The “Lens On Lightfoot” project is a collaboration of seven Chicago newsrooms examining the first year of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration. Partners are the BGA, Block Club Chicago, Chalkbeat Chicago, The Chicago Reporter, The Daily Line, La Raza and The TRiiBE. It is managed by the Institute for Nonprofit News.

During the “Lens on Lightfoot” special edition of TRiiBE Tuesday, seven reporters from seven different media outlets were allotted 45 minutes with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to ask two questions each.

Seven reporters. 14 questions. 45 minutes. 

The Lens on Lightfoot coalition is a collaboration of seven local news organizations formed in November 2019 to launch a series of articles examining the mayor’s administration’s progress toward its stated goals. 

These seven publications — La Raza, Better Government Association (BGA), Block Club Chicago, Chalkbeat, The Chicago Reporter, The Daily Line, and the TRiiBE — first hosted a “Lens on Lightfoot” TRiiBE Tuesday at the Farm on Ogden in January, introducing community members to the project and letting them give their input on the types of stories they want to come out of the project. 

The project came full circle as each of the organizations delegated journalists to grill the mayor on various topics relevant to their respective readership in a special edition of the now virtual TRiiBE Tuesday. 

TRiiBE Tuesday is a monthly event with a different topic on the agenda. However, we’d been prepping for a possible Mayor Lightfoot appearance for months. Since I joined the TRiiBE in May, “Lens on Lightfoot” had been a topic raised in meetings and became a top priority since the previous edition of TRiiBE Tuesday passed. 

About three weeks out from the event, It was determined that I would be the one asking questions for the TRiiBE because of my experience covering the uprisings since Memorial Day weekend, along with what the main focus of the questions would be. Days before the event, those questions, along with questions from all other reporters, were finalized and each reporter was contacted individually by a representative from the mayor’s office to verify the subject matter of questions.


This diligent process was made necessary in part by the fact that we would have about five minutes each to ask and get an answer to our two questions each. There was no room to listen to the mayor’s original answer on the spot to add newly introduced information into a question, and not enough time for follow-ups.

The topics, in order, were: 

* the 2020 census (with a question from Jesús Del Toro of La Raza) 

* COVID-19 (with questions Jesús Del Toro and Yana Kunichoff of ChalkBeat)

* Policies (with questions from Alex Nitkin for The Daily Line, Alejandra Cancino for BGA, and Mauricio Peña for Block Club Chicago)

* Uprisings and policing (with questions from Alex Nitkin, Josh McGhee for the Chicago Reporter, and myself for The TRiiBE)

The goal of the night was for these reporters to get answers to burning questions that hadn’t yet been sufficiently addressed by the mayor. It’s an endeavor whose importance Lightfoot agreed with.

“I think it’s important for us to have an open dialogue and ask the hard questions,” she said. “It’s important to me. I learn a lot from these conversations and I hope that we have the opportunity to engage in them again.” 

However, this declaration of importance comes at a time when new press conference customs implemented during the pandemic have made it more difficult to ask questions and engage in an open dialogue. Practices such as call-in press availabilities — where reporters have to dial “2” as quickly as possible to virtually raise their hand to be chosen to ask a question — and pool reporter press conferences where a single reporter from a given outlet is picked to ask questions emailed to them by other reporters.

These practices have added an increased level of difficulty to asking questions and getting clear answers. In fairness, there doesn’t seem to be any precedent for a mayor of a major U.S. city engaging with independent media in such an intimate format. By taking part in TRiiBE Tuesday, Mayor Lightfoot has, at the very least, established a more familiar relationship with the city’s independent media. In a discussion amongst the reporters after our 45 minutes was up, it was clear that even in this time-limited question-and-answer format, the answers we got weren’t exactly satisfactory. 

“It was a bit of semantics,” said Alejandra Cancino of the Better Government Association, whose question about why the mayor hadn’t stopped pollution producing companies moving their headquarters into predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods was met with the explanation that the company hadn’t technically moved, but had been purchased by another company. “The point is that a polluting company is still in a Hispanic neighborhood,” she continued. “Who owns the company and what the name of the company will be is just semantics.”

Throughout the event, similar redirecting tactics were used by Mayor Lightfoot to steer the focus of tough questions toward a specific explainable term or disputable wording within the question. For example, my question about who exactly the mayor is referring to when she says that she spoke with “community stakeholders” to come up with the city’s Neighborhood Protection Plan, was answered with an explanation that anyone could be a community stakeholder.


If you had only known Mayor Lightfoot from her campaign commercials and public posturing as a progressive candidate prior to her election, you’d have expected to hear straightforward answers, transparency of information and perhaps some admission of guilt on the part of the city for governmental mistakes and commitment to repair the issue. If you’d prepped to hear from a run-of-the-mill politician who spins their way out of responding to heavy questions, you were not surprised by Lightfoot’s dodgy and unclear answers.

But 45 minutes wasn’t nearly enough time for reporters from seven separate outlets to receive thorough answers and explanations to their questions. The more than 800 viewers who tuned in to the event deserved, and could likely have benefited from more than 45 minutes, to hear information from Mayor Lightfoot on things affecting their lives each day, through questions from what might be their primary source of vetted news.

However bad the optics of that might seem for Mayor Lightfoot’s relationship with the media, it reflects even more poorly on her value of the opinions and input of certain constituents who felt no more heard by her during TRiiBE Tuesday, than they have throughout her administration to date.

is a staff writer with The TRiiBE. Email him with news tips.