“SPORTS WITH AN ATTITUDE!” got here the blast from the billboards. The slogan was etched in tattoo graffiti, a part of a marketing campaign to hype my arrival in Chicago, and I assume the advert company needed me to terrorize followers within the No. 3 market with perpetual vitriol. Each time I drove previous my smiling, 31-year-old mug close to Wrigley Area, Soldier Area and websites all through the metropolis, I laughed … and cringed … and all however peed my pants.
What the hell was the Solar-Occasions doing to me? Setting me as much as fail earlier than I’d began? Guaranteeing that my physique elements could be discovered within the lake? Was I employed simply to suit some absurd marketing campaign? And who determined I had an angle, anyway? Because it was, the cantankerous columnist Mike Royko was taking photographs at me, and Chet Coppock was introducing me on his discuss present by asking after I’d win a Pulitzer Prize. Earlier than lengthy, Mike Ditka was calling me “Dummy-otti,” Michael Jordan was eyeing me like Craig Ehlo, and an alderman named Brian Doherty was grabbing the again of the neck at my post-work hangout, O’Callaghan’s on Hubbard Road, and never letting go for about 20 seconds.
Wasn’t this absolute insanity?
Truly, wanting again, this was the newspaper enterprise at its greatest — by no means extra vibrant, impactful or enjoyable. Chicago was the heartbeat of print’s dominance in America, and I used to be the brand new employed gun, slung like a Billy Goat cheeseburger onto a two-paper downtown griddle that immediately heated up. The hard-working tabloid, headquartered in a tugboat-shaped constructing on the river, was dropping a bomb on the Tribune, on the time a stuffy, nose-in-the-air broadsheet in a neo-Gothic tower the place sports activities columnists appreciated enjoying with phrases. I most well-liked enjoying with minds, a sport made simpler by the Tribune’s clumsy possession of the Cubs. And the Tribsters didn’t like being uncomfortable, from the highest of the Tower to the sports activities division, the place NBA reporter Sam Smith wrote a best-seller referred to as “The Jordan Guidelines” and charged his bosses a worth for excerpts he’d gathered on their dime — which obtained Smith in hassle after I was fed excerpts by his e-book publicist and rushed information gadgets into the paper, at no cost to my employer, earlier than the Trib may publish its bought materials.
Sports activities With An Angle, child.
In case you’d mentioned then that the Chicago newspaper enterprise could be gutted in 2021 — barely respiratory, missing impression and doomed to continued irrelevance and eventual extinction — I’d have let the alderman maintain choking me. However the state of affairs is as actual and gnarly as ink on fingers. Simply as that metropolis was the top of the trade snake within the twentieth century, the demise of the Tribune and Solar-Occasions symbolizes the loss of life of print — and native information — solely three many years later.
Now owned by the evil hedge-fund vultures at Alden International Capital, which acquired Tribune Publishing regardless of pleas from workers for deep-pocketed civic saviors to step in, the Tribune newsroom is braced for mass layoffs and a severing of no matter editorial high quality stays. That is what Alden does, killing journalism to raise income, and the Tribune, New York Day by day Information, Baltimore Solar and Orlando Sentinel are amongst 9 new papers who’ve joined dozens of different dailies on loss of life row. Many acquainted bylines will probably be sacrificed on the Trib, changed by younger and cheap content material suppliers, or robots if obtainable. And far as I’d wish to assume my previous paper will seize a possibility, the Solar-Occasions has been hooked to intensive-care machines for a lot too lengthy, with out an editor-in-chief since September and unable to ship even one staffer to Indianapolis — 3 1/2 hours away by automobile, with a $4.50 fast-food cease on the way in which — for an Illinois-Loyola showdown within the NCAA basketball match.
We may ask Sister Jean Schmidt, Loyola’s 101-year-old sideline inspiration, to wish for Chicago’s papers. However rosary beads are greatest used for causes that also have combating probabilities.
“Alden possession,” wrote Tribune reporter and union chief Gregory Pratt, “could be a catastrophe for Chicago, democracy and society at massive.”
Tweeted veteran Tribune media author Phil Rosenthal, boldly risking his job by including Alden to the corporate’s missteps: “Tribune’s 1st self-inflicted wound was merger with L.A. Occasions father or mother in 2000. Deal added Chandler household reps to board. They agitated for a sale to unwind their trusts and get their cash. Then got here Sam Zell, chapter, TV/actual property cut up from print, Michael Ferro & now Alden.”
And this from Tribune humor columnist Rex Huppke, not within the joking temper: “That is horrible information for the Chicago Tribune and all our sister newspapers. It’s additionally horrible information for the communities these papers cowl and, I’d argue, for the nation. … I can’t be bothered with individuals who view newspapers as companies to be squeezed for revenue, or as disposable investments. None of us obtained into this to make cash.”
It’s nothing in need of an American tragedy, actually. In a metropolis of appreciable wealth and company affect, not one heavy-hitter thought the Tribune was salvageable. Jeff Bezos energized the Washington Put up. Patrick Quickly-Shiong bailed out the Los Angeles Occasions. John Henry, the Pink Sox proprietor, preserved the Boston Globe. Glen Taylor, the Minnesota Timberwolves proprietor, rescued the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis. However nobody needed the Chicago Tribune — not the Pritzkers, not the Wirtzes, not Ken Griffin and his $22 billion internet price, not Boeing or Walgreens, not Oprah Winfrey and her Chicago pedigree and never even White Sox/Bulls proprietor Jerry Reinsdorf, who already meddles in editorial operations with out having to spend a penny. Quickly-Shiong, a outstanding Tribune shareholder, may have voted no and slowed Alden however selected to abstain. In its heyday, the Tribune was as prestigious as any U.S. newspaper. However whereas the New York Occasions and Wall Road Journal have been prescient in recognizing the way forward for information — a digital transformation, adopted by subscriptions — the Chicago dailies have been asleep on the change within the 2000s, thrust into turmoil by crooked, profit-skimming homeowners at each retailers.
