Saturday, February 25, 2023

Works in progress: Eric Zorn


      Last week I kicked off a new Saturday feature, "Works in progress," where my writer friends talk about what they're doing. My favorite columnist on the Chicago scene — other than myself of course — is Eric Zorn, formerly of the Tribune, lately of the Picayune Sentinel.
So it is natural, after Cate Plys got the ball rolling with the complex world of "Roseland, Chicago: 1972," that I'd ask Eric to go next. It's well-timed that it run today, as earlier this week he gave a shout out to EGD on the Picayune that resulted in about 150 new subscribers. So thanks for that, welcome to the new readers, and I'm glad you'll have a familiar voice to help you make the adjustment.
     Enough preface; take it away, Eric:

     I'm pleased and honored that Neil has invited me to contribute an entry to his hobby blog.
     “Hobby blog” is a distant callback – a deep cut – to those who have been following my relationship with Neil over the years, which I date from 1996. I’ve told this story before, but here it is: I was intrigued by the title of a recently-published book by a Sun-Times reporter, “A Complete and Utter Failure: A Celebration of Also-Rans, Runners-Up, Never-Weres & Total Flops,” so I bought it and took it on a family vacation to Sanibel Island.
     I liked the writing and the journalistic sensibility so much that I called from Florida to leave a complimentary message on Neil’s work machine (this was before email was the dominant mode of communication), and a friendship was born. But we were competitors after the Sun-Times made him a columnist, and would occasionally needle one another in print or online.
    In 2003 I started the Tribune’s first blog, and used it as I use my current platform – a Substack newsletter called The Picayune Sentinel – as a vehicle for little tirades such as one in 2005 under the headline “Steinberg, pimping.”
      I turned on public radio Saturday morning hoping to hear the handwringing, bedwetting liberal blather that so vexes Sun-Times print blogger Neil Steinberg, who picks on NPR in his column almost every chance he gets.
     What did I hear instead? Why, none other than Neil Steinberg himself, flogging his new book yet again in a public radio interview.
     Recently, Steinberg described himself in print as "brash" and "mouthy," but I felt that description was inexact. Readers helpfully contributed many alternative adjectives – some more complimentary than others.
     But if I must pick just two to replace "brash" and "mouthy," I'll go with "shameless" and "touchy."
     Yet because I am such a fair fellow, I'll note that he's shameless and touchy in a compelling and usually eloquent way
     Neil responded in print:
     So I was enduring another lecture from Prof. Zorn, not in his newspaper, of course, but in the hobby blog he uses to gusher on at a stridency and a length too tedious even for his Trib column (I tell you, I get bored and skim sometimes, and it's about me.)
     I typically refrain from comment. But this week's tirade was so nagging and unfair that I began to break my rule and leap to my defense. But after a few paragraphs I deleted it all, realizing just in time I was falling into his trap, becoming as petty and prolix as he. And why put you through that? 
     I snapped back:
     OK, here's how it happened.
     I was on a CTA bus today when a stinking wino roused himself from sleep and staggered to the exit, shedding pages of the Chicago Sun-Times that had been covering him during his extended nap.
     And what should fall on my lap but a fetid copy of page 22, the very page upon which Neil Steinberg was feasting on the chum I had thrown into the quaint little shark tank that he calls a column – a column I never, ever would have occasion to look at or read, of course. But there it was.
     I then quoted the above passage from his column and added:
    He calls this a "hobby blog." It's not. It's formally one-third of my duties here at the Tribune (I used to write three columns a week; now I write two columns plus the Notebook).
And as I've noted before, Steinberg, who spends much of his free time writing books that almost nobody buys and fewer people read than visit this blog in one week, is the last person to accuse anyone of writing for a hobby. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
     He says that he typically refrains from comment, but, in fact, the beautiful thing is that he frequently mentions my name in his column – and always in that brittle tone of superior contempt.
     I never mention his name in my column.
     No, that's not quite true. I did once, July 30, 2003, when I listed him in the company of Chris Rock, Al Franken, Roy Blount Jr., David Sedaris and others who'd made me laugh--in a good way — in the previous year.
     I do mention him here from time to time — sometimes favorably, because I am the bigger person, sometimes critically, because he asks for it — but by no stretch of the imagination is this site about him, as he dreams; not like his old "Bob Watch" column was about Bob Greene.
Where are we? Oh, yes. "Striden(t)....tedious... nagging and unfair...petty and prolix."
     Hey I started the adjective war, I can take it
     The towel snapping was all in good fun, though some readers never really got it and thought Neil and I were actually bitter rivals. In truth, I have long considered Neil the most interesting, most gifted newspaper columnist in Chicago – even when I was writing a column of my own.
     You’re a reader of “Every Goddamn Day” so I need not persuade you of this, I’m sure. But as Steinberg fans, you no doubt share certain sensibilities with me – wide ranging curiosity, a tolerance for heterodox takes on the news, a certain fearlessness in shoving sacred cows into the rhetorical abattoir (Neil would have come up with a better metaphor) and a delight in pitilessly examining seemingly insignificant developments in the news.
     If so, I invite you to try the Picayune Sentinel. It arrives in your mailbox just once a week (twice for paid subscribers), not every fuckin’ day, my suggested title for his blog, one that probably would have prompted less pearl clutching. It features takes on the news of the week, a bit of original reporting, funny tweets, highlights from Mary Schmich’s Facebook posts, hot links and other random stuff – often shameless and touchy, I admit, as well as petty and prolix – that I hope readers find diverting.
     I’ve been at it since shortly after leaving the Tribune in mid 2021 and, as I tell people, I’ve never had more fun as a writer. Hope you’ll check it out. Visit or you can email me and I’ll put you on the list. Put "Steinberg" in the subject line and I'll add a free month, no strings attached, to the Tuesday Picayune Plus editions.


