Axios Chicago’s Monica Eng and Justin Kaufmann: ‘This is a talk show in an email format’

She’s worked for Chicago’s biggest newspapers and he’s worked for Chicago’s most successful radio stations. And now … they do email.

Joining Charlie Meyerson for this edition of the Chicago Public Square / Rivet360 podcast, Chicago Media Talks: Axios Chicago newsletter authors Justin Kaufmann and Monica Eng.

Or if you prefer to read your podcasts, check out the transcript below.

And if you’re a completist, check out the behind-the-scenes raw audio and video from the recording of this podcast via Zoom on YouTube—including deleted segments like Eng and Kaufmann’s answers (at 34:50) to the question, “How did Charlie most annoy you?”

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Charlie Meyerson 0:00
She’s worked for Chicago’s biggest newspapers, and he’s worked for Chicago’s most successful radio stations. And now, they do email.

Monica Eng 0:08
At WBEZ they kept saying, “Would you like to write our newsletter?” And I’m like, “Are you kidding me? I’m a reporter! Stop with the insulting questions.” And now, like, I love it.

Meyerson 0:20
Monica Eng is a longtime Chicago reporter who’s covered food, culture, health and the environment for the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune and, yes, also at a radio station, WBEZ. Justin Kaufmann’s a former talk show host and producer in Chicago at WBEZ and WGN Radio. They’ve teamed up to create the Axios Chicago newsletter, rounding up the day’s biggest Chicago news plus coverage of their passions, including food and sports.

Justin Kaufmann 0:44
Chicago is a different place. It is going to be a different newsletter than Denver. It should be a different newsletter than San Francisco.

Meyerson 0:52
Coming to you despite a cough, congestion and a mild fever that a test assures me do not signify COVID-19, I am a well-medicated Charlie Meyerson with Rivet360 and Chicago Public Square, which, yes, is also an email newsletter. And this is Chicago Media Talks. Justin, what did you want to be when you grew up? And how did that lead you into Chicago radio?

Kaufmann 1:14
You know, it’s funny. My dad always reminds me that I was really into DePaul Blue Demon basketball when I was a kid and I would write up stories like sports stories of the games that they would show on Channel 9 at the time, like when DePaul would pay like Creighton, or Georgetown. And I would write—he showed me when I was older—like, these write-ups. So I think I wanted to be a sports writer in some form. But to be honest, I really wanted to be in radio. I love the idea I had my own— I did the announcements in high school and a lot of things to end up where I ended up to be a talk show host. So I think that that’s what I wanted to be.

Meyerson 1:53
High school announcements: You and I have that in common. Monica, what did you want to be when you grew up? And how has that shaped your career?

Eng 2:01
I had no idea. But by the time I was 15, and my mom was dating Roger Ebert, he said, “Hey, so do one of your kids need a job this summer?” I said, “Well, I’m not going to be doing anything but watching TV. So maybe I’ll go try this thing called being a copy clerk at the Chicago Sun-Times.” And from the first day I started working in the features department at the Chicago Sun-Times in 1985, I fell in love with it, and that’s all I ever wanted to do—be a newspaper woman or a newswoman. I did not envision I would be an emailer, thanks for calling me that.

Meyerson 2:35
It’s an honorable profession. It’s honorable.

Eng 2:37
There was no email at the time, which was why I had a job. You know, putting the mail in the slots at the Chicago Sun-Times.

Meyerson 2:45
How and when did you two first meet?

Kaufmann 2:48

Eng 2:49

Kaufmann 2:49
That’s a good question. Monica was world-renowned, you know, in Chicago media. And I think I booked her a couple times on talk shows on WBEZ. And then, you know, when Monica was looking to make a career change, she came over to WBEZ. So we worked together at WBEZ for a couple of years, working on talk shows and reporting.

Eng 3:12
Yeah, well, yeah, I remember I remember. I used to hear you on the radio. And I was always a huge fan of WBEZ, and then you know, you, you’d say, “Hey, can you come on and talk about your Tribune stories?” And I thought, “Oh, this is fun.” So when you said, “Hey, there might be a spot here,” like, “You know what? I’m gettin’ a little sick of the Tribune, maybe I’ll think about that.” But as you recall, hiring at public radio sometimes takes a little time. So I think we were doing that dance for a couple of years.

