This week, Lake County Suburban Life gets to know Round Lake Beach resident Gene Carey, editor of the Round Lake Area News blog. A few years ago, he got out of real estate. Now, he spends much of his time blogging about his community. Below are his written responses from Angela Sykora:
Sykora: When did you establish the Round Lake Area News and why?
Carey: Many years ago, the Round Lake area had a printed newspaper, but it suffered the fate of many other printed media. Awhile back, I was blogging about the schools, and after retiring from a lengthy real estate career, I used my free time to start covering local news and events that I felt local residents would like to know about.
Sykora: Is this a nonprofit endeavor, not to make money, but to provide a community service?
Carey: I can’t really say that it’s totally nonprofit since I have started offering local businesses the opportunity to add additional information and links to their business listing for a fee. Otherwise, I would consider it to be a community service, accepting free submissions from various sources that they would like published.
Sykora: How long have you lived in Round Lake Beach?
Carey: I moved from Chicago back in the mid sixties when my oldest was about to enter first grade. I lived in Round Lake Park until 1978, when I had a new house built in Round Lake Beach.
Sykora: Was there a particular issue that prompted or motivated your decision to create the Round Lake Area News?
Carey: When I first moved to the Round Lake area, the junior high was running a triple-shift until they eventually built a new high school and converted the old one into the new junior high. At the time, I was involved with a group that strongly objected to the superintendent.
Eventually, as the Internet started to gain momentum, I started posting under District116.org. That URL is now pointing at my current domain name since it still has a lot of info on it that was reported over the years. Things just sort of expanded into covering more than just the schools, and I eventually started using a different domain name.
Sykora: Are you involved in local politics? Would you consider yourself a political watchdog?
Carey: I am not directly involved in any local or regional politics. I am an independent, although I am registered as a Republican, and like many others, I am disappointed with what is going on in Washington as well as Springfield.
I started following Joe Walsh (former U.S. Representative) and videotaping many of his town hall meetings since few were bothering to enjoin the average voter with any nonscripted meetings. Whether attendees liked or disliked Walsh, they all agreed that he was willing to take on any questions. The Walsh town hall video at Uno’s in Gurnee that went viral was mine.
I enjoy covering the political scene, especially the local mayor and trustee races. We had some mudslinging in one village this past election, but other than that, it was a great opportunity to meet everyone on a one-to-one basis.
Sykora: What is your background? You are a former real estate broker, but did you also have journalism experience?
Carey: I graduated from Lane Tech as well as the American Institute of Engineering and Technology in Chicago. Following that, I worked as a foreman in the building and concrete industry, including many years with a major carpenter contractor who built the very beginning phase of what eventually became Vernon Hills and a concrete cutting contractor who was involved in much of the toll way reconstruction.
Looking for a change, I got my real estate license and started that career in 1987, eventually managing several offices over a span of 23 years. I have no formal training in journalism, but after listing properties for so many years, as well as taking photos and shooting videos, you get pretty good at marketing via the Internet.
My real estate sites always ranked at the top of Google searches and I spent many hours setting up sites for other agents who joined my office and knew little about website creation and search engine optimization. I still do virtual tours for agents across the country as well as companies that sell kennels, etc., to private investors via a separate website.
After retiring from real estate in 2010, and with a lot of free time on my hands, I branched out into more local area news coverage. I would categorize myself as being more of a video journalist rather than a reporter who writes paragraph after paragraph, since I like to let the photos and videos tell the story.
Carey: I don’t live very far from Gateway Park and often ride my bike over to the gazebo there. Having worked in the trades for so many years, it was a thrill to see all that heavy equipment nearby creating the Rollins Road bypass, along with demolishing several houses along Hainesville Road and dealing with a large old buried gas main that feed the shopping centers on the east side of Route. 83.
I started taking along my video camera and the rest is history. It is probably one of the most popular things that I report on since it affects so many people traveling through the area. One of my popular posts is a “before it all started” video showing how it appeared before the construction began.
Sykora: What would you say are some of the most important issues facing the area?
Carey: I try to stay away from local issues and just report on what is happening or on upcoming events. However, there are times I get a bit more involved in covering certain issues like the recent school bond referendum in March, which I openly opposed and will be opposing again in November.
Back in the early 70s, the last person that I can recall who tried to consolidate the four villages to create the second largest voting block in Lake County, was Charlie Johnston. When you think about all the duplicate services that taxpayers are paying for, especially on the administration level, it’s still difficult to understand why it hasn’t happened.
The Village of Round Lake Heights is trying to create its own identity with a planned downtown area. Round Lake Beach has no downtown area, while the other two villages have seen little new development in theirs and have a stagnant look to them. Although the villages all tend to get along, there is no master plan for the future as a group. I don’t see the villages consolidating in my lifetime.
Sykora: How do you gauge which stories will be of most interest to the community?
Carey: Like most people who have a website or blog, I have a statistic counter on mine which shows me what articles are getting the most traffic and that tells me what I should continue to spend more time on. They say that a video longer than a few minutes is like the kiss of death, but rather than only show a short segment of a meeting, I still prefer to show it all and let the viewer decide what portion they want to view. Updates on the new Hardee’s in Round Lake Beach were so popular that it blew the top off my daily visit counts, so I spent additional time on those articles. I’m sure I will be doing the same when the new Meijer’s project gets underway.
Sykora: What do you love about what you do? What do you love about your community?
Carey: I love reporting on local news because I meet so many new friends and also get to know our local village board members more than I ever did before. When I was still in real estate, agents would often ask me why I haven’t moved, but I still have many of the same neighbors who I enjoy, and our community is a bit more laid-back where you don’t have to try to “keep up with the Joneses.”
The area has changed, but living a couple blocks from the lakefront, I still enjoy a walk there no matter how late at night it gets. There is also so much going on at the Round Lake Beach Cultural & Civic Center as well as the sports center, library and park district that you may not find in another area.
Sykora: When you’re not busy running the site, how do you spend your time?
Carey: The news site keeps me pretty busy, especially the time it takes to prepare a video. My mother, who is 91, still lives alone, about a half-hour away, so I try to get over to see her often and take her shopping and out for lunch. I also have numerous pets (all strays that were taken in prior to freezing weather) that need their daily attention. I still have a fairly large piece of property to maintain, so when I do have any spare time it’s usually just spent with neighbors and close friends. I’m more of a homebody type of person since I got out of real estate, liking my privacy more and more.