Well, Chicago, the whole world is watching, again.
In fact, the international spotlight that's shined on our city for years has illuminated the worst of our struggles — gang violence in parts of town, historic school closures and the worst pension-funding problem in America.
It hasn't been pretty, but the problems Chicagoans face are very real — and often hard to understand if you're one of the fortunate folks who wakes up every morning without fear of getting caught in gang crossfire or facing retirement with a smaller-than-expected pension.
Over the years, I've written my fair share of stories — one issue at a time and usually a thousand words or less — aimed at telling how big city government affects regular folks. That's always been my mantra for writing about our city, whether my job was to cover government and transportation or Chicagoans and their neighborhoods.
But starting tonight, for eight straight Thursdays on CNN at 9 p.m., there's a side project I worked on apart from DNAinfo Chicago, "Chicagoland," that aims to capture how the big issues of last summer — school closings and budget cuts, the constant threat of violence, the push to promote startups and technology as our city's new economic engine and so much more — affect real Chicagoans.
I was lucky enough to get tapped to work with filmmakers Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin of Brick City TV and their team — producers Yoav Attias and Jenner Furst and director of photography Dan Levin, to name a few — on a dynamic docu-series about our town.
I started as the guy charged with helping them navigate the political realities in a city of Democrats who don't always play nice with each other, introduce them to interesting Chicago characters — from union reps to fire captains and community organizers to parents caught in the crossfire of school closings — and offer advice about traveling to parts of town that most people would never visit.
Over the summer, my big mouth — and frankly my strong opinions on how a bunch of New Yorkers should tell Chicago's story — led to my involvement as a show producer, writer and narrator the New York Times describes as "gruff-talking," a description my mother disagrees with.
Even before "Chicagoland" made its CNN debut, there were a lot of opinions about the show, everything from the access filmmakers got to Mayor Rahm Emanuel to the tough-to-watch visuals of what life's like for folks navigating tough parts of our town.
As the series unfolds there will be a lot more to talk about. That's the idea, really. "Chicagoland" is a look at what real Chicagoans are up against, put on display for the world to see.
It's important because Chicago's problems are America's problems.
When you strip away the cynicism, conspiracies and politics and focus on the front lines fighting for the soul of Chicago — a principal, a fire captain, a union rep, a trauma surgeon and many more — this show offers a powerful look at what our city is up against.
And that, my fellow Chicagoans, is something worth arguing about.