Sometimes it seems like there are two different versions of this side of Chicago. Media portrayal of the “mean streets” of the South Side can sometimes look like a whirlwind of shootings and low-income housing controversy, but this sensationalized portrait is not the South Side that residents know–as many can attest, life south of the Loop doesn’t always read like a police blotter. And perhaps no one is more aware of this than journalist Natalie Moore: she, like many of its residents, sees in it an area that definitely has its problems, but one that is burgeoning with change and home to a kaleidoscope of people living a wide spectrum of lifestyles.
Moore is the reporter covering the South Side for Chicago Public Radio. She works out of a storefront in Englewood, next door to Joe’s Style and Mo’s Clip barbershop and across the street from a Klassy Hand Car Wash. Chicago Public Radio’s South Side bureau is located in a converted storefront church, the only visible vestige of which is the slightly raised floor at the rear of the office that now supports a recording studio instead of a pulpit. Moore, rapt at her computer screen, sits at a desk behind a heavily barred door and windows. An alert, petite woman, Moore is currently covering the R. Kelly trial downtown, which keeps her shuttling from Englewood to the courthouse often and on short notice. She says of the Englewood location: “It is a presence in the neighborhood, though people don’t come knocking on my door every day with stories.” It’s also convenient: “I do a lot of work out in the field, and I can have interviews in the studio here. It’s easier for people to come by.”
Moore grew up on the South Side of Chicago, attending school in the Beverly neighborhood. She attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. and continued on to get a graduate degree in journalism at Northwestern University. She’s been back in Chicago for the past two and a half years, freelancing for some time before landing at Chicago Public Radio.
Moore brings a unique perspective to her reporting. In 2006, she published a book titled “Deconstructing Tyrone: A New Look at Black Masculinity in the Hip-Hop Generation,” which she co-authored with fellow journalist Natalie Hopkinson. It is mostly a piece of social criticism, exploring a composite cultural character to whom the two women have given the moniker “Tyrone.” It describes men who, in the words of Washington Post reviewer Evelyn White, display “a cavalier disregard for convention,” men who are “often disparaged as sidekicks to their more forceful male peers. Yet in their attention to everyday issues of survival, such men play an important role in the black community. Disdainful of the integrationist gains of the civil rights movement, Tyrones favor entrepreneurial endeavors over establishment jobs.” Moore considers herself a “black feminist in the Hip-Hop Generation,” and brings this unique background to her reporting of the South Side.
Of course, in covering South Side news for Chicago Public Radio, her scope extends far beyond the world of hip-hop–though when the two convene, such as in the case of the R. Kelly trial, it is certainly to her benefit. “I try to present a range,” she explains. And she does: in a piece about the opening of a Starbucks in the neighborhood of Bronzeville, which is seeing new growth, Moore claims that “many middle-class black households are attracted to Bronzeville for its proximity to downtown and the lake–home sales have increased sixteen percent in the last two years and continue to climb despite the national housing market slump.” However, she observes that class conflict may be imminent as wealthier residents clamor for more upscale retail while the lower-income sector is looking for “grocery stores, so they don’t have to go way down to Fairplay and shop. Or go down here to this 200 Cut Rate Liquor. They sell food, but they high,” as put by longtime Bronzeville resident Frederick Thomas in an interview sound clip in the article. Moore illustrates what it ultimately comes down to for the new ward alderman: “[Pat] Dowell realizes that there are new residents who hunger for a Whole Foods while others don’t.”
This phenomenon is growing across the South Side, where gentrification looms and developers are navigating what has proved to be an, at times, uneasy relationship with the established neighborhood. Moore presents a dynamic view of the neighborhood, trying to create as much of a multi-dimensional depiction as possible.
Another complex issue that Moore tackles is that of the Chicago Housing Authority’s recent–and dramatic–makeover. The CHA’s Plan for Transformation has upset and engaged many residents on the South Side, and Moore has been covering the public housing debate since sixty-eight families got relocation notices and a much shorter period of time to move than is usually allotted to residents. Since then, the head of the CHA has resigned and been replaced as families try to navigate the public housing system.
Moore says that the particulars of radio journalism prove helpful in the field: “When you tell someone that you’re from some publication, they tell you everything that’s wrong with that publication. When I say I’m from Chicago Public Radio, they say, ‘I love the radio!’ People trust Chicago Public Radio.”
Radio journalism, for Moore, is a different kind of storytelling than print journalism. She uses tricks that are specific to the medium, such as underlying her speech with ambient noise from the place that she’s reporting on: “something like the noise of an air conditioner–we don’t usually notice that.” Radio journalism is much more of a performance medium than print; Moore describes “switching scenes,” as if the sounds she uses are a kind of theatrical backdrop that can be changed at will.
In listening to Moore’s pieces, there is a very real sense of place. With a couple of seconds of school cafeteria noise, we’re transported to Percy L. Julian High School, where students are talking about the violence prevalent in the school community that a new principal is working hard to squelch. In another article, Moore talks over the chatter of the scene inside of the Chicago Recovery Alliance truck parked at 47th and Vincennes where Cheryl Hull distributes free clean needles, condoms, and alcohol pads to drug users to prevent spread of disease. As Moore goes into details about a new drug to prevent heroin overdose, we never leave the distribution truck–a locus for the people who most need it.
Moore says that Chicago Public Radio covers stories that people want to listen to–stories that are relevant, interesting, and human. “We don’t do a lot of crime,” she says, “We get a lot of phone calls saying, ‘if I want to know about crime, I’d watch the evening news.’” And Moore knows that there’s much more to the South Side than what’s on the evening news.
Photos by Ellis Calvin