy newsroom and hearing the low rumble of the giant presses in the basement as they stirred to life.

Alas, the exigencies of a growing family and the exacting grind of putting out half a dozen editions a day began to tell, so in 1982 when I got my MBA from Loyola University I went over to “the dark side,” as journalists call the corporate world. Over 28 years at several Fortune 500 companies I wrote executive speeches, produced press releases, supervised annual reports, and during my last six years at Allstate, managed the officer meetings.

There were many high points, especially working closely with former Secretary of State Colin Powell and the esteemed historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough who shared leadership lessons with the Allstate officers.

But I missed journalism. After all, I still loved newspapers: it was like a bug you couldn’t shake. So about 15 years ago I met with RoundTable founder and then-editor Mary Gavin, who agreed to let me assemble a biweekly column about upcoming arts events in the city. After that I wrote movie reviews (harder than you’d think), a couple of book reviews, numerous profiles and feature articles and the occasional news story.

Eventually I started coming into the old RoundTable office at 1124 Florence Avenue to edit copy, proof pages and hang out with Mary, Larry, Charlie Wilkinson, Mary De Jong and the whole delightful crew. Four years ago Mary kindly let me start my own column. What was it about, people would ask. Anything and everything, I’d say. It was a wonderful opportunity to expatiate on any subject that piqued my interest – philosophical, cosmological, humorological – anything but politics, my views on which are too unoriginal to share.

The last three years I’ve won a best column award from the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association.

The column is currently on hiatus while I finish my novel “The Dream Machine,” a time travel story from a future dystopian “City of Big Shoulders,” where going back to a happier, freer past, perhaps to find the key to unlock the dark forces at work in the city that was once Chicago in a nation that was once the United States seems like the best way to fight “the Authority.” RoundTable readers will be the first to know when the book makes its way out of my computer and into the present.

In the meantime I continue to edit stories and send out the daily Newsletter. It’s a pleasure to work with the new editor, Tracy Quattrocki, and to serve as a transition between the “old” RoundTable and our current, online, not-for-profit version, as well as to help mentor a new generation of great young writers. I’m thrilled to be here and to contribute to the future of community journalism as it unfolds right here in our beloved Evanston.

And you can contribute too. Every dollar that you donate to the Evanston RoundTable through the end of the year will be matched as part of our fall fundraising campaign. The RoundTable participates in NewsMatch, a national campaign to support independent journalism sponsored by the Institute for Nonprofit News. Generous community partners also have agreed to provide matching donations. Join me and our community of engaged citizens who believe in the value of local journalism.

With gratitude,

Les Jacobson

 

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