Wisch List: Resurrection

“I feel reborn. I’m like a Phoenix rising from Arizona.”

– Frank Costanza, “Seinfeld”

I figured it’s about time that I rise from the dead.

Or, you know, Arizona.

After all, I’ve been (Wisch) Listless long enough.

And, c’mon, haven’t you been too?

(Only answer that if it’s a “yes.”)

It’s now been more than 10 months since I left the Chicago Tribune (but not Chicago), sent this blog on an extended vacation (poor little fella needed it. I did too) and pretty much fell off the face of the Earth (or the face of the blogosphere, at least).

If you followed my Wisch List blog at chicagotribune.com from July 2005 to July 2007, or read my print column of the same name at the Daily Times in Ottawa, Ill., from 2002 to 2005, then you might have been wondering what the heck happened to me.

And where the heck I’ve been.

Well, we’ll get to all that.

But first, let me fill you in on what the heck I’m up to right now.

For one, I’m still living in Wrigleyville. For another, I’m now working for a fine mid-sized public relations firm in Chicago’s Loop, comfortably removed from the current chaos of the newspaper industry but still utilizing my media experience and skills.

Oh, and yeah, I’m also on national television tonight.

Guess I should mention that too.

No, I’m not subbing for Ryan Seacrest, nabbing Katie Couric’s seat on CBS, or joining the cast of some new reality show. Although, I suppose I could on the latter.

Survivor: Journalism, perhaps?

Instead, at 7 p.m. (CDT) tonight, I’ll be making my TV debut by appearing on a two-hour episode of E! Network’s True Hollywood Stories spinoff, “THS Investigates.”

The show’s full title is: “THS Investigates: Dating Nightmares.”

And, no — since I know you’re laughing — it’s not about me.

Rather, it’s about Hillard Jay Quint (and other dating nightmares).

Many of you might recall my front-page stories in the Chicago Tribune about Quint, a 42-year-old disbarred attorney from Atlanta who was arrested on Feb. 23, 2007, in Chicago Gold Coast’s neighborhood. The overweight smooth-talker with the white Hummer was cruising about town while posing as a wealthy California plastics CEO by the name of Matthew Goldstein and juggling eight girlfriends, each of whom he’d met through online dating services.

In the Windy City, Quint’s outrageous hijinks included doctoring a photo to make himself look like Success magazine’s “2006 Achiever of the Year,” photoshopping his head onto the body of a fighter jet pilot and even claiming to own the brown-and-white polka-dot dress his dear friend Julia Roberts wore in “Pretty Woman.”

He was accused by police of taking about $23,000 from three women in Chicago. Authorities, however, believe that since 1999 — when Quint was released after spending 13 months in a Georgia prison for conning his legal clients out of hundreds of thousand of dollars — the man with the silver tongue has bilked as much as $1 million from women and men throughout the country utilizing a vast array of elaborate hoaxes.

In December, Quint pled guilty in Cook County to a charge related to passing bogus checks in Illinois and was sentenced to 5 years in prison. Right now, he’s sitting inside a cell at Graham Correctional Center in Downstate Hillsboro.

I’m currently conducting research for a book – “Mr. Wonderful: The Not-So-True Story of Hillard Jay Quint” – that I hope to write, and in February E! interviewed me in Chicago about Quint’s story, which is one of the “Dating Nightmares” profiled on tonight’s show.

So, anyways, that’s what I’m up to right now.

But you’re still probably wondering why I’m no longer at the Trib.

Well, it’s a long story. But here’s the short(ish) version:

In July 2005, I joined the Trib through its residency program, a common way for young reporters to break in at the newspaper.

Akin to a medical residency in regards its hours and demands, the Trib residency involves being staffed out of the paper’s Metro desk as a general-assignment reporter and involves working nights, weekends and holidays while logging hours both downtown at the Tribune Tower and out in a suburban bureau. Sometimes all in the same week.

As any former Tribune resident knows, the job – which also includes no guarantees of permanent employment after two years – is a load. And it should be. Joining the Tribune shouldn’t be easy.

On top of those duties, however, I also was the only resident at the Tribune to write a blog, the Wisch List — something I was told by my bosses would be done on my own time. As the third-ever blogger at the Tribune, behind only veteran staffers Eric Zorn and Maureen Ryan, I helped pioneer the technology for chicagotribune.com and was proud of it.

My blog was an online adaptation of the popular general-interest print column about life – and the people who live it – that I began three years earlier at the Daily Times, a 12,000-circulation newspaper located in Ottawa, about 80 miles southwest of Chicago.

In November 2004, while features editor in Ottawa, I published a book, Northern IlliNOISE: Tales of a Territory,” that was a collection of 75 of my Wisch List columns. Between 2001 and 2005 prior to taking a job with the Tribune, I also won the most editorial awards of any journalist in Illinois during that time frame (18 total, including six firsts and a Top 10 national).

So, that was my situation upon arriving in Chicago. And having long aspired to become a columnist for the Tribune, I worked day (as a reporter) and night (as a blogger) to prove my chops as a journalist and writer. I was particularly proud of the following I developed through the Wisch List despite having limited time to devote to it, and also while straddling a complicated line between reporting and writing opinion.

Last Memorial Day, about a month before my 2-year residency was to end, I made a pitch to some of the Tribune’s top editors, hoping to sit down and discuss a variety of ideas, including my desire to start a Wisch List print column, develop my blog further, provide the newspaper with a younger voice and also help increase synergy between the its print and online products.

To be brief, some at the Trib were very enthusiastic about hearing my ideas, while others were not. End result was, I was told in mid-June that the paper was letting me go once my residency ended. So, essentially, I was laid off and my last day at the Tribune was last July 5.

About 10 days later, I went to the ER with a case of tonsillitis so severe that my throat had nearly swollen shut. Six sickly weeks and one allergic reaction to medication after that, I had those pesky tonsils removed. I then spent another two weeks surviving on yogurt and water.

And how was your summer?


Thankfully, 2008 has so far been much kinder to me than 2007. And I can laugh about last year now because I’m still alive and kickin’.

As well as writing again. Finally.

And I’m doing it all without any regrets. I’d be lying, of course, if I said the way things turned out at the Tribune wasn’t frustrating and a disappointment, but I also learned an incredible amount while working at the paper, made loads of wonderful friends and had a ton of memorable experiences. I also was fortunate enough to emerge from the news industry’s current struggles with my sanity (if not my tonsils) intact. I suppose these days, you could still call me a recovering journalist.

But here’s to hoping that I recover well.

In this blog (a work in progress). On TV (tonight, at least). And through another book (if I’m lucky).

So, make sure stop by the Wisch List often. After all, this old columnist (I turn 32 on Sunday) needs somebody to keep tabs on him. Might as well be you.

(P.S. It’s good to be back.)