That is the place I enter once more, greater than a decade into my 17-year run there. Pissed off by a primitive web site, I repeatedly requested Solar-Occasions executives once they may embrace the technological advances of a brand new millennium to make sure long-term viability. “We’re a print operation,” got here the reply, each time. They both couldn’t see the long run — free-falling circulation, vanishing print promoting — or didn’t wish to spend money on it. Extra doubtless, the latter.
Realizing that I drove visitors in a voracious sports activities city and continued to view the Tribune the way in which Aaron Rodgers treats the Bears, the Solar-Occasions supplied me one more three-year extension in 2008. However although the monetary numbers far exceeded my desires in a labor of affection, I used to be reluctant to signal. The bosses had jumped into mattress with group homeowners I used to be attempting to cowl — I wanted three showers a day, eradicating all of the dust — and the sports activities employees was a dissension-torn mess. I used to be sick of breaking apart fights between writers, sick of in-house lies informed about me to junk web sites, sick of resentment about my every day position on ESPN’s “Round The Horn” — sick of the illness. I needed the editors to take cost of their debacle, beginning with a stronger dedication to digital.
I agreed to signal the extension with a caveat: We’d have a aggressive web site presence on the Beijing Olympics, the place our employees of two would attempt our damndest towards the Tribune’s legions. Subsequent factor I knew, as if being pranked, our items from China weren’t being posted for hours. Then issues obtained soiled: Due to so-called deadlines that couldn’t be stretched even a couple of minutes, I used to be requested by editors to jot down two fictional items — one with Michael Phelps successful, one other with him dropping — that have been filed earlier than his race for plug-in functions. All of the whereas, Dave Morgan and Yahoo! Sports activities had arrange store close to us within the media middle, showcasing the way forward for digital journalism — no faux tales, only a skilled protection plan executed with precision by a number of writers and editors over a few hours.
Finally, I discovered myself on the Nice Wall of China, having an epiphany. A 12 months after coping with coronary heart ache on task, I used to be not about to let this god-awful operation kill me. We completed the three-week job. On the airplane journey residence, I crafted a well mannered, peaceable resignation letter to the writer, who, in fact, didn’t inform an editor-in-chief who was caught unexpectedly when the Tribune discovered. Reporter Jim Kirk, who wound up operating the newsrooms of the Solar-Occasions and L.A. Occasions, was the primary to inform Michael Cooke that I used to be opting out and handing again about one million bucks. Cooke requested Kirk if it was a joke.
In fact, it was the day the Solar-Occasions started to fade.
This wasn’t thought of good type, telling the competitors that I refused to “go down with the ship.” The editors urged the nice Roger Ebert — I’d met him solely as soon as — to crucify me the subsequent day and name me “a rat.” However screw the Solar-Occasions. I’d devoted my life to the place, writing extra items throughout these 17 years than any sports activities columnist on Earth, and the individuals on excessive had no real interest in something however extracting income and cashing out. Certain sufficient, the paper was in serious trouble inside a 12 months. And since then, a frighteningly skinny, hard-to-find product is revealed with a number of dozen staffers from rented places of work close to a Goodwill donation retailer, saved from its funeral by periodic contributions by way of Blackhawks proprietor Rocky Wirtz and different locals. The Solar-Occasions lastly obtained round to upgrading its website, then inexplicably hooked up it to a paywall. If few have been studying the web content material when it was free, who’s going to pay for it?
Right now, the 2 sports activities sections are run by amateurs who kowtow to homeowners equivalent to Reinsdorf and, in fact, Wirtz. Observes Chicago media critic Jim O’Donnell, amongst those that’ve remained unbiased in a market of sellouts in his seat on the suburban Day by day Herald: “The entrenched sports activities energy individuals are controlling the market and the message to a level they might solely have dreamed of as just lately as 15 years in the past.”
Shortly after I entered the digital ranks as a nationwide sports activities columnist, my journey slipped into the surreal. One among my writing heroes, Frank Deford, was interviewing me on a Wrigleyville rooftop for an HBO “Actual Sports activities” section. Subject: The demise of newspapers. Once I pointed to a close-by Starbucks and mentioned a number of individuals inside have been studying information on laptop computer computer systems, Deford was incredulous, holding up a duplicate of the Solar-Occasions in protest as I dismissed the print paper as out of date.
Frank handed away 4 years in the past. “One among my favourite segments,” Patrick Byrne, HBO’s media relations director, informed me in a word. “You have been spot on.”
On a latest podcast, a bunch requested me if it was “ironic” what has occurred to the print trade since my declaration. I corrected him on his phrase utilization. “I used to be RIGHT,” I mentioned, remembering how I used to be ripped by media individuals after the HBO present, as if I’d divulged the trade secret nobody needed to face.
I take no glee from my foresight. However I’ll understand, to my very own dying day, that the Deford interview occurred solely a pop fly from the place a “SPORTS WITH AN ATTITUDE” billboard as soon as was perched.