Missing The Tribune Tower

So, I was kind of touched by this one in the New York Times, a reporter missing her workspace, and as these kinds of things often do, it sparked memories of how much I miss The Chicago Tribune, which continues to publish but faces what I suspect will be unkind ownership primarily interested in squeezing money out of the place.

Truth be known, we have all–all of us who worked there and kind of loved the place in a tortured, not very romantic way that got the paper out dependably each and every day and sent many of us on untold adventures around the world– missed the place. But its’ not like the New York Times version of missing the place, because that paper will thrive no matter what and those people will all have a space to return to, no matter what.

That’s not the case with The Tribune. The place I loved has already disappeared behind a facade of what the paper used to be, now filled inside with people wealthy enough to buy a space in a classic old building that had a great presence when it was still a paper. Now it’s just an investment for someone. The staff has been shifted over to the gigantic building by the railroad tracks that was named Freedom Center, a name suggested by someone who is sadly very gone now in a difficult way. It remains a very good staff, good as we were, but younger now. It can still be a newspaper, of course, but where do you go for lunch? Where do you take that stroll when you are thinking of something overwhelming you have to write about?

Where do you linger when you are waiting for an inspiration to drop on your head like pigeon poop out on the loading dock, where we all went to smoke and grouse and complain and, sometimes, to flirt? What young reporters get to memorize the underground maze that ran from the Tribune basement all over the place, all of it available on foot. You could get to a good lunch spot pretty quickly down there, or at least to Fields when it was still Fields and you needed some Circassian wood to encompass your okay lunch?

The Cambridge House, of course, is gone. I once calculated the amount of money R.C. Longworth, a delightful lunch companion, spent over his career with the paper. You could do that because he ate exactly the same thing each day, a big salad with oil and vinegar dressing. We ate many a peach and perch arguing about how we were going to do whatever it was people were asking us to do. I had long hair then, in a snappy pony tail, and one of the servers called me “Patrick” because it reminded her of Patrick Henry.

That whole neighborhood was ours, reporter land full of Tribune and Sun Times people. It was a great place to ramble for a little while.

The building had its charms but mostly you didn’t get to see them because the newsroom was in one place, the fourth floor (features fifth). It was a great, open space full of diligent people who were always head down staring at early generation computers. Lots of phones ringing. Lots of talk. Lots and lots of people.

I miss them all, even the ones I didn’t get along with so well. And I miss the ones I wanted to get along with but never had an avenue for approaching them. They aren’t ghosts these days, but they are fading images for me, I am sad to say. It was great to gather with them around the computer when we were trying to call an election, or decide how to write a huge story about something awful. I never had any doubts about their intentions, which is what made it so good to work with them. We all wanted the same thing. Truth. A little grace in a sentence. Some very good laughs.

So I understand why the New York Times woman has feelings about her workspace. So do I, and I suspect I always will. All of you Tribune people out there, writers, editors, graphic designers, features writers, you are missed more than the building. Take care and, as always, don’t ever cheapen the beat!

9 thoughts on “Missing The Tribune Tower

  1. I walked the newsroom hallways from 1983 to 2015 and it was the greatest experience of my workday life. It was a world of gigantic talents and more brains than I thought you could shove into a large space and still be able to breathe. I walked out the door of the Tribune Tower one last time, late 2015, smarter and more knowledgeable than I ever considered was possible. A few times a month l wake up in the morning realizing that I had spent dream-time back in that newsroom with people I still love and cherish. Thanks for writing this piece, Mr. Madigan.


  2. Many of us staffers at the American Library Assoc frequented the Trib’s lunchroom with our HQ a few blocks north. The food was good, the prices were right, and the company was worth it.


  3. I cherish my time at the Tribune, a great era for journalism, with fantastic colleagues and so many opportunities to take risks and learn. Someone contacted me recently about an article I wrote in 1988 that impacted her life. Isn’t that remarkable? I went back to the article and realized it would never have been written today. I am grateful for the privilege to shine a light on wrongs, and wonder who will do that now.


  4. I worked there for just 14 months before quitting due to Life Circumstances. Every time I walked in I felt a little frisson of excitement: I was working for the Chicago Tribune.

    Missing the Tower, even though my time there was…problematic. (See “Life Circumstances,” above.)

    I also miss The Philadelphia Inquirer building, aka “the Tower of Truth.” My years there (1979-84) were exciting and invigorating, with a newsroom full of Pulitzers being born and a sense of camaraderie that extended all the way down to us lowly newsroom clerks. We were changing the world.

    And I miss the paper where I worked in between, the Anchorage Daily News. We were writing the history of the community, and doing a damn good job of it on the half-shoestring we were allotted.

    This makes me sound like a cranky old broad (which is actually a pretty fun job), but….That was back when writing for newspapers meant something. You interviewed someone and they said, eagerly, “When is this going to be in the paper?” You could open the eyes of the community a little bit wider, and make a big difference, whether by calling attention to injustice or by showing a bunch of people how to raise a child, build an Arctic entryway or appreciate an opera. (Features writing was — sorry, city desk — the best way to enjoy journalism. Our default setting was, “Well, what am I an expert in today?” and we were given the leeway we needed to BECOME those experts.)

    I make a living as a freelance writer now (mostly about personal finance), and it works quite well for me in terms of where I am personally, but I miss the newsroom.


  5. We miss what really enjoy and loved doing successfully … but people come to me for nursing advice and you write so beautifully, despite the fact that things change here we are, doing what comes naturally! Your Gleaners are not to be missed!



  6. While not on the newspaper side of things, we spent a significant part of our 27 full-time years at WGN radio working at the Tribune Tower. Each night, coming in to do our show, we couldn’t help but be struck, not only, by the significance of the radio station we were working for but, also, by the landmark building it was housed in. Walking up from our lower level parking spot and emerging on Michigan Avenue just outside of WGN’s Showcase Studio and entering through the front doors of The Tribune Tower, we couldn’t help but think of the giants of publishing and broadcasting who walked through those doors and the high standards they set. Hopefully, we did our best to follow their lead. Our many years in that special building certainly had their fill of ups and downs, but they left us with a treasure trove of memories that we’ll forever celebrate.


  7. Damn Charlie! You should consider a career as a writer.

    Just beautiful, man. Every word of it. If you ever give up musical instrument creation, you got a fallback.

    Plenty of friends, fiends and geniuses I miss. Peace my fellow Tribunees.


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