Jim DeRogatis has been named the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Chicago Headline Club’s 2020 Peter Lisagor Awards.
Together with Greg Kot, the former rock critic at The Chicago Tribune, he co-hosts Sound Opinions, heard weekly on 125 public radio stations nationwide.
“Great reporters are as rare as they are essential, and are even rarer on the music beat,” Kot said of his friend. “Jim DeRogatis is one of the best and sets the bar for the rest of us with his persistence and skill. He’s a grinder and a go-getter in the best sense of those words. He’s got soul. He cares. He’s a provocative writer and music critic. He’s also not perfect — I ask you, how many times can one man be wrong about Springsteen on Sound Opinions?”
DeRogatis spent 15 years as the pop music critic at The Chicago Sun-Times, and he continues to write music journalism and criticism for The New Yorker and other outlets. He is an associate professor in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Columbia College.
He also has written 11 books, including Let It Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America’s Greatest Rock Critic, and his latest, the critically acclaimed Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly.
“Jim is one of the most passionate journalists I’ve ever encountered. Even though he didn’t grow up in Chicago, this city has embraced him as one of its own because he’s an authentic, no B.S. kind of journalist,” says Steve Edwards, chief content officer and interim CEO at WBEZ Chicago Public Media. “Whether as a reporter, program host or critic, he brings passion, fearlessness and heart to all he does.”
Here’s how DeRogatis responded to his Lifetime Achievement Award:
“The first thing that popped into my head when the Headline Club told me about this honor was a line from one of the many immortal scenes in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: ‘I’m not quite dead yet!’
“But an honor it is, especially for someone who’s spent his career as a pop-music critic and journalist, a beat on which every 13-year-old pop fan, every 75-year-old classic-rocker, and most people in between are convinced they know more and can do better than the person behind the byline. I have always welcomed that, and like one of my heroes, Roger Ebert, whom I was proud to call a colleague at the Sun-Times for 15 years, I have always seen criticism as a spirited discussion between people who care passionately about the art. In print or on air with Greg Kot, I’ve never seen my job as telling people what to think. I simply want to get that conversation started.
“On the journalistic tip, I’m sure that part of the reason for this honor is my 19 years of reporting on the man who now stands as the worst predator in the history of popular music, which is really saying something, but just count the mountain of state and federal felony charges he now faces. The credit for that, if any can be claimed for such a tragic tale, belongs to the many women who have bravely spoken out to me in an effort to stop others from being hurt, while most of Chicago just ignored them. I simply did what any journalist should do: I listened, and I tried to amplify what they were saying. I think there’s a lesson there for all of us. Important stories can come from anywhere, on any beat. Our job is to pursue them, and follow them wherever they lead, for as long as they continue.”
A native of Jersey City, New Jersey, DeRogatis is a graduate of New York University.
The Chicago Headline Club is the largest chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the nation. Each year, it administers the Peter Lisagor Awards, which recognize excellence in journalism.
Due the coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve cancelled our banquet this year, but Jim will be invited to next year’s event to accept his award, show a career spanning video and say a few words publicly.
This year full’s list of winners will be announced with a virtual event on May 15.