Rising from the ashes
In Flame’s wake, Chicago Bloc[k] aims to give an alternate voice to UIC students
04/04/2012 10:00 PM
Last month, a note went out to University of Illinois at Chicago students on the English department’s mailing list asking students to join the newly forming “newspaper club.” The students were invited to participate in the online news blog known as the Chicago Bloc[k] [sic], a blog that would reflect student voices and opinions.
Unlike UIC News, the university’s official newspaper, the blog would be completely student-run and, according to the students that organized it, completely independent of the university. While the blog is still being put together, its founders say the Chicago Bloc[k] will be able to put together something unique, something that will have staying power.
This would not be the first time UIC students attempted to create an alternative news source. The Chicago Flame was founded in 1988 to serve as an independent voice of the university students, a counterpoint to what its founders referred to as a UIC administration mouthpiece. When the Flame shut down in May 2011, UIC News remained as the university’s sole newspaper.
While the email and the flyer made pains to emphasize that the Chicago Bloc[k] was in no way the resurrection of the Flame, their mission statements are similar. The flyer attached to the e-mail read, in part:
“We have inherited Chicago. As college students, we are new voices in decision-making conversations that affect and reflect our community … The Chicago Bloc[k] is an authentic, student-led effort to unify the neighborhoods and make them a little more permeable to the multitudes who call them home.”
The Chicago Bloc[k] is the brainchild of two former Chicago Flame editors — Fae Rabin, the paper’s last editor-in-chief, and Hector Luis Alamo Jr., its last opinion editor.
“Many staffers and readers were heartbroken when the Flame closed its doors,” Alamo recalled. “[Rabin and I] thought that a world-class university should at least have a student newspaper offering students a chance to think critically about the things they’re learning inside and outside the classroom. So in December, we began discussing the possibility of chartering a newspaper club that would be what the Flame was and more.”
Rabin explained that the Chicago Bloc[k] would specialize in more long-form, analytical pieces.
“Bloc[k] will be focusing on impact and relationships between events and issues, rather than surface coverage of a single event in isolation,” she said. “Our focus will be much more on how Chicago has reacted to last week’s breaking news, after the crowds have dispersed, but before we are certain of how it will change our community in the long run.”
The new blog would also be more collaborative, with the entire newspaper club discussing and developing story ideas. The blog would be updated once every two weeks, which, Rabin hopes, would give the writers more time to develop their articles.
In many ways, the Chicago Bloc[k] is still a work in progress. Its website hasn’t been set up yet, and the responsibilities have not been delegated as of this writing. Still, Rabin told Chicago Journal that the initial email got the response from students of various disciplines.
Rabin and Alamo are confident that they can learn from the Flame’s mistakes.
“As former staffers for the Flame,” said Alamo, “we know what was great about the Flame and we know what was not so great, and we plan on incorporating our knowledge and experience into [Chicago Bloc[k]]”
While the online publishing model would cut on expenses, the lack of financial compensation may pose a problem. Until February 2009, the Flame paid its writers. According to Kate Lee, the paper’s editor-in-chief before Rabin, this led to a loss of interest from the staff.
“I think it definitely hurt the paper with regards to writers and editors wanting to contribute,” she said. “Not being able to pay writers and photographers, though, was a big drawback.”
Lee also noted that, because the writers weren’t getting paid, they didn’t feel obligated to attend staff meetings and pitch in when necessary.
Still, there was a silver lining. According to Lee, the writers that did want to contribute did the best they could simply out of enthusiasm.
Ultimately, Lee believes that there is a place at UIC for an independent publication.
“I think there’s always room to bring in something new,” she said. “It might need to find a niche that has yet to be filled by a publication in the UIC community. Maybe find out what students are actually interested in reading that they can’t get from UIC News.”