Opinion

With the Sale of the Tribune Tower, Wave Goodbye to a Chicago Icon

Photo courtesy of Fermin Bernaus Berraondo

The Tribune Tower is a building familiar to many Chicagoans as the neo-gothic-looking monolith on Michigan Avenue.

This tower has been home to Chicago’s most widely circulated newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, since 1925 — an astonishing 91 years.

Last month, Los Angeles developer CIM Group purchased the landmark for $240 million, which means the Tribune will have to leave before they can celebrate a full century of residence.

On Sept. 28, the sale was finalized. That should be concerning to every Chicagoan.

The sale wasn’t the first indicator that the Tribune was in danger.

In 2008, Tribune Media Company filed for bankruptcy and took four years to emerge from it.

Since then, the company has been selling its assets, laying off employees and reorganizing its business structure to prioritize online content in order to appeal to a younger audience.

Tribune Media even renamed its publishing company from Tribune Publishing to “tronc” (yes, with a lowercase “t”), which stands for “Tribune online content.”

These efforts are all classic symptoms of an old media giant struggling to stay on its feet.

But selling its headquarters is a more harrowing sign than the others.

No company would enter a deal like this unless it was certain that the sale was either its only optionor its most logical one.

It’s true that Tribune Media will benefit greatly from the hefty check, but we can be sure it wasn’t an easy decision to make.

Naturally, journalists around the country are interested in this story.

The Hollywood Reporter, The Los Angeles Times, and other newspapers nationwide have run stories about the Tower’s sale.

Soon after the Tribune sold its building, the Los Angeles Times — the other newspaper owned by Tribune Publishing — sold its iconic building to a Canadian developer.

This is yet another indication that journalism is changing drastically, and that the once-great institution of the analog newspaper is dwindling more and more with each year.

There’s one question I keep asking myself: Does anyone outside the field of journalism care about this story?

I remember the uproar when the Sears Tower was sold and became the Willis Tower in 2009.

Why haven’t I heard a similar outpouring of concern over the Tribune Tower’s future or the future of the media company it will no longer house?

The disparity in reactions could come from the fact that the Sears Tower was, and still is, the city’s most widely known and loved landmark.

So, in a way, a threat to the Sears Tower was perceived as a threat to the city as a whole.

In a similar way, a threat to the Tribune Tower signifies not only a threat to Chicago’s own newspaper industry, but also signifies a threat to the national industry.

In a Sept. 28 article, Tribune reporter Robert Channick accurately called the Tower “Chicago’s monument to newspaper journalism.”

The Chicago Sun-Times, the city’s other major daily paper, hasn’t had its own building since 2004, when its old headquarters were demolished to make room for the Trump International Tower and Hotel.

Since then, the company has moved to the 10th floor of the River North Point building, which it shares with a number of other businesses.

Tribune Publishing has also significantly downsized its print newspaper and gone through several large-scale layoffs — including firing every one of its photojournalists in 2013.

This begs the question: Is this what the future of the Tribune looks like?

Although the Tribune Tower may not be scheduled for demolition, its transformation into a “mixed-use development” won’t convey the significance the building currently has.

The sale of the paper’s headquarters suggests that Chicago is potentially forgetting an important part of its history.

The railroads had a massive impact on Chicago’s growth in the early and mid-19th century, but so did the city’s media companies, including the Chicago Times, the Daily News and The Chicago Tribune.

Those papers helped put Chicago on the map.

The Tribune hasn’t always been the city’s most popular paper, but it is now the sixth most circulated paper in the country, according to Cision, Inc.

Chicago owes a lot to this newspaper. It isn’t something we can just forget, and it isn’t something CIM Group can neglect.

When the Tribune Tower changes its name and becomes a hotel, a retail space or something else, people must remember what used to be there: The first newspaper to obtain the text of the Treaty of Versailles in June of 1919; the first newspaper to publish the complete transcripts of the Watergate Tapes in 1974; the newspaper that has employed 25 Pulitzer Prize winners since 1932 and has run one of the country’s oldest news radio stations, WGN, since 1923.

We cannot forget the stories that broke in that newsroom on the fourth floor.

We cannot forget the broadcasting and reporting legends who roamed those halls, including Chicago Tribune’s Jack Brickhouse, Mike Royko and Mary Schmich, .

The Chicago Tribune will live on in a different building but it will never be the same.

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