I got robbed at gunpoint in my really nice Chicago neighborhood. What do I do now?

1024px-107th_StreetBeverly_Hills_Metra_StationI’ve lived in the Chicago area my whole life. I’ve lived in the city proper since 1998. I’ve never been robbed at gunpoint.

There’s a first time for everything and last night was my first time. I want it to be my last.

I was walking home from the Metra at 107th St. It’s an eight-minute walk for me. I was on my block, steps from my house when two guys in their late teens/early 20s robbed me. One had a gun. It was big. And it was sticking in my chest.

The whole time I’m thinking “Of course they have a gun. That’s what you do when you want to rob someone. You scare them with a gun so they give up anything of value. A gun turns a struggle into an obvious outcome.” It seemed so typical. Here’s my mugging!

I tried to use a few seconds to stall so I could get my bearings. How much danger am I in? (Quite a bit.) Is there anyone around? (Nope.) Do I have a choice in how this ends? (Hope so.)

They got my wallet, my phone and my work laptop. Physically, I’m fine and safe because I didn’t prize my possessions over my future. And because these guys hoped the long-established storyline would play out exactly as it did.

Crime should not feel inevitable. But it’s felt like that lately in Chicago. For many people, including me. Even though I live in a safe neighborhood. There’s too much of it happening here for it not to affect you, no matter what neighborhood you live in. I’ve been telling anyone who will listen that Chicago’s tribalism, enforced by neighborhood boundaries, contributes to the problem. As long as it happens somewhere else, it’s OK. As long as it involves gangs, it’s OK because you’re not in one so it won’t happen to you. Even though it’s only a matter of time until it hits home. It did for me last night.

I am not special. This exact scenario plays out many times across the city. Similar ones happen often with far more lethal results. As someone who closely follows what happens in this city and this neighborhood, I’m aware of the potential danger.

Mine wasn’t the only recent robbery around here. There was another armed robbery last week near the 107th Metra station. According to reports on local community Facebook groups, there was a robbery four blocks south at the 111th station. And one last week at 96th and Damen. There were recent robberies at businesses near the 103rd St. Metra stop. People in our neighborhood are being targeted because they’re comforted by the safety and are more likely to have something worth taking.

More crime is happening here because we live in a safe neighborhood. Mull that one over for a while.

I did all the things you’re supposed to do right after a robbery: called the police, canceled my credit cards, changed the locks (my keys were in my bag and they had my driver’s license). The cops at the 22nd District – five officers and a detective – could not have been more kind, thoughtful and thorough.

Plenty of people will read the above details and use it to support their own conclusions about the causes of crime in Chicago. I know this because I’ve already read comments from people on our neighborhood Facebook groups who are quick to blame it on a particular demographic group (which is a crock because the actions of a few are not indicative of the many) or use it as evidence of why concealed carry should be allowed on trains (which is also a crock because many people, including me, would still choose not to carry even if they could and a good guy with a gun doesn’t always stop a bad guy with a gun).

I’m a bleeding heart liberal and an avid reader. My opinion has been when you don’t give people economic options and don’t make them feel safe and don’t invest in their neighborhoods they’ll do what they can to survive and use crime as an economic opportunity. I still think that.

But I’m also a realist. And I know some people are just assholes.

The real cause is somewhere in the above three paragraphs. Probably the last two.

When my wife posted to our local Facebook groups about what happened – in an effort to find a locksmith who’d come out this evening – people messaged her saying the recent robberies in our neighborhood are making them put their houses up for sale. This is unusual. Folks live here for decades. People don’t move from Beverly, they move to Beverly. Usually because their parents raised them here. Or they’re looking for what it has to offer. Maybe that’s about to change.

I know what happened to me is minor compared to what has happened to others who don’t have the resources or support I have. Or to people who aren’t targets themselves but are caught between the person who is and the person with a gun. I walked away with an unpleasant experience. Most people who have a gun pointed at them in Chicago don’t walk away.

Chicago’s murder rate gets a lot of attention. But the robbery, assault and other crime rates don’t get as many frequent updates even though they hit people where they live, too. And they’re making people leave where they live.

Not me though. I’m staying to fight. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for five years. We have the best burger and best ice cream in the city. There are many other things to recommend it: the churches, the schools, the people.