Kaufmann 3:39
Yeah, we had a lot of lunches at Fox & Obel, which is that high-end grocery store over on …

Eng 3:44
… between Tribune Tower and WBEZ.

Meyerson 3:47
How did you come to be a team on the Axios Chicago newsletter?

Eng 3:51
Justin had already been working with the Axios daily podcast. So he kind of knew about that world. And we both had worked with Niala Boodhoo at WBEZ. And she was already there. She was quite an evangelist for the place. And I thought, “Whatever, I’ve never really even heard of this thing.” And so when she told us both about it, I think we’re like, “Well, let’s take a look at this.” I don’t think either of us were like super-sure we wanted to do a newsletter because obviously we had different skills. We didn’t like who has newsletter skills? Do people like graduate college knowing how to do this?

Kaufmann 4:25
Yeah, I will say, Charlie, that the one thing that grabbed our attention, I think, was looking at what Axios was doing with newsletters—not just in the local markets, but what they were doing with Mike Allen and others who do the national newsletters—is they really did feel like a written talk show. And if you look at Mike’s Axios AM, that’s what it is. Mike is hosting a talk show—he’s doing articles instead of segments—but it really had this vibe, this energy to it. He’s connecting to his readers. He’s engaging, he’s going back and forth. It reminded me a lot of what I was doing at WGN Radio when I was doing a WBEZ with Reset. So it was an easy opportunity when they said they wanted to do it for Chicago, you know, it was a, it was a no-brainer to say, “OK, well, you know, could you do a talk show in an email format?” And that’s what we’ve been, that’s really our ethos, our mission statement, our philosophy, Monica and I, that this is a talk show in an email format, and it seems to be working.

Eng 5:19
In fact, when we are when we’re over length on these newsletters, Justin’s like, “Oh, we gotta cut it for time.” I’m like, “Justin, we’re not doing radio.”

Kaufmann 5:28
It’s hard to lose the little radio things like “cut for time.” “Listeners,” I always— Our readers are listeners, I always say that.

Meyerson 5:37
It’s easy to get those mixed up. You know, sharing some of that same professional DNA with you guys, I know that one of the hardest things I find in creating an email newsletter is deciding what not to put in. Because, as Monica has said, there’s no time restriction, there’s no length restriction, and deciding what doesn’t go in is harder than deciding what does go in. How do you wrestle with that?

Eng 6:00
Well, we do have a length: Nothing over 950 words. But that does make it harder. I mean, Chicago is full of, you know, a million stories in the naked city. And so how do you choose, you know, four or five a day? It’s a terrible Sophie’s choice to make.

Kaufmann 6:16
That has been an issue where I think a lot of the editors and everyone were like, “You know, you’re gonna have to do this every day, you’re gonna watch out— Finding content will be an issue.” For Monica and I—because we’ve covered the city for years, and you know, this, Charlie; I read your newsletters and same idea—you could do 50 stories, you could do 100 stories. I mean, there’s— time is nothing, so you’re just like, yeah, every night at 10 o’clock, after we put the thing to bed, I’m like, “Darn it, we didn’t talk about this, or we didn’t do this.” And that reminds me of when I worked at ’BEZ and ’GN as well, where you would be down on yourself because you missed the topic that you think Chicago wanted to talk about.

Meyerson 6:52
As we record this August 22, 2022, you’ve been with Axios just a bit more than a year. What’s been a high point of that year or so with Axios?

Kaufmann 7:00
I think, to me, the highlight has been just connecting with Chicago readers. I would have never thought this would be this successful. I mean, at the time we tape this, we’re over 80,000 people who are signed up for it. The open rate is way above the average. And people are engaging and sending us emails on a daily basis on every story we do. It’s way more than I ever had at WGN or WBEZ. I think that that has much to do with the format—I mean, people at their computers are like I can easily respond to this. But that has been the high point to me is watching that sort of evolved engagement from some of the other things that were— I mean, you know, Charlie, talk radio is all about engaged. So by getting people on the phone, like, that’s where it’s supposed— you think that’s ingrained in the secret sauce of an AM talk radio station like WGN, but this supersized it. We’re talking hundreds and hundreds of emails and people who want to engage.

