By PHIL JURIK
Some co-workers enter Tribune Tower through a back entrance by the loading docks because it’s closer to their parking lots. I walk the extra steps and climb the stairs to Michigan Avenue because I never tire of the grandeur of the front entrance or of the quotes, etched in marble high on the walls, paying homage to the power of a free press.
The newsroom is on the fourth floor and is big but not very special to look at, I don’t think, save for a couple of nice conference rooms. Still, I remember my first time there, sitting at a desk and looking around at the walls and the ceiling and not really believing I was there, half expecting someone to tap me on the shoulder and point me toward the exits. I had stopped years before collecting application rejections and had given up on working there, but fate and the right connection intervened to bring me into that newsroom.
I think about this as I look toward the spring, when the entire Chicago Tribune staff will pack up its tools and move on from the tower, its home for 93 years. Although I have only been there for 15 of them, I will miss that grand building and newsroom.
It’s not the first newsroom I have loved and lost. I still miss Campbell Hall, the old green frame house that was home to the Northern Star during my years at NIU. It was a candidate for a teardown long before it was leveled. But it was our future teardown. And there was a spirit to the place — a shared mission of learning and getting it right and maybe raising a little hell — that I will never forget.
And then there was the newsroom of my first paper, the Knoxville (TN) Journal. It was the Eighties and the South, and we smoked at our desks and worked hard and late into the night, as we were the smaller, feistier second paper in town that punched well above our weight. That newsroom, and newspaper, is no more.
I worked for 12 years at the Southtown Economist/Daily Southtown on Chicago’s South Side and south suburbs in two newsrooms that also were imbued with that underdog spirit and dedication and the awareness that you didn’t have to work at large papers to do great work. The Southtown still lives, but those newsrooms are long gone.
It’s a long way of saying I’m experienced at missing old newsrooms, but also a little sentimental. I will remember what 435 N. Michigan meant to me. But what I took from previous stops is, the bricks and stone and green planks of wood were not what held those newsrooms together, but rather the journalists and their shared mission of trying to do well and do right.
When we give way to the condo developers, what is important will endure and migrate a few blocks south. It will be different, and it will be the same.
Phil Jurik is editor of the Suburban Trib and member of the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association Board of Directors.