When I cracked opened the tablet to read the Chicago Tribune at 4:50 this morning, it felt just as if Rod Serling was sporting that ironic half smile while looking directly over my left shoulder. The feeling was a lot like stopping by your best friend’s house so you could walk to school together only to find it completely empty. So, you walk through each vacant room staring in stark disbelief because it’s gotta be some sort of nightmare or a practical joke, right? But then you realize it isn’t a dream and a vast empty feeling descends upon you from which you’ll never really recover.
The Trib’s and my long-term relationship started all the way back in 1964 when, armed with two shiny new dimes, I’d often run the 2.5 blocks to Krinn’s Drugstore on Custer Avenue in Evanston to purchase the afternoon editions of the legendary Chicago Daily News, the Chicago American, and of course, the Chicago Tribune. Then I’d rush them back to my eagerly awaiting grandmother who lived right across the street.
(Yes! Most newspapers published afternoon editions in the 60s!)
The second-best part of that delivery job was that I got to keep the three cents change. So if I managed to make that trip at least four times a week my “pay” would add up to enough to buy a comic book at the Main-Chicago Newsstand Saturday morning.
The best part was flinging the Daily News open to page three so my grandmother and I could read Mike Royko together and laugh. Then we’d move on to the Tribune columnists. Of course, the Daily News and the American perished shortly thereafter, but that morning Tribune continued to arrive like clockwork right through my high school years.
Despite the peril of persistently purloined apartment newspapers, no matter how broke I was, that Tribune subscription was always a high priority. And when Mike Royko moved to the Trib in 1984 all was right with the world.
When I finally became a Sun-Times columnist in 2006, I thoroughly enjoyed the crisp early morning “whap” of five separate newspapers descending upon the driveway. They were the Sun-Times, Kane County Chronicle, Daily Herald, Beacon-News, and of course, the Tribune. And unlike today’s overly thin offerings, it took a fair amount of time to read them all, too!
But for the first time this morning, the Tribune failed to even remotely feel like that old and often annoying friend to whom I’d become so accustomed.
It was bad enough when the columnists were ridiculously relegated to the far reaches of the main section, but now three of ‘em were gone and a fourth announced her departure this (Monday) morning. (More have since taken the buyout.) Its hard to call it a “bloodbath” when John Kass, Mary Schmich, Heidi Stevens, and Dahleen Glanton jumped at the Alden Global Capital buyouts, but that’s exactly what it felt like.
And if the carnage at the Denver Post is any indication, this is only the beginning.
The Kass departure that surprises me the most. It’s not that I was a fan or a detractor, but I thought the new owners would make a point of hanging onto him. How can the Trib be the Trib without a page three columnist who’s so immersed in the Second City that they truly understand Chicago still ain’t ready for reform.
Ms. Stevens and I have had many email conversations, and though I personally like her, her overly progressive propensities were a bad fit for a generally conservative newspaper. I stopped reading her when she completely ignored the science and went off the COVID deep end.
Schmich? I haven’t read one of her columns in more than a decade, but her seemingly eternal presence always reminded me of my mother who loved her work and newspapers in general.
As far as the consistently loony and overly “woke” Glanton goes, goodbye and good riddance! But again, I thought Alden would hang onto her if for no other reason than there’s a dearth of black female columnists. And as wacky as her “Где дует ветер” opinions were, those minority voices are necessary to bring balance to the print media force.
Even though finally being faced with those metaphorical empty rooms brought me up a bit short this morning, it’s not like the handwriting wasn’t scrawled all over the almost empty family room wall.
The only Tribune columnist I read with any regularity is Steve Chapman, and most days I can make it through the entire e-paper in less than 10 minutes – and that includes reading the comics and solving the jumbles. When my wife asked me if I’d read this Sunday’s paper I realized that I hadn’t read the Tribune for four days, and after I made the effort to catch up I realized it wasn’t worth the effort.
The best part about the Tribune was that it used to provide all manner of inspiration for my own columns, but now I’m lucky if that happens once a month.
I’m sure what I’m really missing – and will continue to miss – is that halcyon mental image of what the Tribune used to be. I miss the anticipation of wondering what Mike Royko would say today and being completely on top of all the local news, and even though the paper is s a mere shadow of what it used to be (and it’s about to get even more shadowy), it’s difficult to let go of a 56-year relationship.
And unlike it’s been with resurgent vinyl record albums, the Tribune won’t be coming back anytime soon. Ah well! All good things…