Eng 7:56
They can be overwhelming at times—because, yeah, it’s like, “Oh, I want to respond to all 150 people who wrote to us today sharing you know, where they like to go, you know, for a picnic in Chicago, or, you know, what they remember about Tower Records.” So, yeah, similarly, I think, you know, the engagement. Yeah, of course, I got COVID during our first or before our first retreat, so I couldn’t go, and Justin just loves to rub it in about how fun it was.

Kaufmann 8:25
It was such a fun time without Monica. That really I think that’s the secret sauce is that Monica wasn’t there.

Eng 8:30
Leave that old wet blanket home.

Meyerson 8:32
All right, how about the low point of your first year with Axios? Monica?

Eng 8:36
Oh, jeepers, I wouldn’t say low point. But, I think, you know: Breaking news. During the strike, when omicron was raging and the CPS and CTU were fighting. We were doing really long days. And it was like, “Oh, shoot, something else just happened. Let’s, you know, break the thing open again.” It can kind of it’s actually very exciting to cover breaking news. But it was wearing and I think, you know, and well and then the Highland Park thing, day after day, turns into a manhunt it turns into to these things. And our bosses are actually great. They’re like, “Look, are you guys feeling worn down? What can we do to kind of rejuvenate you.”

Kaufmann 9:20
I think because we are news media creatures at best and at heart, it becomes really difficult to shut it off. And so, if there are breaking news stories on top of breaking news stories, we’re not the type to bury our head in the sand. We’re the type to say it doesn’t matter if it’s 8 o’clock, 10 o’clock at night, 11 o’clock, we get up and we start working again. And that is just part of the pitfalls of the job. I mean that you get burnout. You don’t get a chance to have any sort of renewal moment or time to rest. You just gotta keep going.

Meyerson 9:53
Just six years after its founding Axios is being bought by Cox Enterprises, the cable communications and historically a newspaper company, for a little more than half a billion dollars. What’s that mean for you and Axios Chicago? Are you both millionaires now?

Eng 10:09
Well, I guess quasi-millionaires maybe like, multi. It’s actually, you know, I’ve been and Justin’s been at companies that have been bought before, and it’s usually bad, bad news. It actually appears to be good news, in this case. And, and our bosses made sure that they got a really good deal for employees as well. As far as we can tell, they’re not going to touch the journalism, they just actually want more local journalism. Cox seems to really love the local end of it. And so I think it means we get more love and, and, and our bosses are talking about this as a multi-generational thing. They want Axios to be around generations after they’re gone. And I think, as far as I can tell, that’s, that’s really gonna help with this.

Kaufmann 10:59
Yeah, they’re saying all the right things.

Meyerson 11:00
When you say “good deal for employees,” what does that really mean?

Eng 11:03
We get to sell a third of our stock. So everyone is vested, even people who have been there a short time, and you can sell a third of your stock to Cox and then later, we can sell it for actually an even better deal—you know, depending on the valuation of the company at the time.

Kaufmann 11:17
You know, Axios is a young company. And it is interesting to see the difference in philosophy and styles when a young company is bought, as opposed to an older company. And I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. I was there when WGN Radio was sold to Nexstar, before that tried to be sold to Sinclair. That is a different feeling. That’s a feeling of dread. And, you know, they’re coming in to change formats or cut or like even work in the newspapers. That’s not what this is, this is a win for Axios, they got a media company to buy the product for a pretty sizable amount of money. And they look at it as this is an indicator and also, I would think, an encouraging sign that people are interested in the future of local news.

Meyerson 12:03
Between the two of you, you have by my count, more than half a century of experience in newspapers and radio. What’s your take on this, this email news business? Is it a fad? Is it here for the long run? Is it the successor in any way to traditional radio and television? Or is it something that you expect is going to fade away as something else comes along?