I’ve already written the alderman – he’s a good guy and cares about the people who live here – and I plan on talking more about this in the future. I’ve told him I’m willing to help, however I’m able, to deal with our neighborhood’s short term crime problem and the city’s larger problems. If you follow me online, you know I’m not exactly quiet about the problems in Chicago and how our priorities are often out of whack. It’s always been personal for me. I love this city so very much; it is my joy but it is also my sorrow.

Tonight Chicago’s crime problem hit me on the street where I live.

It’s not enough for me to talk about it anymore, it’s time for me to do more. If I’m not doing more, I’m not doing enough.

I hope I motivate others to do the same.

UPDATE: I’m no longer publishing comments made on this post, regardless of tone. I don’t have the time to sift through them and keep the discussion from getting out of hand. Thanks to those who sent along their thoughts.

Father’s Day cliches

Last week, a former co-worker told me he and his wife were going to have their first child within a month. I congratulated him and tried to say something that didn’t cover all the usual bases: it changes your life completely in ways you’re not prepared for, you see the world differently forever after, it’s really hard at first but gets easier, etc. In the end I went with a variation on the first – this guy works at a startup and the metaphor seemed apropos – followed by my standard caution of “you will think you are supposed to know what you’re doing but you will not and that is completely normal” and an invitation to let me know if he needs someone to talk to about it. “You are not alone” is the nicest thing you can tell someone about to be a parent.

sweaterandtieThen yesterday, Erin, Abigail and I were at our friend Mike’s annual backyard pig roast. He and his wife have a five-year-old and many of his friends have kids now, too – at one point the party looked to be two-thirds filled with either kids, parents or grandparents. I was catching up with a friend in-between bites of roast pork and running Abigail to the bathroom (we’re in the midst of potty-training her). He has two kids and his youngest is seven months. As talk turned to our kids – specifically the patterns that repeat themselves with the second kid – he said “It’s crazy how cliched it all is.” He said this not as a complaint so much as a matter of fact.

Most people feel very confident in the ways they are not going be like every other parent right up until they actually become a parent. And then it all seems to fall away. Sometimes this is because of all the things I thought about telling my startup friend. Other times it’s because, developmentally speaking, most kids follow a certain timeline in the first year or two. Mostly it’s because parenting is hard and in moments of desperation you fall back on a combination of nature and nurture that combines the brain patterns formed by lifetimes of child-rearing with a few things you saw on TV (shout out to Mr. Cunningham on “Happy Days” and Steven Keaton on “Family Ties”) and some knowledge gleaned from moments when your own father said “OK, pay attention because I’m only going to show you this once and then I want you to do it.”

These cliches stitch themselves into the rest of your life, too. Or mine, anyway. If not for my job, which requires me to have some sense of the reigning cultural zeitgeist, I would be well on my way to filling my free time with Hitler documentaries and clips of Dean Martin’s Celebrity Roasts DVD (an infomercial I will watch to the end every time I stumble across it). The speed with which my summer plans became ruled not by music festivals but by yard work was astounding. An evening that ends with a glass of scotch is a fine evening indeed. I have no feelings of wistful regret about this. If anything, it feels like “Whew, finally.”

At this point in my life, I’m more interested in helping others set the world on fire than I am doing so myself, which is the perfect mindset to be in as a parent or a person approaching forty. I’d like to say the pleasure I derived from all this would be embarrassing to a younger me but probably not. I was an old person even when I was a young person. More often than not, I find myself considering the parents whose lives are marked by challenges far outside the usual patterns: poverty, violence or extraordinary health and medical needs, for instance. The ones who don’t have the luxury or comfort of cliche. I’m not knowledgeable enough about that intersection to write about it (yet?) but it’s certainly on my mind more now than ever before and I struggle with how to do something about it.

Meanwhile, I came home from work on Friday night with a unexpected desire to wear the t-shirt Abigail got me for Father’s Day last year. It has the words “World’s Best Dad” printed across the top, her handprints in the center and the words “Hands Down” underneath. As Ian has said, these gifts are usually huge lies so I’m not usually drawn to it at the risk of seeming like a hypocrite. Better a t-shirt with “Pretty Good Dad Most Days with Occasional Moments of Brilliance” written on it. But for whatever reason, I really wanted to wear it that night.

