What to Watch at Ideas Week: Evan Ratliff

There's a lot to wrap your mind around with the approaching Chicago Ideas Week, and we're helping with series of speaker profiles designed to highlight the benefit to you.

In this profile: Evan Ratliff

Accolades: Ratliff is an award-winning journalist and contributor to many big-deal magazines like Wired, The New Yorker, and National Geographic.

Why you should care: Entrepreneurs and freelance writers have more in common than members of both camps might think: They live and die by the day-to-day hustle. The places Ratliff writes for alone show he's got what it takes to survive, but more importantly his pieces are beyond clever and amazingly can provoke reader response -- which is an unthinkable phenomenon as the media at large struggles to keep up with the Internet revolution. In 2009, for a Wired story, Ratliff famously put up $5,000 of his own money and defied readers to try to track him down as he attempted to go off the grid and fall off the face of the earth. He nearly made it a month before getting spotted in New Orleans. It was an exciting idea and his feature about it shortly thereafter read like a spy thriller.

When he's not pulling stunts like that, Ratliff serves as the editor of The Atavist, which is a "boutique publishing house producing original nonfiction stories for digital, mobile reading devices." Ratliff also co-founded the service, which is far less stuffy than that it self-describes it as. Basically, think of it as an iTunes for original stories that otherwise wouldn't have a home elsewhere. Well, that's not exactly true: They could live on the writer's blog, but this is a far better way of organizing them and catching people's attention.

If you're a struggling freelancer or are thinking about getting into the wildly lucrative world of writing, heed Ratliff's words first.

When you can see him: October 12, Museum of Broadcast Communications, 12 p.m.-1:30 p.m.

You can check out the full list of speakers here, and register for passes here.

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