#SupportSunTimes: Investigative reporter’s career comes full circle

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Dan Mihalopoulos, of Maine Township High School West, and Amy Hill, of Lyons Township High School, meet with Chicago Sun-Times Editor and Senior Vice President Dennis Britton in his office. The seniors, both editors of their student newspapers, won $4,000 and $1,000, respectively, in the Chicago Sun-Times’ 1992 Herman S. Kogan Scholarship contest. | Chicago Sun-Times file photo

As a kid in the northwest suburbs, I didn’t get paid anything for doing household chores. Maybe things were different back then, or maybe it was just the way my immigrant parents did things.

One winter afternoon during my senior year of high school, I was doing some of this pro bono work, shoveling fresh snow from our driveway in Des Plaines, when my mom called me into the house to take a phone call that would have a huge impact on my life.

“It’s the Sun-Times,” my mom said. “Hurry up.”

A few weeks earlier, I’d been invited to go down to the old Sun-Times building next to the Chicago River because I was a finalist for a college scholarship from the newspaper, a prize named in honor of the esteemed Chicago journalist Herman Kogan.


For the interview with the scholarship committee, I put on my only suit and a pair of suspenders, a little fashion tip gleaned from watching postgame interviews of Michael Jordan.

After meeting with the editors who would pick the Kogan Scholarship winner, I took a stroll down the pedestrian walkway that afforded the public a view of the Sun-Times printing presses.

Finally, there was a stop at the Billy Goat Tavern for a “dobla cheese and cheeps.” The day’s only disappointment for the gangly, 17-year-old Dan was my failure to catch a glimpse of Mike Royko at the bar.

Then, in the midst of shoveling away another big snowfall, I got the call informing me that I’d won the scholarship.

I felt so surprised to be chosen — and I was so young and inarticulate — that all I could say to the woman from the paper was, “Wow, I’m glad I came in from shoveling the snow to talk with you.”

I put the same suit on again and took the L downtown to have my picture taken with then-Editor Dennis Britton. A picture of me standing next to Britton at his desk appeared in the Sun-Times in February 1992. It was the first time my name appeared in this newspaper.

After using the $4,000 scholarship to help get a journalism degree from the University of Missouri, I eventually moved back to Chicago and lived my boyhood dream of being a newspaper reporter in the town where I was born.

For the past six years, it’s been my great pleasure and honor to work as an investigative reporter for the Sun-Times, on its “Watchdogs” team.

Friday was my last day on the Sun-Times payroll, and this is the last of the weekly columns I’ve been writing for you for the past four-plus years. I’m taking a new job at WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station, where I’ll still be an investigative reporter focusing on politics and government.

But this is not goodbye — I plan to be involved in journalistic collaborations between WBEZ and the Sun-Times, who have worked together on some highly important and impactful stories in recent years.

As you surely know, this is not the kind of golden age for newspapers that Herman Kogan and his generation of Chicago journalists enjoyed during their careers.

But we still have plenty of local characters who need to be closely watched and aggressively covered.

Keeping Chicago a two-paper town is vital to fulfilling the watchdog role of the media here. Competition between reporters, as with athletes, drives us to our best efforts.

It’s more than a full-time job. It’s a vocation. But few, if any of us, can afford to do it for what I charged my parents for snow removal.

So please subscribe to the paper. I will continue to do so.

Subscribe to the Sun-Times.

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We’re asking you to support our work by subscribing to our website for $7.49 a month — less than 25 cents a day. That’s a small price to pay for journalism that is 100 percent honest and unflinchingly brave.

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