Sunday, November 26, 2017

Reporting To A Landmark Every Day ...

Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune

It was never my intention to stay.

I landed a part-time job at the Chicago Tribune in the fall of ’92. In Sports.

Those who know me were understandably amused.

"Sports?" they'd ask, upon learning of my new gig. "Do you know anything about sports?"

"There are three periods in hockey and four quarters in football. I'll figure out the rest as I go."

But I didn't plan to figure out much because I saw the Trib as a brief stop on the journey of my career, as much as I had any sense of where I was going. Six months, tops, and I'd be on my way.

I left five years later. Almost. I was a few months shy of the five-year mark. Or maybe a couple. By then, I had worked in Sports, in News, and in Features. I learned a lot. I met some fine people. But for myriad reasons, it was time to go.

So I was surprised by the blow of sadness that landed in my chest when I read that operations for the Trib would be moving out of the Tower. I was sad when the Sun-Times building was sold but I understood. It was a squatty, seven-story, oddly shaped building on one of the most prime sites in the city. I had worked there for a couple of summers and my grandfather had worked there many, many years before. But progress churns and so the news of the Sun-Times' sale passed through me with little more than a sad shrug.

But the Trib ... .

It's not that what I did there was important. It wasn't. I was a very small cog in a very large machine. But the paper had caché. People took our calls. Publicists all but fell over themselves to fulfill our requests. (Never was the power of the paper more evident to me than after I left. I went from hearing "We'll FedEx that to you tonight" to "I'm sorry, I'm not familiar with your publication. Could you submit your request on letterhead?")

The newsroom was never much to behold, though the heart of it is two stories tall, unlike most of the newsrooms you've seen on TV. That bit was dramatic. But the industrial carpet was dingy and all but vacuumed out of existence by the Polish cleaning ladies who had a stubbornly bad sense of timing. More times than I can remember, the intrusive drone of a vacuum coincided with deadlines, a few Doppler-like passes, forward and back, before someone would shout and the noise would stop. You'd think they would have made the connection. The desks were huge and matte black, editors and designers sitting around the periphery – "the rim" – and the editor in charge of the team in the middle – "the slot." The hulking computers – the Edit V! – on which I began my tenure were replaced by the ubiquitous beige desktops of the day. The transition was not all together smooth. We became well acquainted with the Help Desk.

But the building, you see, the Gothic tower – with its marble floors and wood-and-reeded-glass doors behind which you wouldn't be surprised to find the Maltese Falcon and the wood-paneled offices for the paper's leaders and legends – is its own bit of history. It is host to stones from landmarks from around the world, embedded into the facade, except for the display in the Nathan Hale Lobby that held – holds? – a tiny rock from the moon.

Tourists would wander around the building and point. Some would push through the revolving doors and step inside.

Like the newsroom, the lobby of the Tower is two stories, too. As you can glimpse in the photo above, it is beautiful and stately. The quotes are erudite and timeless and grave. There is great power in language and there is great privilege in recording history. Standing in the lobby, the sense is clear that from the time of the paper's founding until the Tower came to be, the Tribune was both aware of its role and up to the task.

A lot has changed since I worked there. So many of the staffers I knew have been let go. But the Tower – the promise – remained.

It hurts my heart, the thought of Trib staffers walking into the Prudential building next year. The Tower will stand without its soul.

I sit with the sadness but the pull is strong to return, to say goodbye.

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