Today, a piece of Chicago journalism died.
It’s not the first death in the medium, and certainly won’t be the last. And this particular passing was gradual…like pulling the plug off of long-time life support.
But this death is a significant one for anyone who aspired to research, investigate, interview or write news. Tribune Tower is being sold.
The gravity of this may be lost on most. Perhaps I have an illogical romanticism of the old Tower because of my journalistic aspirations. But every time I walked up to 435 North Michigan, I got goosebumps just thinking of the journalistic history there. It’s where editors discussed the US entry into World War II…where the news was written about JFK’s assassination…hell, it’s where we found out Dewey defeated Truman!! As a sports lover, I saved the issues of the Bears winning Super Bowl XX, the Flyin’ Illini’s Final Four run, the Cubs clinching the ’89 division and all six of the Bulls world championships. Tribune stories stoked the curiosity in me to encourage following the path of journalism.
I was lucky enough to work for the Tribune Company for a spell…best job I ever had and the best people I ever worked with. It was always meaningful to do conference meetings in Colonel McCormick’s old office on the 24th floor. When you walked in, you just inhaled the history. The room looked exactly how you’d imagine it when the Colonel walked in for the first time in 1923…the dark walnut wood-paneled walls, the hardwood floors, the “secret door” that led to a staircase out of the room and the ornate stone and marble fireplace. And above the fireplace, engraved in the cold stone, the quote for all j-school grads: “The Newspaper is an Institution developed by Modern Civilization to present he News of the day, to foster Commerce and Industry, to inform and lead Public Opinion, and to furnish that check upon Government which no Constitution has ever been able to provide.”
On one particularly memorable summer visit from our Oak Brook studios, the marketing team took a “field trip” to the Tower (photo documentation up top…I mean, seriously, our entire team took a photo in the newsroom because that’s how special this place was!). And as usual, it was amazing to walk around the building and see some of the historical stones embedded into the walls…to walk by the WGN Radio studios and see Spike O’Dell wrapping up his morning show through the street-level window…to walk through those gothic front doors, take the old elevators up to editorial, and eavesdrop on all of the cranky reporters busting out copy for the next day’s copy. Even a few of them were working on…wait for it…INTERNET stories!
In a roundabout way, that’s where I’m headed with this. The internet has made information distribution efficient and fast. For something as trivial as my high school’s football game results this past weekend? I followed the St. Patrick High School Twitter account instead of waiting for the results the next day (it was a big game, and a big win…sorry St. Rita buddies!). It’s so fast that we don’t even need to wait for a reporter to WRITE the story…we don’t even need a REPORTER since that account might be manned by a high school sophomore. Nor do we need a NEWSROOM since this info was thumbed out on a smart phone right on site. Information that we once relied on actual journalists to report now bombards us by other sources.
Tribune Tower was a symbol of the old guard…the old way of reporting and journalism. Like a glass that slips through our fingers and shatters on the floor, we couldn’t figure out a way to catch and save it…the physical tower nor the principles it stood for that are seemingly scattered everywhere. And all of the ghosts in the hallways will have to make room for “mixed use development”.