#681: Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road

September 2nd, 2016

I was 23, driving back from a building that was at the time pushing 80.

I had wormed myself into an interview at the building, the one downtown with flying buttresses, soaring pseudo-castle lines and all the historic rocks shoved in its side.

It was Trib Tower, the place that, rightly or wrongly, had symbolized Midwestern journalism for me. That odd gray jumble of styles sitting on the river was the tops, for me. It was as far as I wanted to go.

I called a friend from the road, started the call with a long, shrill “Woohoooooo!”

“Did you get the job!?” she asked, thrilled from my tone.

“No!” I said, it sinking in momentarily how odd my enthusiasm was. The City News Bureau man had smiled, liked me and said they had no openings at this time.

“But I know what I want to do!”

Tribune Tower has been sold to a developer. The building that inspired me will be made into condos, stores and offices.

The newspaper will be out by 2018, but management has pledged that staff will be relocated somewhere in Chicago, as if keeping within the city that’s part of the name is an indulgence they’re offering rather than a strategic location they need.

Negotiations have started on whether the plaza to the south, a bit of breathing space in a clogged downtown, will be stuffed with new condo/office/store buildings.

They get to have space. They get to have dedicated places made just for them.

Journalism doesn’t.

I’m set in life, happy with blog and job and tour guidin’, nor have I ever worked in Trib Tower. I’m sad about the sale, but my concern isn’t for me. It’s for what will motivate the new crop of 23-year-old journalists.

This is a message to young journalists. It’s telling young journalists, the people who could be our watchdogs if we don’t destroy them, that no matter how good they get they’ll spend their lives working from coffee shops and bedrooms. Maybe they’ll get into a recto-cube office block that flipped a coin whether to be the home of 21st-century American journalism or a mattress store.

The old Daily News building is now offices and a train station. The Sun-Times was torn down to put up Trump’s middle finger to signage, hotel management and God. Even the Reader, a little block of a thing that asked for no more ornamentation than a big R painted on the side is now rando offices and a Thai place.

The News is gone. The Sun-Times and Reader work from a giant brick cube on the river. It was an old clothing warehouse.

This is saying, “Here’s a career that’s difficult, needed and unfunded. Not even the biggest get to do it somewhere cool.”

Trib Tower is old and a lot of people hate it. The Sun-Times’ Neil Steinberg called it “a gothic horror show of a building” perfect for the “mighty, unsubtle, backward-looking” newspaper within.

I like it. And a shallow reason, the opportunity to work in a cool building with a bit of history and gravitas, was one reason to keep plugging away at journalism. I stopped trying to work there. I never stopped wanting to work there.

As a place of employment, the Trib lost its luster years ago. No amount of heritage, tradition or historic rocks shoved on the side of a building could undo the damage of a Sam Zell or the troncifying Michael Ferro. Long hours, layoffs, burnout — there’s not much reward at the end of that road.

We realized long ago that the Wizard of Oz was a fraud. Now the Emerald City’s becoming some rich guy’s condo.

A visit to the editorial board room

When Trib became tronc

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