Kaufmann 12:23
Well, I will say this: I think that obviously you’ve been a pioneer and doing email, and you’ve you found your voice, and that’s really what it’s about. It’s not that everybody can go to email and, and be like, “All right, I’m just going to transfer my product to this new format and it’s gonna work.” I mean, it’s the same tenets. You have to be engaging, you have to have personality, it’s about the tone. Everything is the same. It’s just you’re using words, and I think it’s very akin to maybe what we saw in the early 2000s, with the blog movement. I think that that was something that at first people were like, “What, you’re gonna put your—this is in the newspaper? It’s digital? What are we doing?” And you saw some that became very successful and very profitable, and some that were middle of the road and some that died off. And I think that newsletters, especially independent newsletters, are in the same ballpark. I think it’s the same game. It’s just evolved. And I think that advertisers are more interested in putting their money into email newsletters because it’s been tried and true by now.

Eng 13:26
Yeah, if you’d asked me a year ago, I would have said, “What the heck email newsletters?” I mean, actually, I’ll be honest: At WBEZ they kept saying, “Would you like to write our newsletter?” And I’m like, “Are you kidding me? I’m a reporter! Stop with the insulting questions.” And now, like, I love it. And it really is meeting people where they are. People our age still open email. My daughter, she’s like, “Can’t you just text it to me, mom?” So maybe these will be texted in the future. But it’s respecting their time. It’s curating for them. And it’s yeah, it’s going into the box that they open every morning.

Kaufmann 14:05
I think it’s all about advertising. And I think that the audience has been there. Charlie, you—we did it together at ’BEZ.

Meyerson 14:13
Let’s be transparent. You hired me to do WBEZ’s—

Kaufmann 14:17

Meyerson 14:17
Well, it wasn’t even— WBEZ in 2013 was not set up to send email to readers. So I did what should have been email but was just a blog at the time.

Kaufmann 14:27
Yeah, but it was a news blog. It was similar. It’s similar in the way to what you do right now with Square. I mean, it was a very similar idea. But that is where this— I mean, you could see the evolution from those kinds of posts that were important—that people would go to the URL to check it out every morning to see what Charlie had to say about Chicago news. Now, they’ve just like podcasts, they figured out a way to take these blog posts and give them right to you in an email format. And that is that I mean, if you really think about podcasts, that’s where the world changed when you were doing radio and it was appointment and I had to go to a dial. I had to actually punch the numbers in. Now they found technology that just puts it on my phone when I wake up. And that’s a big difference. That’s why you have … so much audience there because they’re not having to do anything. It’s almost like the media industry is finally figuring out, you have to go where the audience is at as opposed to trying to get them to come to you.

Meyerson 15:20
A colleague in the broadcast business once talked about his organization’s ability to train listeners to do certain things at certain times. That seems to be a notion that I think is going away. I don’t even know when my favorite TV shows are on, they just show up on my TV when I want to watch—

Kaufmann 15:34
When you’re ready to watch them! Exactly! Right? I mean, I watched two or three TV shows over the weekend that were season finales from two weeks ago. And I didn’t have any problem with it. I knew how to avoid the spoilers. We’re not living in this collective zeitgeist anymore, where everybody’s watching one episode of Lost. There’s a lot going on. And I feel like that is the same with we talked about podcasts, you talking about newsletters, talking about news. And I think that what I find interesting is just the idea that Monica and I are, we get this all the time from listeners—or readers. Sorry, there you go—that say, “I get all my stuff from you.” You know that—

Eng 16:11
Which is scary. Come on, guys, you shouldn’t be—

Kaufmann 16:13
Yeah, it is scary. You should read other stuff for sure. I mean, but I think it’d be the same with your readers, Charlie. I mean, they’re coming to you, they can go get the stories from different places. But they’re coming to you for that five, three to five minutes in the morning. For them to say, this is what I this is what’s going on. And this is what I need to know what’s going on.

Meyerson 16:28
You know, “We read the news so you don’t have to” is one approach to email newsletters, I think. How has the pandemic played out for you, as you create the Axios Chicago newsletter? Monica?

Eng 16:40
Well, we started it like 1/3 or halfway into the pandemic. And so, I’m thrilled to be at an organization that says “We will be remote all the time.” If you’re in New York, and you want to go to the New York office, or in Virginia and want to go there, that’s great. But they say “Home is where your office is,” and we get a nice fat stipend every month to make our home a nicer place. And you can spend it on flowers or a dog or whatever —

Meyerson 17:12
A dog? I’m impressed.

