Hyde Park has been the home of Christopher Benson for 22 years, but he still embarked on researching his article The President’s ’Hood with fresh eyes. “It was the first time I really thought deeply about what Hyde Park means,” he says. “Connecting the dots, you see all the extraordinary things that have happened in this community.” A professor of journalism and African American studies at the University of Illinois, Benson sought out new experiences in his neighborhood, such as getting a haircut from Obama’s barber. “I lived it in a way I hadn’t before,” he says. “It shows there’s always something new you can discover.”

Andrew Huff works as the editor and publisher of Gapers Block, a six-year-old Chicago news and culture Web site. In “Street Wise” in this month’s Arena, he discusses a kindred site, Everyblock, which tracks hyperlocal news on topics such as crime, inspections, licensing, and permits. “Both sites are a glimmer of what the future of journalism will be,” Huff says. Specialization will thrive, he argues, pointing to the local focus of Everyblock. “Rather than a single newspaper covering a city, we’ll likely turn to a constellation of smaller online publications that each cover a niche or a particular facet of the news,” he says.

Kate Schwartz Seamons, Chicago’s new nightlife reporter, loves underappreciated drinking spots: restaurant bars, hotel bars, and holes in the wall. “I just like places that aren’t as sceney,” she says. “I want to find a place where you feel like after you go three times you’ll recognize the bartender and they’ll know your name.” Hotel bars, especially, offer a different bargoing experience: “You feel a little voyeuristic, like a foreigner in your own city,” she says.

Seamons writes Cheers for the print magazine and The Chaser, a blog at Chicagomag.com.

In her day job, Seamons is the managing editor of Newser.com, a filtered-news Web site.

Rod Blagojevich, Barack Obama, David Axelrod, and Rahm Emanuel: four Illinois politicians whose careers crossed as they rose to national prominence.

In Chicago Straight, David Bernstein, a senior editor at Chicago, examines the connections and dealings that have drawn them together over the years and, in several instances, pulled them apart. “The point of the piece is to provide some history, depth, content—a window into the tangled web,” he says. He found complex relationships, with more gray-shading than most news stories suggest. “We tend to look at Rod and Barack in very stark terms—as good or bad,” he says, “but Barack doesn’t walk on water, and Rod isn’t completely evil.”

Roberto Parada, a painter who specializes in magazine illustrations, was riffling through a deck of cards while brainstorming for Chicago Straight. “I immediately realized the card deck had characters in it,” he says—including a joker, which Parada thought matched Rod Blagojevich. “He keeps proving me right.” Parada says that magazine assignments allow an artist to hone his craft and become a sort of visual journalist. “It’s like blue-collar art in a way,” he says. Parada’s work has appeared in Playboy, Newsweek, Time, and Rolling Stone.


Photography: (Benson) Karen Blackwell, (Seamons) Ben Seamons, (Parada) Roberto Parada