Dr. Jon Bekken is a professor who has taken a strong interest in Chicago throughout his academic and professional life. Bekken had attended the University of Illinois written his dissertation on, “Working-Class Newspapers, Community and Consciousness in Chicago, 1880-1930.” in 1992. Throughout the past 25 years, his research has covered a broad range of newspaper publications in Chicago. He is presently a communications professor at Albright College.
Bekken is researching and producing a publication on John Wentworth, a historically important figure in Chicago during the 1800’s. At this point and time, his research has come to focus on the origins of Chicago’s journalism. During the fall of 2016, Bekken took a sabbatical to further his research on Chicago’s first newspaper, “Chicago Democrat”.
John Wentworth, who was responsible for the success of this paper is a cornerstone of Chicago’s history. Bekken’s research takes a look at the papers produced during Wentworth’s time as editor and owner of the weekly paper, as well as materials revolving around both the paper and him. He had brought about the “Chicago Daily Democrat” which was successfully produced at the same time.
Listen to the interview held with him here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-tJkGlfQUY
In this interview, Bekken discussed Chicago’s first newspaper “Chicago Democrat” which was started in 1833 but was mildly successful. John Wentworth takes over the paper in 1836 and starts making it a successful weekly. Bekken was able to describe Wentworth as a person from the information he had gathered. The descriptions were derived from Wentworth’s writing, political actions, and overall successful life.
Wentworth as a Person: Wentworth is understood on a more personal level by Bekken because of reading the primary sources of his writing, while also reading other historic figure’s primary source opinions on him. By understanding Wentworth and his mindset throughout life, Bekken is able to gain insight on the motives behind his actions.
“What he really believes is that government should build canals and railroads and dredge rivers, and have orderly planning that makes possible a prosperity,” said Bekken.
Wentworth’s Newspaper: As he goes through producing his paper he is effective in making a profitable and successful news source. Although he increases advertising as Bekken describes, he also produces material focused on the local government. He wants to promote what he really believes in. This results in him being an advocate for government-funded projects that would result in the overall prosperity of Chicago. This makes sense because the success of Chicago results in the success of his paper. This success can be seen when a daily paper could then be produced.
Wentworth’s Politics: Becoming a part of Congress benefits his paper and he manages to utilize two sides of his life in a unified way. Presently, people would find this situation to be a conflict of interest, but at that time frame, it was expected. He also the became Mayor of Chicago and participating on many boards that were focused on improving certain aspects of the city.
While being an avid Democrat for most of his life, he knew when to cut ties with things that would no longer benefit him. According to Bekken, although he never became an abolitionist, and had made fun of abolitionists in the past, he moved away from slavery because it did not seem to be pertinent for the future.
Wentworth’s End: In a common act of cutting ties he sold the “Chicago Democrat” and the “Chicago Daily Democrat” which merged to become the “Chicago Tribune”. Towards the end of his life, he took some time to contribute to his legacy, while also trying to conserve it.
Bekken mentions how Wentworth’s terrible handwriting was a hindrance to understanding and researching him. While the information and research are pretty much complete, the compilation of the book will take time.This leaves the date it will be published unknown.
Below is Wentworth’s signature, an example of his terrible handwriting.