Chicago ‘guerrilla journalist’ Jamie Kalven receives Medal for Journalistic Independence | Evening Summary

Jamie Kalven rode his bike to Build Coffee, the experimental station mainstay on 61st Street and Blackstone Ave., smiling and waving at his customers and staff. It was a humid day in Chicago that threatened to rain, and as Kalven spoke softly, his voice was almost muffled by the wind and the Metra sped a block away. Before diving into a discussion of his long career and even longer history as a Chicago resident, Kalven scribbled down a few sentences on scrap paper in cursive. He is the rare writer who writes all his plays by hand.

Kalven, Chicago-born journalist, human rights activist and former executive director of the South Side’s Invisible Institutehas been back on the streets since stepping down as manager last year.

In April, Kalven received the IF Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence, which recognized his reporting on human rights. The award recognizes journalists who exemplify “independent spirit, integrity, courage and tirelessness”.

Ricardo Sandoval-Palos, Chairman of the IF Stone Medal Jury, said: “For decades, Jamie Kalven has practiced journalism in the tradition established by his role model, IF Stone. And like a steady drumbeat, Jamie produced stories that held government and police accountable. Our jury was unanimous in voting this year’s medal to Jamie in recognition of the impact of his work and the infrastructure he has put in place for promising freelance investigative journalists.

Kalven described winning the prestigious award as a way to reflect on a long and storied career.

Living on Kenwood Ave. and 48th St., less than a block from his childhood home, he said he was “intensely rooted” in the neighborhood, despite having traveled the country and the world over the course of a long career spanning half a century.

His sometimes circuitous path to grassroots social justice journalism has taken him through the worlds of legal scholarship, war reporting and high-profile court cases. Kalven was already a well-published journalist in his mid-twenties and was preparing for a career in foreign correspondence when his father, the famous jurist Harry Kalven Jr., died at age 60, leaving behind the draft of a long manuscript. on the history of free speech in America. After his father’s death, Kalven decided to complete and publish the manuscript, which became the book “A Worthy Tradition: Freedom of Speech in America”..“It took over a decade and put her life on a new path.

After the book’s completion, Kalven found himself drawn to Chicago stories that weren’t being told. He describes the city as “desperately poor and abandoned, truly abandoned by all public and private institutions, including the press”. From this frustration, he began to “build a writing practice from the margins”, immersing himself in Chicago communities plagued by poverty, over-policing and violence.

“Much of the work since (my father’s death) has been built on these two foundations: a truly unusual immersion in First Amendment law, which powerfully shapes my sense of vocation as a journalist, and an immersion in this part of the South Side, which I consider – and this is really fundamental – as part of my neighborhood, not as a foreign, distant and exotic place,” Kalven said.

His use of free speech made national headlines in 2014, when he sued the city of Chicago for access to documents related to police misconduct in Kalven v. Chicago. He won the landmark lawsuit, which led to the release of documents naming hundreds of Chicago police officers with more than ten cases of alleged misconduct between 2001 and 2006.

Alongside activists in Chicago, Kalven helped bring national attention and local action to CPD Officer Jason Van Dyke murder by Laquan McDonald.

Initial coverage of McDonald’s death was minimal, and the murder largely faded from public view – until Kalven received a tip that sparked a month-long investigation and battle for information with the city. . After accessing McDonald’s autopsy report, Kalven posted “sixteen strokesin February 2015, revealing that Van Dyke shot McDonald sixteen times.

This report influenced the cooking of CPD Superintendent Garry McCarthy and led Department of Justice investigations into human rights abuses within the CPD.

Kalven is a strong advocate for journalism that approaches social issues from an activist perspective. Chicago journalism legend Studs Terkel, who was a longtime friend of the Kalven family, once described him as a “guerrilla reporter,” a label Kalven loves.

To combat the legitimate suspicions many people have about journalists, Kalven said he has worked to build a network of sources who are also his friends and neighbors, and who know how far he would go to protect their identity.

At times, Kalven’s commitments to his sources have led to legal battles. After publishing his 17-piece series on police abuse, “Kicking the Pigeon” from 2005 to 2006, the city attempted to access Kalven’s notes. In 2017, he was subpoenaed by Van Dyke’s lawyers in an attempt to reveal the sources of “Sixteen Shots”. In both cases, Kalven declined to give his sources. “I had absolutely no doubt in my mind that I was going to jail,” he said.

Since the early 2000s, Kalven has channeled his work through the Invisible Institute. Initially, the name referred to a loose network of collaborators and creators working on race and poverty in Chicago. Over time, the institution has built relationships around the city, even collaborating with civil rights attorneys and law students at the University of Chicago Law School’s Mandel Legal Aid Clinic. Following the decision in Kalven v. Chicago, the Invisible Institute incorporated as a nonprofit and officially hired staff.

Kalven argues that his work with the Invisible Institute is unlike most traditional newspapers, which fail to integrate into communities or practice good neighborliness.

“Central to (our) work is the belief that there are things that can only be learned on the ground, from the people most affected by the political practice you write about.”

At 72, after spending decades as a journalist, some might assume Kalven is ready to retire. Instead, he said he was far from done telling stories about Chicago and injustice.

In addition to reporting full time, Kalven is training the next generation of guerrilla journalists. For a long time, he says, he never thought of himself as a mentor, but after working with co-creators to lead the Invisible Institute, he found the collaborative process particularly fulfilling. He is an advisor to the University of Chicago Undergraduate Journal,The Chicago Maroon, and said the neighborhood was “rich with opportunity” for proactive and energetic young people interested in journalism, citing the neighborhood relationship between local media outlets like the Herald and South Side Weekly.

“I feel like I’ve been working on the same story for 30 years. I wake up every morning feeling like I haven’t told the story,” Kalven said. “It’s about how the construction of race is reflected in Chicago’s hyper-segregation, reinforced by particular modes of law enforcement and policing, and how impoverishing it is for all of us.

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