Real estate and schools intertwine. Dennis Rodkin covers both, and he worked double duty to write Déjà Vu, about the state of residential real estate in the Chicago area, and Winning Combinations, about the best local elementary schools. The report on schools issues efficiency grades, relating test scores to per-pupil spending rates, an innovation since Chicago’s previous article on the subject in 2006. “People are asking, ‘Are my taxes being spent well?’ ” Rodkin says. “That’s the kind of thing they’re looking for now.” He plans to supplement the real-estate article with related stories on Deal Estate: The Blog at chicagomag.com on Wednesdays starting in mid-September.
DAVID BERNSTEIN, along with the nonprofit Better Government Association, looked into the work of Joseph Berrios, a member of the Cook County Board of Review, the panel that considers appeals of property assessments. “We wanted to drill down to see how he does business at the board,” Bernstein says. Through interviews, public-record searches, and Freedom of Information Act requests, Bernstein found anomalies in how property taxes in the county are distributed, and he presents them in The Insider. “It’s not glamorous and sexy, but it’s really important,” he says. Berrios is running for the office of Cook County assessor in November’s election.
In The Discreet Charm of RL, AMALIE DRURY delves into the luxe mystique of the restaurant RL, where she estimates she’s eaten about once a month for the past seven years, usually a business lunch in the course of reporting on Chicago society. “This was not an undercover story by any means,” she says. Drury, who also writes on nightlife for Chicago, learned plenty about who gets the best tables and personalized service—and also about a code of silence that kept who knows what secrets off her reporter’s pad. “There’s a lot of gossip and intrigue floating around that place,” she says.
This month’s Arena arts and culture pages are devoted to the third annual fall theatre preview. “It’s the best theatre time of the year,” says CASSIE WALKER, Arena’s editor. Along with the freelance writers Catey Sullivan and Kerry Reid, Walker highlights the most anticipated, promising, and unusual of the 200 or so fall productions. The challenge wasn’t filling the section, but choosing among many attractive topics, with new ensembles and new venues tackling cutting-edge, risk-taking work every year. “Chicago has a history of incubation, of nurturing new plays and new voices,” Walker says. “It’s the most exciting city for theatre.”
Photographing actors for Arena’s fall theatre preview, RYAN ROBINSON stood on familiar ground. “When I do ad campaigns, I’m always trying to push more actors than models,” he says. Actors present a richly diverse palette of subjects, and they produce colorful facial expressions for a living. For a shot of Laurie Metcalf (with Robinson, left), the twist was that she had to be herself—not a character. He persuaded her to let go of her shyness and have fun. “She’s well known, she’s a celebrity, but she’s a human,” he says.
Photography: (Rodkin) Ezekiel C. Binion, (Bernstein) Joe C. Moreno, (Robinson) courtesy of Ryan Robinson