Eng 17:14
I mean, anything that will make your home a nicer place to do your job. But for younger people for whom work is like the place where you’re gonna meet your mate, and you can learn from older journalists, I could see how it’s a problem. The world, you know, we know it all.

Meyerson 17:29
You’re both youngsters compared to me! Justin, how did the pandemic play out for you?

Kaufmann 17:33
Well, I mean, I left—I got, you know, tossed outta WGN Radio right when the pandemic started.

Meyerson 17:39
Yeah, I was on your last show. It was an honor.

Kaufmann 17:40
Yeah, that was right. I mean, that was right when the lockdown was happening, which is the timing is crazy. But the so I was one of the people who lost their job right when the pandemic started. And I have yet to— Any project that I picked up freelance, I mean, I went on to host Reset, and I went into the Navy Pier studio to do that. But since then, I’ve done a number of projects—the Madigan podcast, and the Axios newsletter, and working for Axios Today, which is the national podcast—from this desk. And that has changed the world, the technology for us to be able to do this, the technology for us to be able to connect through Slack and other platforms that give us an immediate connection is great. Now, I will say that What I miss is the creativity through collaboration, which was brought up in D.C. I mean, when we went to the Axios retreat—they had an all-staff retreat in DC—that was a big thing that the CEOs and the founders talked about, is they said, we have to do more of these. Because you do find yourself coming out of those, talking to the crew from Dallas or the crew from Tampa or the crew from Salt Lake City, or Seattle, and becoming friends and saying, “We should do something, Detroit.” All that kind of like conversation is amazing. It really gets your creative juices flowing. And so that we miss for sure. And even Monica and I, who have a great shorthand, we don’t see each other in person enough. Now luckily, we’re on the same softball team and that softball team is winning. It’s a winning team. So it’s …

Eng 19:08
If it were losing, you know, it’d be a sort of an angry confrontation.

Meyerson 19:11
All right, well, that brings me to my next question, coincidentally, which is that your passions shine through in almost every issue—Monica, food, and Justin, sports. Justin, we’re in the thick of the season for your passion—and passion’s putting it mildly because I’ve played against you—Chicago’s Kup Media Softball League, named for Sun-Times columnist Irv Kupcinet. How’s it going? Justin?

Kaufmann 19:34
It is good. You know, there’s some really good teams this year in that league and the league is great, because—come on. It’s a passion of mine because I love the sport. And I really start to learn the nuances and the history of 16-inch softball. The 16-Inch Softball Hall of Fame in Forest Park is a tremendous place to learn more about our forefathers, and how they played softball and how softball is Chicago’s sport. So it is really great to be out here and like a night like tonight we’re gonna play tonight as we’re taping this, we’re gonna play on a beautiful night at 75 degrees in a Chicago park on the West Side. It doesn’t get more Chicago than that. So like the connection to the city. And I think I think it’s a very inclusive sport. I think that you see really strong African American leagues on the South Side, you see really strong Latino leagues, you see suburban, a lot of car dealerships. You can’t have a Chicago softball league, leagues without car dealerships, but I mean, everybody knows the game. Everybody’s played it. Everybody’s got a crooked finger. So I feel like it’s the ultimate connector. That’s why I love the sport.

Meyerson 20:42
Yeah, the fingers. I can identify with the fingers. That’s why I’m not doing softball anymore. Monica, you’re just back from your visit to the Illinois State Fair. How was it?

Eng 20:49
It’s pretty disgusting. The highlight was the walking a horseshoe which is, as you know, is Texas toasts covered in ground beef or other meat and then fries and then a beer cheese sauce. This one those are you throw all that in a tortilla, roll it up, deep fry it and then put more cheese sauce on it. I feel like it’s gonna be a few years before I recover. But I have to say I loved those tiny little fried doughnuts, those like tiny cinnamon doughnuts that are warm. You pop them in your mouth, and those are no good for you. But, no, it was fun. But I think state fair food is really an exercise and excess and, and fun for the time you go out there. But I’m paying my penance. I just went to Wrigley Field over the weekend to try their plant-based meats. So I got a really healthful giant helmet of nachos, covered in cheese and sour cream, but then some plant-based chicken on top and a kind of shriveled-up hot dog that you will …

Kaufmann 21:53
No, that that definitely, definitely evens it out.