Today we’re going to have lunch with my dad and on the way home we’re going to pick up a lawn and weed trimmer I’ve been meaning to get for a couple months now. Next week, I’m going to throw some carpet down on the back porch and paint the back stairs so the backyard will finally look the way I want it for the summer.

I try hard not to be a cliche. But sometimes I can’t help myself.

I like it too much.

A few other notable things I’ve written about fatherhood:

Love is a late-night cheese sandwich
Mark Wahlberg hates America
Learning to climb
Guys like Seth MacFarlane are why I bought my daughter a Tonka truck
And the Scott vs. Pink trilogy: Supergirls, Comic books are for girls and Pink

Startup culture, end of the beginning of the end edition

“One thing that did cut through the exhaustion was a task I’d been anticipating for more than six years: writing the Facebook post in which I announce to friends, former friends, frenemies, ex-girlfriends, college roommates, future wives, and family members that I was not in fact an obscure failure but a new, minor footnote in the annals of Silicon Valley startup successes. Writing it was easy. I’d had six years to plot it in my head.”

- via I Sold My Startup for $25.5 Million. Here’s How I Did It – Slate

Long before 1871 and all the talk about Chicago as a tech hub, Brad Flora bootstrapped his own startups, sacrificing sleep and his own basic needs – food, shelter, etc. – along the way. All of this led to the payoff described above. He does a wonderful job outlining the frenzied banality that made it happen.

And I love he admits thinking about the announcement for the entire six years of the experience.

In the wake of more Techweek sexism, it’s time for Chicago to speak up

I have a guest op-ed in Crain’s Chicago Business about the sexist imagery that Techweek has been using to promote its event.

There’s a lot of context here – it’s not just about Techweek and gave me an opportunity some other things I’ve seen in Chicago’s STEM communities in the last year.

Please go read it in full at Crain’s.  But here’s the call to action at the end:

The responsibility of inclusiveness is borne by everyone, not just Techweek. I’d love to see other Chicago tech events like Built In Chicago, Tech Cocktail and Technori create their own codes of conduct and describe how they will enforce them when they are violated. (The Geek Feminism Wiki offers some good open-source language as a starting point.) Writers and editors of lists featuring local tech luminaries should move beyond the VCs and the C-suiters (who are invariably older, male and white) and showcase the people in the trenches who have much more to do with the code that gets written and the products that get released. Funders should look for opportunities to bankroll women-led companies and incubators — 1871′s FEMTech is an example.

Finally, if you’re a man at a tech program, startup or publication that doesn’t demonstrate inclusion of women or people or color or deliberately uses policies, language or imagery that excludes, speak up.

A community determines what it will tolerate and creates policy to reinforce its beliefs. Now is the time for Chicago’s entire tech community to speak loudly about both.

UPDATE: A few links and events of note since I wrote the above:

* Techweek Chicago held a roundtable discussion about the controversy. They claimed to do so with “the support of Ms. Tech,” a woman-led tech/business group in Chicago but a subsequent story in the Sun-Times said the head of the organization “wasn’t briefed after Wednesday’s round-table despite Techweek organizers telling her she and her organization would be involved in the next action steps.” During the roundtable, the organizers decided to cancel the Black Tie Rave but still donate the expected proceeds to charity. They also created a “fellowship program” so that 50 women could attend Techweek Chicago without having to pay the admission fee. I’m not sure why you’d want to attend an event that doesn’t appear to have your best interests in mind, even if it was for free. At this point, Techweek appears to be trying to buy influence and align themselves with people – like Ms. Tech – who will make them seem interested in solving their problems.

* Melissa Pierce, a prominent figure in Chicago’s tech community, wrote an op-ed for Crain’s detailing how she was “duped” in her participation in last year’s Techweek conference.

* Huffington Post Chicago has a good roundup with commentary from local voices in Chicago tech.

* I didn’t realize it until later but apparently Moshe Tamssot was Patient Zero in this whole thing.

Three summer-related apps I would download to my phone if they existed

* An app that sends you an alert when it’s the perfect day to eat lunch outside. (Version 2.0 could be customizable to your own preferences of temperature, sun and wind speed.)

