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Second Opinion: As always, Chicago vs. everybody else

Published: Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014 12:39 p.m. CDT

We downstate folks like to complain about the oversized influence that Chicago has on our lives.

Oh, we love the advantages of having a world-class city that means so much – economically and culturally – to Illinois.

But in terms of politics and public policy, not so much.

Now, this editor has another gripe about the primacy of the Second City.

That occurs in the selection of the state’s top news stories of the year.

EVERY DECEMBER, the Associated Press bureau in Chicago (where else?) sends editors and news directors throughout Illinois a ballot to vote on the state’s top stories for the year.

We select our top 10 and send them to AP editors, who count the votes (which include those of AP staffers) and announce the results.

Maybe downstate journalists just don’t participate like their Chicago counterparts, who seem to be under the impression that news can’t be all that important if it happens south of Interstate 80 or west of O’Hare Airport.

How else could the best news stories for all of Illinois have another Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup championship at No. 8 and the closing of 50 Chicago public schools at No. 9?

Just like other kinds of voting, someone must be stuffing the ballot box.

TO BE FAIR TO the AP survey, this editor had the survey’s Top 5 vote-getters among his first six selections.

We agreed that the Legislature’s first stab at public pension reform was the top story of the year.

It didn’t hurt that the new law was passed late in the year, so the media storm around the issue was still fresh in the minds of survey voters.

The remaining Top 5 in the AP survey were (2) the legalization of same-sex marriage (this editor picked it No. 6); (3) Illinois’ becoming the last state to adopt concealed carry of firearms (we had it No. 4); (4) November’s deadly tornadoes (we judged it No. 3), and (5) continued deadly violence on Chicago streets (No. 2, in our estimation).

If we agreed on so much, the survey obviously had some legitimacy.

THIS EDITOR VOTED the 20-year prison sentence of Dixon’s own Rita Crundwell as the fifth biggest story of the year in Illinois.

It didn’t even make the AP’s Top 10! Shouldn’t a prison term for the largest municipal fraud in U.S. history get a little more respect?

OK, maybe that was a “homer” vote by this editor.

Had it happened in Chicago, it would have made the list.

After all, downtown Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. finished at No. 6 in the AP survey with his puny prison term of less than 3 years. (The editor voted that story at No. 7.)

Even if you add the 1 year that Jackson’s wife will serve, you get nothing like Rita’s generation-long stretch in the federal pen.

And here’s the kicker: The Jacksons got sent up for misusing a mere $750,000 in campaign funds that didn’t belong to anybody.

How dare they compare that to Rita’s mind-numbing larceny of nearly $54 million in taxpayers’ money – nearly 75 percent of which Dixon recovered in 2013 through asset sales and a lawsuit?

Those developments kept Ms. Crundwell’s sad saga on the AP’s state ballot for the second year in a row. For 2012, her arrest and revelations finished No. 8 in the AP survey.

How can she possibly maintain that status in 2014?

FOR THE RECORD, this editor did not think Top 10 status was appropriate for the death of Chicago-based film critic Roger Ebert (No. 7 on the AP survey), the second Stanley Cup in 4 years for Chicago’s ’Hawks, or the Chicago school closings.

The editor’s ballot did include a sports story in our Top 10: the Chicago City Council’s approval of $500 million in renovations to storied Wrigley Field was No. 8 on our list. (If the Cubs win the World Series, it will be a unanimous No. 1.)

Our vote at No. 9 was passage of a bill to regulate the controversial practice of oil and gas drilling known as “fracking.” The AP survey had it No. 10.

For his No. 10, the editor had the Legislature’s approval of driver’s licenses for immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally.

That issue represents a significant cultural shift for Illinois, which should count for something.

OF COURSE, THIS editor realizes that not everyone shares his “expert” opinions when it comes to judging the news.

Being the benevolent dictator he is, the editor gets only one vote in his news staff’s selection of the top local stories.

The staff’s Top 10 for this past year, published on Dec. 26, was only slightly similar to the editor’s ballot.

2013 developments in the Crundwell case were clearly No. 1 in the Telegraph market, and the devastating fire in downtown Prophetstown was an obvious winner in Daily Gazette territory.

But there was little consensus beyond that.

That’s because different people use different criteria to grade the news.

Do you judge stories based on headline “value,” which includes big events that might come and go in a few days?

Or do you put more emphasis on lasting value, those stories that have a permanent impact on the community?

News stories that have both values end up high on the list.

What will 2014 bring?

Stay tuned.

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