Charlie Meyerson has been a part of the Chicago media landscape now for four decades as a newscaster for WXRT, WNUA, WGN, the Chicago Tribune and more. Just last year he brought home an Edward R. Murrow award for a report he did at Rivet Radio.
“One night at Rivet,” he explained, “we had a couple of people working overnight, and the glass desk just spontaneously exploded. And that is the technical term. It exploded. We had two staffers in the report explaining when this happened they were worried they would get blamed. Turns out that small imperfections in the glass, little flaws, with a slight change in temperature can expand or contract, and that can be enough to shatter the lattice of the glass surface. And that’s apparently what happened. The report walked the listeners through the experience, and we got this lovely award.”
A few months ago Charlie launched a brand new venture. He is now the editor-in-chief of Chicago Public Square, a newsletter (and website) that provides daily news headlines and links to a Chicago audience. “It goes back to what I am as a professional. I’ve worn so many different hats, and had one job after another that I really truly enjoyed. One of the things that launched my career was being a newscaster on the radio. The great thing about being a newscaster, particularly on a music station, is that for two minutes, three minutes, four minutes, five minutes whatever you got, it’ s your chance to provide your view about what’s important in the world. For me, being a newscaster, learning things and sharing them with people is central to who I am. That’s really all I’m doing here.”
Charlie is a pioneer in the e-newsletter headline business. In the late ’90s and early ’00s, his Chicago Tribune Daywatch newsletter was a must read. “When I joined the Tribune in 1998, the idea was ‘here’s a newscast via e-mail.’ It wasn’t an easy sell at the time in that I believed it should be written conversationally, have some degree of personality, some sense of humor, and those things were not common in newspaper e-mail newsletters in the late ’90s. So I was delighted, honored and privileged that the Tribune let me do Daywatch for close to a decade. And I missed it.
As I told many friends over the years, when you have some free time, you should take advantage of the internet’s ability to let you do it. Chicago Public Square lets me do that. It is very much like Daywatch with a few exceptions. First of all, technology has advanced to a point that it’s much easier than the hand-coded HTML that I had to work in once upon a time. Also, because Chicago Public Square is independent of other news organizations, I can point people wherever I think the best or most rewarding development of a story is. And that’s tremendously liberating. Chicago Public Square can point anyone anywhere. It’s a much more ecumenical approach.”
The e-newsletter arrives every morning with concise and catchy headlines to the stories that Meyerson believes will most interest the Chicago audience. “My tagline says ‘Chicago News Frontpage’ and that’s what it aspires to be. I tell people that it’s as much about Chicago as the Tribune or the Sun-Times in that everything in there is relevant to people who live in Chicago or are interested in Chicago or the Chicago area or Illinois. To be an involved citizen in Chicago, you need to keep an eye on Washington, on what’s happening in other states. But it’s all designed with an eye for what’s relevant for people in Chicago. I have a longstanding interest in technology, and the environment, so it does skew a bit in that direction, but I consider it tools for living in Chicago.”
These days the number of sources available is obviously much greater than they were when Meyerson was doing Daywatch a decade ago. On the other hand, there has also famously been an explosion of the phenomenon of Fake News. Charlie isn’t worried about that. “As a journalist of 40 years, I have a pretty good sense of which news organization is trustworthy, which organizations are reliable, and I certainly tend to point to them. But there’s an up and coming cohort of news sources that not everyone is familiar with that I have through avid reading over the years come to recognize as trustworthy, or at least worthy of consideration. Another source I use is an app called Nuzzel. It surfs everyone I follow on Facebook and Twitter and it serves up one article after another that my friends are sharing and it’s free of the noise of Facebook and Twitter. Nuzzel is my front page, because these articles are being shared by people I trust and respect, and because of that they tend to have a high degree of trustworthiness.”
The early signs for Chicago Public Square are encouraging. “So far we’re closing in on 700 subscribers, which is pretty good for just a little over a month, but of course I’d like more. We have astonishing audience engagement numbers. It’s close to a 50% open rate every day. That’s well more than double the average for media and publishing newsletter. We’re also double the click-rate, according to Mail Chimp. I think we have a pretty compelling audience for advertisers.”
To find Chicago Public Square, visit chicagopublicsquare.com
– Rick Kaempfer