* An app that periodically reminds you to drink lemonade during the summer. Because it’s delicious and sometimes you forget, especially because it’s not as widely available as, say, pop.

* A GPS-enabled app that tells you to bring a jacket/sweater if you are about to leave the house and the temperature is expected to drop more than 10-15 degrees within three hours of you leaving the house.

Get on this, someone.

This piece isn’t about guns: The Paper Machete – 5.31.2014

Though I’m almost always writing right up until the deadline for The Paper Machete, I usually finish before I leave the house. Not this time. I finished this one sitting at bar at The Green Mill twenty minutes before showtime.  You can see my notes at right.

As always, if you liked this piece, please like The Paper Machete on Fcaebook,  follow it on Twitter, listen to its podcast or - most importantly – attend one of its 3pm Saturday afternoon shows at The Green Mill.

I drew the short straw this week so I’m here to discuss last week’s mass shooting near Santa Barbara, California. I will try to do so in a way that doesn’t make you depressed for the rest of the day.

If you’re worried you’re in for a screed on gun control, don’t worry. This piece isn’t about guns. Not really. That’s not the conversation we had this week.

No, after we spent the Memorial Day weekend remembering the sacrifices others have made to preserve everything good about this country, we were reminded of everything terrible about this country thanks to Joe The Plumber.

How to make native advertising more ethical and effective

Timing is everything.

This piece began as a a conversation I had with a friend who is a former newspaper designer and later became a self-taught digital developer. He has a deep well of experience in print and the web and a love of both. So when he told me he thought native advertising tries to fool readers into believing an ad is news, it was obvious to me that even those most likely to understand the form have concerns about its function. Bob Garfield’s February Guardian article also seemed like it deserved a response. So I decided to put down some thoughts about native advertising that had been brewing in my head since the Atlantic‘s Scientology dustup.

That was two months ago.

For one reason or another, it took a while before the piece was ready to pitch around. By then, Jill Abramson had been fired from the New York Times and native advertising was cited in many of the discussions about the split. I worked with our agency PR director to rewrite it as a peg to that event and what started as something rather navel-gaze-y ended up as timely.

The piece below first ran in PR Week on May 19th, 2014 and was one of its most-shared articles that week.

Many articles about New York Times editor Jill Abramson’s firing discuss her clashes with the business side of the Times organization. One area of conflict was native advertising. According to reports, Abramson’s primary concern with native advertising was her belief that it could mislead readers into thinking the Times was the source of the work rather than an advertiser. Though many questions surround her departure, perhaps it’s worth revisiting why native advertising is often a source of controversy.

Abramson has a point about some native advertising; even marketers who embrace native ads must acknowledge standards aren’t applied across the board. Because of this, the form has an identity problem – perhaps because it too often obscures that identity. When it comes to effective, ethical native advertising, the best of it communicates its intent and meets the reader’s expectations. Here are five suggestions to ensure it does:

Twitter knows more about what drives viewer behavior than NBC

In my last post, I argued there’s more value in social media as its own content channel than in its ability to drive ratings or sales. The prime mover of that post was a quote in the Financial Times from NBCUniversal’s head of research Alan Wurtzel who said social media “’is not a game changer yet’ in influencing television viewing.” He also said “the emperor wears no clothes” which tells you just how much marketing people love a good cliche.

After taking another look at the articles written in the wake of his comments, it’s unclear how Wurtzel came to these conclusion but more on that in a bit.

If you’re going to draw conclusions about cause and effect, it helps to base them on the results of an actual study.

Here’s the latest: On Thursday, Twitter’s head of research Anjali Midha released a second batch of results from a study of 12,000 Twitter users that examined the effects of tweets on consumer action. Her first post focused on the relationship between the kinds of tweets consumers saw from/about brands and the type of action they took afterwards. It’s definitely worth a read.

Specific to this discussion is Midha’s second post which deals with the effects of TV-related tweets. In my post, I argued Twitter can be a complementary content channel all its own, but if you’re going to look to it as a call to action, it’s important to consider whether it affects awareness, consideration and brand education and not just ratings or sales.

