Opinion

STAFF EDITORIAL: Why We Should Care About the Tribune Crashing

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It’s no secret newspapers are falling on hard times right now. But one local newspaper is struggling mightily — and, frankly, it’s sad to see.

Over the last few years, the Chicago Tribune moved buildings and went through two rounds of voluntary buyouts. Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund, acquired 32 percent of Tribune Publishing — the publishing company which owns the Chicago Tribune — in November and offered the latest round of buyouts. 

Things managed to get even worse Feb. 3 when Tim Knight, president and chief executive officer of Tribune Publishing, stepped down and left the Tribune one step closer to “the apocalypse,” as one local media columnist wrote

It’s one thing to talk about newspapers struggling. But what’s happening at the Tribune is more than just a rough patch — which is why people, not just journalists, need to pay attention. 

These journalists are doing the rest of us a public service through their reporting. Just recently, Tribune reporter Jennifer Smith Richards teamed up with ProPublica reporters Jodi Cohen and Lakeidra Davis in an investigation into the use of seclusion as a form of punishment in Illinois schools. The investigation led to educators testifying to legislators hoping to ban the practice. 

That’s just one example of important reporting spurring actual change. It’s that kind of reporting that benefits the general public, especially students.

Without this kind of watchdog reporting, the public loses out. It’s that simple.

The Tribune has been a staple of not only the city of Chicago, but the nation since 1847, becoming one of the most iconic and respected publications in the business. In total, the Tribune has written about 36 U.S. presidents, covered every Major League Baseball World Series and pre-dates our own university’s inception.

Tribune columnist Mary Schmich wrote a piece Dec. 5 addressed to whoever the next owner would be and said “we need you,” pleading the potential owner to take reporters’ concerns seriously. Two Tribune investigative reporters — David Jackson and Gary Marx — went a step further and wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times about what’s happening at the Tribune.

“In a signal of what may happen in Chicago, on Jan. 13, we and other newsroom staff members were offered buyouts,” Jackson and Marx wrote. “Now, we are bracing for the sight of colleagues with decades of experience walking out with cardboard boxes in their arms and tears streaming down their faces.”

That’s a very bold step, and it also shows how bad things really are. They’re asking for public support in order to keep their cause going. It’s nothing short of a cry for help. These reporters need our support.

Circulation of newspapers in the country has generally been on the decline since the mid-1990s, according to a report by the Pew Research Center. Newspapers have taken a big hit since the popularization of smartphones, and the Tribune — which was traditionally a national newspaper — has shifted focus toward more local stories.

As staff abandon ship and take buyouts, leaving the Tribune, the cut in staff leads to less diversity and fewer perspectives in the newsroom. The stories which depend on local publications like the Tribune deserve the full attention of its faculty and this may cause other equally important stories to fly under the radar. 

The Tribune has reported on countless crimes, both local and national. From exposing rapes and assaults inside nursing homes to uncovering rampant corruption at the highest levels of Illinois government, which Jackson and Marx spell out in their New York Times opinion piece.

Buying subscriptions to newspapers like the Tribune not only supports these institutions to continue putting out good reporting, but it keeps readers up to date with current events on a national and local scale. Keep your eye out for student deals for subscriptions or just bite the bullet and pay the not-so-expensive subscription fee. It’s a small thing to trade for the vital information brought to us by local news outlets.

The Tribune could end up a classic case of “we don’t know what we got ‘til it’s gone.” Imagine a world without a local powerhouse newspaper. It’s not pretty.

As students, we’re preparing to jump head-first into the real world, where the issues the Tribune and other newspapers report on are even more important. So instead of waiting until it’s too late, students should care now.

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