A love letter to the Chicago Tribune writers and editors who've inspired me

Enough already! Please, make the bloodletting stop. Over the last couple of weeks, it’s been heartbreak after heartbreak as yet another writer exits the Chicago Tribune.

As most of you know by now, among the horde of talented notables who took buyout offers from the Trib’s new owner, Alden Global Capital, are columnists Dahleen Glanton, Heidi Stevens, Eric Zorn, John Kass and Mary Schmich.

In full disclosure, many of the greats had already left the building, including Barbara Brotman, Mark Caro, Monica Eng, Jimmy Greenfield, food critic Phil Vettel and architecture critic Blair Kamin.

No matter what happens next, the Chicago Tribune, which once billed itself as the “world’s greatest newspaper,” will be, well, lacking.

The paper will never be the same. Chicago will never be the same. Neither will journalism. Neither will I.

When I was growing up in the 1950s, the oldest of three siblings, we lived on the first floor of a three-flat in South Shore. We were, in retrospect, middle class–although it didn’t always feel that way after returning from our yearly Mother’s Day trek to Glencoe, hometown of our distant cousins.

At that point, we may not have achieved the American dream of owning a single-family home, but one thing we never did without was newspapers.

It was the glory days for newspapers, each one fat with advertisements, which helped pay the papers’ bills. We got four, count ’em, four newspapers delivered to our door. The Tribune and Sun-Times in the morning, the Daily News and the American in the afternoon.

I started reading newspapers for the comics, but by the time I was nine, I began devouring the rest of the paper. For me, newspapers became a connection to the world outside of our insulated neighborhood.

I must admit, I always searched out Ann Landers advice column first and even sent away for her brochure about how to overcome shyness, which, sadly, didn’t work.

Later, as a young advertising copywriter, I didn’t need a cup of java in the morning, but the day didn’t start out right if I didn’t get a chance to glance at my Trib. I loved the various feature sections–food, health, women– sections that came and went.

Although I liked writing print ads and TV commercials, coming up with, hopefully, bright ideas to market hair care products, food products, the Illinois State Lottery and more, I dreamed of being a journalist. Of writing for the Trib.

My bachelor’s degree was in education (another story for another time), but I had no formal training in journalism. That’s zero. Zilch. Nada.

What I did do was read the Tribune news stories and opinion columns assiduously.

I studied the work of the news reporters, the feature writers, the columnists, especially, especially, Mary Schmich, whose column had long since replaced Ann Landers, as my go-to-first in the paper.

I learned from her. I was inspired by her. Her wisdom, wit, insight, humility, her ability to tell a story simply, graciously, intelligently, unpretentiously.

Her raw honesty, especially when it came to her family. I was awestruck that she could hit it out of the park most every day.

Some 25 years ago, I got to see my dream realized. When my first feature story appeared in the paper– “By Judy Marcus, Special to the Tribune,” my freelancer byline read back then, I literally jumped up and down for joy.

Thanks to studying the work of the Tribune greats (including Rick Kogan. Please don’t go, Rick!), I went on to write Trib stories about everything from recumbent bicycle riders to bakeries to families affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

My goal was always to write opinion pieces, and eventually, I got my wish (although there were many rejections in between). I have had the privilege to express my thoughts on an array of topics and see them printed in the op-ed pages of the Chicago Tribune.

To those staffers who have already left or are in the processing of saying sayonara to the the Trib, I want you to know this: You’ve informed me. Entertained me. Moved me to tears. You’ve influenced my life.

You taught me how to interview. How to write (in my own style, of course).

I thank you all, with a special shout-out to the unsung heroes, the former Trib editors: Marcia Lythcott, Maria Mooshil, Denise Joyce, Mary Jane Grandinetti, Lara Weber and others, for being my private mentors, who in spite of often being on deadline, were never too busy to help guide this freelancer.

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  • Amen, my friend and colleague! I am going to add some sad pages to the scrapbook part of my diary -- impeachment and insurrection, for two -- but in terms of writing inspirations, the saddest will be the page with the last columns by Mary Schmich and John Kass. They're on the same page! I don't think I've been sadder reading a newspaper since the last issue of the Daily News ("So long, Chicago"), when I suddenly realized, in my teens, "But I wanted to work there!"

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Yes, so sad, Margaret!!!

  • In reply to Judy Marcus:

    Yes, it's one of many sad memories I've gathered from various early March days. But on the other hand, the loss of the Daily News was the very first time I realized I had thought of reading there... and here I am, writing in other ways. What and who are these endings inspiring now?

  • Thank you for this great column Judy. Like you, I came of age with a love for newspapers and newspaper writing, except for me it was the Providence Journal and my other hometown paper in Mass. I also started with the comics and progressed to Dear Abby columns. (I wrote her a few letters but none got published, even though I always got a reply in the mail.) I even briefly worked for the Journal as an editorial assistant and it remains one of the highlights of my professional life. Such colorful "characters" in that newsroom!

    I knew about about some of these departures but not others. Jimmy Greenfield??!! *Our* Jimmy Greenfield? No way! And I also didn't know about Phil Vettel and Blair Kamin. Schmich was the best writer of the bunch and I'll miss her. I emailed her a few times to comment on her columns and she always emailed me back. So down-to-earth. Can't say the same for some of the others. But many of them can't and won't be replaced. I feel old-school journalism is finally officially dead. Sigh.

  • In reply to K.Yvonne:

    Thank you!...I sure hope it's not dead, but it does seem to be on its last legs. And yes, I am talking about our Jimmy Greenfield!

  • Hi Judy--loved reading your history--and share your feelings about the Tribune. Now I wonder how long our blogs will last...

  • In reply to lesraff:

    Thanks, Les...I wonder the same things, Les!

  • In reply to Judy Marcus:

    Les and Judy, I'm wondering, too -- I suppose it's unanimous. But to put it in the way that the new company seems to "think," we are volunteers who generate ad revenues.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Well, if they think that, maybe they'll keep us around!

  • The buyouts must have been pretty good if that many took them. The Voices section looked pretty slim this morning. However, I'm not going to miss many of the writers you listed. Zorn and his friend (the copyist in the right pane) proved about 12 years ago that they were incapable of writing about legal matters. Kass went from complaining about the Chicago machine to become a right wing troll. Stevens was essentially a mommy's columnist.

    Car and real estate ads have essentially gone to the Internet. It looks as though the Tribune's main marketing feature is the puzzle section.

    I respect the Sun-Times more for its investigations. That it has union ownership doesn't bother me.

    We used to get the Daily News, because it had the color comics on Saturday. I also remember that when the afternoon papers folded, there was the 24-hour Tribune, and evev before that you could get the City Edition before going in for the night shift. Now the paper paper no longer has the previous evening's sports scores.

    I subscribe to the online Sun-Times, but about 2 years ago decided not to subscribe to the Tribune. Now that seems to be a better decision.

  • Great post. Newspapers have always played an important role in my life too. I have watched sadly as Mother Tribune, along with other print publications, has gotten thinner and thinner. The latest exodus is mine boggling and very sad.

  • In reply to Carole Kuhrt Brewer:

    Thanks, Carole. Yes, so sad.

  • We now know what the Tribune is without columnists: a bunch of "guest columnists" who are advocates for barely tenable causes.

  • I grew up and lived in South Shore till 1954, my Aunt Ruth is the original Ann Landers, and I worked in the ad agency business in Chicago. Maybe our paths have crossed over the years?

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