It turns out tweets can do all of that:

Stop thinking of social media only as a ratings or sales driver

An article in the Financial Times seems to speak in no uncertain terms about social media’s inability to generate ratings for television shows, despite both Twitter and Facebook fighting for the right to claim each does it better:

The two social networks have spent the past year trumpeting a virtuous cycle between people watching television and using social media. But, in spite of the buzz, NBCUniversal’s head of research Alan Wurtzel says that social media “is not a game changer yet” in influencing television viewing.

Peter Kafka at Re/Code puts an even finer point on Wurtzel’s views:

He comes to that conclusion after looking at the effect of Twitter, as well as Facebook, on NBCU’s ratings during the Winter Olympics. Wurtzel saw lots of chatter about Sochi on social media, but none of that seemed to translate to increased viewership.

There are a number of reasons why using the Olympics as a yardstick isn’t the best idea. Again, from the Financial Times piece:

Ad executives cautioned that the results could be skewed by the fact that the Olympics draws mass audiences who are likely to tune in regardless of social media buzz.

More niche programming, such as dramas or reality television programmes, could show more correlations between social media activity and viewership, says Kate Sirkin, global research director at Publicis’ Starcom MediaVest Group, which last year committed to hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising spend on Twitter over several years.

Other questions I had that I’d research if I had more time:

  • What are the typical demographics of the Olympics and how do they compare to the average user of Twitter and Facebook?
  • Did NBC utilize its social media channels to encourage viewers to tune in for its broadcasts? Was there a specific call to action? Were they conversational? Or did the tweets read more like a print ad?
  • How many “luge” jokes were made on Twitter during the Olympics? (This is less about the topic at-hand and more because I have the sense of humor of a child.)

Wurtzel’s is a voice worth listening to as he’s had a long career in television with many years in research. And he’s not exactly been against new media as a way to drive eyeballs to traditional TV, specifically for the Olympics:

But Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development for NBCU, said in separate remarks that new media seemed to have the opposite effect: The more live video people saw of the games taking place in real-time, the more interested they were in seeing curated primetime telecasts that included more information about the athletes, their background and the stories behind their journey to the event.

Still, as Re/Code and Financial Times both point out, there are plenty of studies that suggest a correlation between ratings and social media chatter. And yesterday Twitter CEO Dick Costolo had a specific response to Wurtzel’s position.

But mostly I’m stunned we’re still thinking of social media purely in terms of eyeballs and sales. Especially since not all marketing tactics/channels are expected to have a direct relationship to them. NBC/Wurtzel certainly seems to view social media as such without considering things like awareness, consideration, brand education, etc.

“Love is a late-night cheese sandwich” – Story Sessions – 02.16.14

A couple quick bits of housekeeping:
* In case you missed it, I talked with WGN Radio host James VanOsdol about the Sun-Times comments decision and that US Airways tweet-disaster. You can listen to it here.
* My next reading is at The Paper Machete on Saturday, May 17th. It’s one of the best live performance events in the city so please come to the Green Mill at 3pm that day or any other Saturday.

Here is the piece I read at Story Sessions back in February. Writing this was more of a grind than usual perhaps because I was writing to a specific theme (“Love Is…”) for a reading series I’d never performed at before. The other folks on the bill were incredibly talented storytelling vets so it was an honor to be in their number.

Story Sessions is a great series and I think I did fine, but there are two things about this show that I will always remember that had nothing to do with what happened onstage. But it’s best to talk about those after you read or listen to the piece so scroll down after you’re through.

*****************

We’re up here tonight to talk about love. So I’m going to tell you about my daughter.

Now there are two reactions happening in the heads of those around you. Those without kids are thinking “Come on man, I just came here tonight to hear some stories and drink some wine, I don’t need some jag getting up there and telling me some crap about his kid. This isn’t Facebook.”

Those with kids are thinking “Come on man, I just came here tonight to hear some stories and drink some wine, I don’t need some jag getting up there and telling me some crap about his kid. I paid a 15 year old forty bucks to sit in my house just to be able to walk in the door of this place. Give me a break from myself for a couple hours.”

Let me reassure you this is not the sort of piece where some pompous gasbag tries to tell you that no matter what sort of romantic entanglements you may have found yourself in, you will never truly know love until you know the love a parent has for his or her child. Or even that love is the daily sacrifices of parenting that come from giving yourself fully to a small, vulnerable person who is responsible for 99% of the times you’ve been hit in the face or genitals.