What a ride. 25 years in two great towns

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Dan Haley

After 25 years it is still about Oak Park. Not so much the Oak Park I grew up in during the 1950s and '60s, though it was a good place to be a happy, unquestioning kid.

It is more about the Oak Park I watched emerge in the early 1970s when it faced up to its potential by facing down the supposedly inevitable resegregation which was predicted to cross Austin Boulevard just as it had crossed Western Avenue and Cicero and Central.

At a time when race and fear always went together, when whites took flight and everyone pretended they were powerless to intervene, I was fascinated to watch my hometown alter that equation.

And it is about the Oak Park of today, and, yes, without grudging, about River Forest today.

These are spectacularly interesting towns to live in and that makes them a great place to have a newspaper. That is particularly true when your view of publishing is more about sharing the platform than dominating it. Of all the things I'm proud of after 25 years of WEDNESDAY JOURNAL, what still inspires me is the dialogue we have fostered in these towns.

When I talk to people about the importance of a good newspaper in any community, I start with the idea that the newspaper is the way a village or neighborhood talks to itself. It is how issues surface, are clarified, are rejected or embraced.

The process can start, and hopefully often does, in the news pages where we report on stories that bring a reaction. But more often than not, readers start the conversation without us, through the letters pages.

Oak Park has a reputation, within its short borders and outside of them, as a town full of opinionated people. Every public official talks about it with awe and bother. And while the JOURNAL could never take all the credit for stoking the soapbox-after all these towns are lousy with well educated folks-I'm happy for us to take credit for helping create the soapbox.

Back in 1980, when a group of us started this paper, out of spit and baling wire, we wanted to create a newspaper with unusually strong ties to these towns. Having no money ourselves, our first ties were through the 60 or so locals who invested in the paper.

Over the years, though, as most weeklies have become more regional and generic, the JOURNAL has kept its focus on Oak Park and River Forest. We use the same model with the four other weekly papers we've acquired or launched since 1980. Forest Park is a great town. Deserves its own newspaper, not some warmed over version of what we serve Oak Park and River Forest readers.

I think our connection to these towns shows up every week in the paper, on our website. The news is local. The ads are local. The columnists are local.

And that, as we celebrate our 25th anniversary, is the pledge we make to each of you. WEDNESDAY JOURNAL will remain an independently owned, local newspaper. With its strengths and its failings, we have abiding roots in Oak Park and River Forest. In recent years we have consolidated our ownership, happily buying back the shares from those early investors. (You should have bought stock back in 1980, I'm telling you. Surprisingly enough, it turned out to be a very good investment.)

We're actively growing our company with major investments in our Chicago Parent magazine and the launch of a new weekly about ready to announce. This summer we hope to commence a significant restoration of the exterior of our Oak Park Avenue offices (home for 24 years).

So sit back, renew your subscription, and we're on to the next 25 years in Oak Park and River Forest.


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