Eng 21:55
No, no, like virtuous. It’s like a kale salad. So yeah, but it’s fun. And I know that readers can vicariously enjoy these strange treats through me. So I’m happy to do it.

Kaufmann 22:07
I will say this, Charlie, like, I just think that even beyond food and sports, we both share a lot of passions, but we also have individual uniques. I mean, I’m big—you know this—I’m big into politics. Monica is big into public policy and health and environment. You mentioned sports as a passion. But I also feel like sports is a huge part of the stew that is Chicago news. And a lot of places I’ve worked—’BEZ is a great example of it—they ignore it. Or they think that that’s not important. And I think that that’s wrong. And most of the readers that that will write in are going to be sports fans in some form.

Eng 22:48
Every time I think, “Oh, God, Justin’s writing the sports story again,” we get tons of response. And so I’m so glad we balanced each other out on that because he knows the world. And I just trust him from now on.

Kaufmann 22:58
Yeah, and that was it. But that’s the news. I mean, if you grew up in Chicago, and you know Chicago, you know how important a Monday recap of the Bears game is.

Eng 23:07
I did grow up in Chicago, but I’m just like, I’m not interested. But you know that people will be.

Kaufmann 23:11
They will be. But I think the combination of Monica’s interests and mine together make something that is very specific and unique to Chicago, that brings people around and wants to engage because it’s everything from arts, music, to— and it’s different than a lot of the markets, Charlie. Like if you go to some of the other Axios locals, they’re just straight-up reporters.

Eng 23:35
Some of them are former real estate reporters. So they love doing real estate stories. One of them is like a beer fanatic, and he does tons of beer stories. And Axios says, “Let your freak flag fly, man. You’re into it, our readers will, like, understand your passion and get into it, too.”

Kaufmann 23:50
Yeah, but you also know that like Chicago is a different place. I mean, we can compare ourselves to New York or L.A. or compare ourselves to Wisconsin and Indiana. I mean, there’s, there’s something about Chicago, it’s cliche to say it’s, you know, big city, small town kind of thing. But it is going to be a different newsletter than Denver, it should be a different newsletter than San Francisco. And that’s what’s great about it is ours is very unique, very different than the others in the market. And, and theirs are great. I mean, I read them all. I love them. I love the local stuff.

Eng 24:22
Well, at some point we’re not gonna be able to it’s going to be 35 by the end of the year, and then maybe 100 by 2025.

Meyerson 24:28
We have a question from one of our viewers on YouTube, Mike Dessimoz: “From communications and other interactions you have with your readers, what seem to you to be their most serious areas of concern?”

Kaufmann 24:41
I think it’s violence. I think whenever we get into political stuff like Monica wrote a great piece about Bailey calling Chicago a hellhole again, and really the follow when she asked at the fair, “Hey, what do you say to Chicagoans who live in that hellhole?” he’s like, “I hear from them all the time.”

Eng 25:00
He says he believes most of us think we’re living in a hellhole.

Kaufmann 25:03
And so that’s the story. And so today, it’s been really thoughtful. A lot of people are mad at Darren Bailey, but then others who say, “I don’t agree with the word, and he’s not right. But there are some serious concerns in Chicago right now, when it comes to violence, and crime, things like that, that need to be taken, taken care of.” So he’s not wrong in saying that things are happening in Chicago, that shouldn’t be, but the way that he’s using—the words that he’s choosing are too political, divisive, or just straight-up wrong. So I think that that’s what we get, mostly when we do police stories, or we do violent stories, anything like that, you’ll get responses that are much more divisive than you would think. We’re not an echo chamber. But I think what you notice the most is people get upset about the mayor, and where we are when it comes to crime.

Meyerson 25:56

Eng 25:57
Yes, well, the same. They say oh, to talk more about crime, and I say, “We cover crime, but I don’t think Chicago is defined by crime.” We want to also remember why we love this city. And that’s also what this newsletter is about. So we try to be balanced. One person said, “You guys are a sort of glass half-full?” I don’t know. But I know that I would want to open up something that is “glass half-full,” and not just be bludgeoned by how horrible this place is every morning. I’m not sure I wouldn’t open up that email every morning.

