A.fter a week of a relaxing family vacation, watching the cherry blossomspop in Washington, D.C., I came back to work to the news that Tribune Co. hadbeen sold and the Cubs are up for sale.
As I wandered through the newsroom Monday morning, a colleague stopped mewith a question. I figured it would have something to do with anxiety and allthe other emotions running through all of us employed by an organization wherebig news was made about some awfully big changes around here.
She was uncertain, but not about all that stuff.
"Have you talked to [Mr. So-and-So] about the lawsuit?" she asked, meaninga lawsuit involving someone close to a powerful local politician.
The Cubs are on the block, Tribune Co., which owns the Chicago Tribune, hadbeen purchased, but what she was interested in was Mr. So-and-So (not his realname, because if I printed his real name while she's still working on thestory, she'd have good reason to kill me).
"Well," she asked. "Have you talked to Mr. So-and-So? Are you going tospeak to him?"
Her desk was piled with documents and other papers, and bits of notes andscraps of ideas and old phone numbers written in margins, and electronicnuggets of information on the computer screen before her.
She wasn't intent on Tribune Co. news, or the Cubs, or Sam Zell, theChicago business tycoon who put the Tribune deal together to take the companyprivate. She wasn't consumed by any of that, but by something else: reportinga story about powerful people.
The reason I'm telling you about this exchange -- one of hundreds like itaround here every day -- is because that's what we've been doing for more thana century. The Chicago Tribune tells other stories exceedingly well, but wedon't tell our own story very well at all.
Here's what we do: report and analyze and confront the powerful who don'tlike being confronted. We write about what we've learned, and sometimes wehope to entertain you along the way. We're compelled to do this, as allreporters everywhere are compelled, to find out the what and the how and thewhy of things.
So the reporter isn't going to lower the demands she places on herself, andneither will others, no matter what changes are made on the business side.Whether this deal with Zell makes business sense is something I can't judge.I'm not in business. In the short term, the deal ends the anxiety in thenewsroom and the gloominess that comes with uncertainty over possibly beingpurchased by people who don't understand Chicago.
Now, things are certain: A Chicago guy has bought himself a media companythat puts out the Chicago Tribune.
The other news is that they'll sell the Cubs, which, as a White Sox fan,doesn't bother me much. I've already had my revenge on the Cubs fans aroundhere when the White Sox lent me their 2005 World Series trophy and I took itupstairs to the boardroom and dared the executives to touch it, and theyprudently refused to tempt the fates.
But the baseball team's sale is in the future, and the sale of the Tribunehas already taken place, and what's important today is that the papercontinues. You'll find dismal Opening Day baseball stories in the sportssection, and Police Supt. Phil Cline's resignation, forced by Mayor RichardDaley because somebody had to fall for the videotaped beating of that petiteNorthwest Side bartender by a vicious, drunken cop.
Though changes have been announced, this remains the Chicago Tribune.
This is the paper that has been the one constant in an ever-changing city.It is the paper that fought slavery and supported Lincoln, and later bickeredwith other presidents and gangsters and political bosses. It is the paper thattold Nixon to resign. It is the newspaper that called on another president tosend a politically independent fed to Chicago to go after Al Capone, andElliot Ness arrived and did his work. This is the newspaper that, only a fewyears ago, angered the Illinois political establishment by calling for apolitically independent federal prosecutor to be sent to Chicago, to ferretout the political corruption plaguing the state's taxpayers. U.S. Atty.Patrick Fitzgerald has been quite busy since he arrived.
On the outer walls of Tribune Tower, there are fragments set in stone oftemples and monuments taken from historic sites from all over the world. Theseare not mere souvenirs or trophies. They represent greatness and the greatideas behind them. Writers and editors pass these reminders each day and can'thelp but be informed by them, and we pass inscriptions carved into the wallsof the Tower's lobby.
My favorite is quite brief, and it is set above a door leading to theelevators. I read this quote from Lord Thomas Macaulay every day and still getgoose bumps: "Where there is a free press the governors must live in constantawe of the opinions of the governed."
But stones from palaces and temples and quotes don't make a newspaper. Allthat can change. What makes this a paper I'm proud to work for are people likemy colleagues, like that woman who asked me the question, and who will keepasking about the how and why of things in Chicago.
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