Short-form journalism

This page showcases a few recent examples of bread-and-butter journalism: short profiles and news stories. There are a few different styles represented, including an as-told-to (Janet Foutty) and a Q&A (Howard Tullman), as well as traditional narratives.

40 Under 40 (Crain's Chicago Business)

I wrote three short profiles as part of the 2018 edition of the annual "40 Under 40" feature produced by Crain's Chicago Business. I've written a ton of "list" features over the years—the Fast 50, the 100 Most Powerful, 20 in their 20s, and so on. I even got to create the "Tech 25" for Crain's in 2011, and expanded the list to a "Tech 50" the following year. But 40 Under 40 is special. It's a signature annual feature for Crain's, and I've written so many of these over the last decade that I might ultimately complete my own set of 40.

What if you could adjust prices to meet demand?

THE ASSIGNMENT: A short profile about a slow-starting tech startup that's finally gaining momentum after years of development. THE LEAD: Five years ago—an eternity in the world of tech startups—two college buddies from India, both living in Chicago, decided to build software that would give the then-emerging class of Airbnb hosts the ability to quickly adjust their prices based on shifts in demand. ...

Crain's Fast 50: LotLinx

THE ASSIGNMENT: A short profile about Chicago's fastest-growing company, LotLinx, whose ad-tech solution helps car dealers turn over aging inventory. THE LEAD: Len Short treats his artificial-intelligence-powered advertising platform a little like a clever pet. He feeds it data and then watches with fascination as it grows smarter. "You see this heartbeat, heartbeat, and then all of a sudden–boom!–it just starts climbing like an F-16," he says.

Two startup guys who are taking on Amazon

THE ASSIGNMENT: The direction for this short profile about a fast-growing, Chicago-based logistics business took shape when I discovered that its two founders grew up together in India. THE LEAD: Dhruv Saxena and Divey Gulati spent a lot of time standing in line at the Willis Tower post office in 2013. Boyhood friends fresh out of grad school, the two had launched a side project called SnailMailPics that mailed printed copies of cellphone photos that customers ordered via text message. Technology made the whole operation simple, except for that last step at the post office. ...

All In

THE ASSIGNMENT: I've interviewed Howard Tullman in lots of different settings—for at least four separate publications, and with Howard occupying at least four different jobs. The latest is a Q&A focused on his latest endeavor, leading a new entrepreneurship center at Illinois Tech. THE LEAD: The phrase “rock-star hire” seems tailor-made for Howard Tullman’s arrival at Illinois Tech, where he serves as executive director of the university’s new Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship. Tullman, 73, has the credentials: he’s a veteran entrepreneur, investor, and academic administrator who spent the last five years leading Chicago tech hub 1871, which in February was named the world’s top business incubator. He also brings plenty of rock-star vibe, gliding around ...

Chicago invests $12 million into expanding pathway to construction trades

THE ASSIGNMENT: I don't do a ton of traditional daily reporting, so I enjoyed this chance to attend a press conference at a Chicago high school and quickly spin it into a story. THE LEAD: What happens when Mayor Rahm Emanuel headlines a pep rally in a sweltering, Northwest Side high-school gymnasium to promote a $12 million investment in vocational education? Lots of HVAC jokes, for one thing. And some students fanning themselves ...

The latest in cream liqueurs

THE ASSIGNMENT: This short profile explains how—and why—an international supply-chain consultant got into the liquor business. THE LEAD: On an overseas flight in 2010, PK Garg had an idea that would nearly bankrupt him five years later. He envisioned a spin on Baileys Irish Cream that would conjure the flavors of his native India—specifically the saffron, pistachio and cardamom from a famous Indian dessert called rasmalai. Garg returned home and with his wife, Swati, began concocting beverages in their Burr Ridge kitchen. The venture remained a hobby until 2013, when the Gargs decided they'd hit on the right formula. ...

Patriotism + snark = Grunt Style = $100 million-plus

THE ASSIGNMENT: I heard about Grunt Style while reporting another story, and was surprised I hadn't heard of such a fast-growing business. I got Michael Arndt at Crain's Chicago Business to green-light a profile and headed to Grunt Style's suburban headquarters, where I discovered the company's revenue was hardly its most interesting feature. THE LEAD: Six years ago, former army drill sergeant Dan Alarik was selling patriotic T-shirts out of his Nissan hatchback, covering 50,000 miles in a year and losing so much money that his wife begged him to quit. Nothing about his company, Grunt Style, suggested that it was about to explode. "I was just grinding and grinding, and wondering to myself, 'Why is this so hard?' " recalls Alarik ...

Q&A: Mayor Rahm Emanuel and schools chief Janice Jackson on how they intend to resuscitate neighborhood schools

THE ASSIGNMENT: This Q&A with Chicago's mayor and schools chief ran alongside a feature story about the city's investment in the International Baccalaureate curriculum. THE LEAD: Chicago is doubling down on a big bet that the International Baccalaureate program can be a boon to its struggling neighborhood schools. We asked Mayor Rahm Emanuel and schools chief Janice Jackson to explain their calculus in a recent joint interview. ...

Help, finally, for independent insurance agents

THE ASSIGNMENT: A short profile about an insurance-tech startup that aims to help old-school agencies and carriers level the playing field with high-tech competitors. THE LEAD: When independent insurance agents see a gecko on TV, they close their eyes and fume. For one thing, the notion of instant quotes and automated service is an affront to the cherished industry values of interpersonal relationships and personalized advice. Second, the agents know they're losing ground because ...