  1. It's a lot of fun when two worthy opponents are on their game. I enjoy reading you both.

  2. Only in great cities that have multiple news sources will you find this sort of camaraderie/"competition". Everyone wins.
    So few Americans aren't even aware of what they are missing.

  3. These two are enormously fun to read and about the only reasons left to stay in Chicago besides the pizza and mild winters.

  4. I have been reading every goddamn day for several years now with great enjoyment and find it to be excellent entertainment from a terrific writer.

    Unlike yours Mr. Zorn, Neil does not take my jabs as I intend them. He has encouraged me to take my opinions elsewhere and leave him and his hobby blog alone.

    His blog is the only one I read, but I'm going to accept your offer and give your work a try

    Welcome to the Saturday morning edition of Mr. Steinberg's blog. Where not Everyone is welcome to comment

    1. Wrong again Franco. The only comments of yours that are deleted are when you're being a jerk. I don't hold your past against you because — sorry — I don't really keep track of who's saying what. So take a breath, don't be so caustic, and you can comment away. It's the boo-hoo poor-me of your last sentence that causes me to shitcan some of your remarks. Stop crying about it. It makes you, not me, look bad.

  5. I am indebted to one of you for introducing me to the term "argle-bargle". I use it with alacrity. You both sometimes engage in it. It keeps me entertained, and sometimes smarter.

  6. Though you've been my two favorite columnists for decades (gonna have to agree with EZ as to who has the slight edge, FWIW), I must admit that when some of the sniping was going on in the "Professor" days, I somehow missed the fact that the verbal jousting was "all in good fun." This was partially due to the fact that Neil always seemed to take any opportunity to rail against the Trib, in general, so a bitter rivalry seemed quite possible. Regardless, those are some very entertaining excerpts.

    I forget at what point the thaw seemed to occur, as far as print references were concerned, and the nature of your friendship became evident. It must have been before Neil started his (self-described) hobby blog, because I surely remember EZ enthusiastically directing folks to read it. But even today, to read that you were friends well before the towel snapping ensued is surprising to me. Excellent!

    Having been an occasional, third-string member of the Change of Subject Commentariat, I came to regret that it was not, indeed a "hobby blog" when the powers-that-be at the Trib decided to ruin it. While the Sentinel is indeed an engaging and swell enterprise, and draws some fine comments, the interplay among the hoi polloi ain't the same, alas!

    1. Agree, as a fellow commenter I miss CoS. Eric, fulfilled one of my great lifetime bucket lists items when he invited me to the Trib and let me sit in on a meeting where the next day's front page was decided. I had dreams (that seemed pretty much impossible to ever come true) of doing that ever since I saw the scene in All the President's Men. I will forever be grateful to him for that!

  7. These two, and Mary Schmich, and Heidi Stevens. Chicago is so goddamn lucky to have you all!

  8. Great guest post today. I am a huge fan of Eric's and look forward every Tuesday and Thursday morning to read the PS(those are the only days EGDD doesnt' get read first, that comes as soon as I finish the PS). I also feel like Eric's voice and writing is a great complement to yours and hope you choose more writers like him to fill in.

  9. Three cheers for the Picayune Sentinel and it’s publisher Eric Zorn, my favorite Trib columnist to have written for them beyond the mid 90s, and all time favorite after Royko and Jon Margolis.

    I’ve been a subscriber to PS since it’s inception, and it is always engrossing, polemical and thought provoking. It’s the only print news publication that I never miss a word of.


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