Jim Lehrer On the Road: Dispatch From Chicago

BY Hari Sreenivasan  April 27, 2010 at 1:41 PM EST

An update from Chicago:

This was the kind of day that always breathes the life and spirit of public broadcasting into me. I spent it with a wide range of Chicago citizens who give their energy and support to WTTW, Chicago’s superb public television station. They — along with others like them throughout the country — provide us the independent platform on which we practice our NewsHour journalism. We have been there on PBS five nights a week for 35 years because of them.

There were two events co-sponsored by WTTW. The first was a luncheon at the Union League Club as part of its “Author Series.” I was interviewed by my old friend Phil Ponce, a former NewsHour senior correspondent who hosts the terrific public affairs program “Chicago Tonight.” Phil later did a separate interview that was broadcast last night on his program. Watch it here:

The second public event was an evening forum done by WTTW in conjunction with Northern Trust Bank and held at the bank’s downtown headquarters. Everywhere there were questions and comments from the audience about a range of subjects. I was particularly heartened by the many good words about the fresh look and approach of our PBS NewsHour!

I was asked several times about the vitriol that seems to have taken over the public discourse in Washington as well as various media avenues — particularly cable television and talk radio. (I said I believed it was a natural outgrowth of the current real fears among citizens about jobs, home foreclosures, health care, etc. If and when those fears recede the hot, inflammatory talk as well as some of the severe division will recede as well.) There were also concerns about the future of print and other serious media. (I was more optimistic about the future than some…)

Both events also had a “Super” element to them, of course. I treated one and all to my fictional all-aboard call of The Super Chief as it might have been given in the 1950s at Dearborn Station, the Santa Fe railroad’s Chicago station. Only a few blocks from both the Union League Club and the Northern Trust Bank, it is still there — as an office building not a train station.

I have a full day of more events Tuesday in and around Chicago before heading to my next stop: Kansas City.

You can keep up with Jim’s travels as he tours the country to visit PBS stations and discuss his new novel, “Super,” on this road trip page. Plus follow these links to find interviews with TV Newser and the Daily Beast.