Kaufmann 26:27
Well, you know, Charlie, you do your newsletter. Every morning, you could spend the first 15 links on crime stories. The 10 o’clock news loves it. Oh, my God, from 10 to 10:15. is every carjacking that happened in the city. They love it, they put reporters on it—

Eng 26:40
—which is why our parents are all like, “This city. How do you live in it?” Like, “Stop watching the news, Mom.”

Kaufmann 26:46
There has to be a study at some point—I’m sure we used to have think tanks that would do this, and maybe they still do—about the role the 10 o’clock news has played in how people see their city. Because it used to be, what, 10 to 10:04—I’m an idiot savant when it comes to this stuff, because I watch it and I mark where the stories are at—but it used to be maybe you get the first two stories that were violence. I’m seeing now like almost through the first commercial break. And you can I feel like you could cherry pick a lot of that stuff, because it’ll be carjacking here, somebody got mugged over here, you know, things like that. And that is a big story in Chicago. But it’s not the only story. And when you’re talking about millions of people, I mean, what, 2.7 million in Chicago, and then you go outside of that to people like 9 million in the whole like area, of course, there’s going to be crime. So and I’m not saying that Chicago doesn’t have a crime problem; we talk about it all the time. But I think that it’s a strange world we live in where the people who are charged with documenting what’s happening in our city are spending a third of their time talking about crime.

Meyerson 27:51
Closing thoughts. Justin.

Kaufmann 27:55
You can’t have a conversation about the future of this kind of work without pointing out what you’ve done for Chicago. And obviously, Chicago Public Square has been there and done a lot so far and, and continues to lead. You know, there wouldn’t be an Axios newsletter, or a Politico newsletter or any of the newsletters that came in if there weren’t independents that tried and showed that it was successful before.

Meyerson 28:18
Closing thoughts. Monica?

Eng 28:20
Well, I’m just glad that you saw fit to have us on. We type all day and we don’t get to use our talking muscles that much. Thank you so much for doing it. And thanks for amplifying our stories sometimes. That really helps. And I think it shows that a lot of people say “Oh, Axios is trying to kill local journalism, it’s going into these markets,” and a certain leader of a certain large news organization in Chicago said, “You’ll never be us.” And it’s like, “Dude,” or maybe it was a woman, “Yeah, we’re not trying to be. We’re trying to be additive to the local news environment. I think we can all support each other. Because more information for Chicago is only good for Chicago.”

Meyerson 29:04
Yeah. I don’t know if you get anyone asking you about other email newsletters as if they’re competition—sounds like you do—but every once in a while, someone will ask me and I want to say publicly: The more email newsletters for and about Chicago, the better. Especially if—as Axios Chicago does—it comes out before mine, so that I can link to your work.

Eng 29:22
There you go.

Meyerson 29:23
Makes my newsletter all the better.

Kaufmann 29:24
Yeah. And we’re the same. I mean, we when we talk to any— I mean the people writing Chicago newsletters are great. I think Shia [Kapos] is awesome working at Politico, Hunter [Clauss] at WBEZ, the folks at the Sun-Times and the Tribune do great work. So, you know, I don’t know if they just because we’re—it’s so funny, because, for years, we’ve all worked at different media outlets and then we’ve changed …

Eng 29:47
And we’re all friends …

Kaufmann 29:49
… we’re all friends and personal, yeah.

Eng 29:51
When I was at the State Fair covering Pritzker, some of us couldn’t get close to him. And so Amanda Vinicky was taking my phone and making it closer and then I took the NPR person’s mic and moved it closer. We’re all just helping each other and I think that that’s the spirit we should see it in.

Meyerson 30:08

Kaufmann 30:09
Except on the softball diamond.

Meyerson 30:11
Our guests on this edition of Chicago Media Talks—recorded August 22, 2022—have been Monica Eng and Justin Kaufmann, co-authors of the essential (and free!) Axios Chicago email newsletter. You can reach them at and And join me for a roundup of the news weekday mornings at I’m Charlie Meyerson. For producers Jesse Betend and Cindy Paulauskas and everyone at Rivet360, thanks for listening to Chicago Media Talks.

[Transcribed by Otter—and then edited. A lot. Thanks for the inspiration, Eric Zorn.]

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