Dear Rich Person: Please Save the Chicago Tribune. You Will Be a hero. And I Will Mow Your Lawn.
Dear anyone rich enough to buy my newspaper:
Hi there! I’m sure you’re busy, and I don’t mean to be a bother, but I was wondering if you might consider purchasing the Chicago Tribune and rescuing this civic institution from the clutches of a hedge fund that has done to newspapers what lawn mowers do to azaleas.
If you’re unfamiliar with the perilous situation my colleagues and I find ourselves in, I’ll explain:
The Chicago Tribune is part of Tribune Publishing, which owns a number of other daily newspapers such as the Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel and New York Daily News. The largest shareholder of Tribune Publishing is Alden Global Capital, the aforementioned lawn mower.
Alden is trying to take full ownership of Tribune Publishing, putting up $633 million. There’s a May 21 vote on that offer, and if shareholders accept the hedge fund’s money, the azaleas who make the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers tick might be in for a reckless pruning.
There is an extremely handsome and clearly heroic Maryland hotel executive mounting a last-minute bid for Tribune Publishing, with an eye toward preserving the newspapers as crucial parts of their individual communities. His name is Stewart Bainum Jr. and I want to be his best friend.
But he needs help from one or more additional wealthy investors, because, as the Tribune reported last week, Bainum “has buyers lined up for the chain’s other titles, but not the flagship paper in Chicago.”
So I’m here today looking for someone who wants to be a preposterously attractive and undoubtedly magnificent person like Mr. Bainum. I’m looking for someone willing to buy, and save, my newspaper.
The reason has nothing to do with me.
I love my job, and I enjoy bringing whatever it is I bring to readers. But I love this newspaper more, and I love the people who make up this newspaper most of all.
A newsroom is likely one of the weirdest workplaces in the world, a space filled with smart, driven, compassionate and beautifully cynical people who have traded all hope of becoming wealthy for a chance to make the world a better place. And they do. (The “making the world a better place” part, I mean, definitely not the becoming wealthy bit.)
In the two decades I’ve been here, my colleagues have changed laws, changed lives, saved lives, brought down corrupt politicians over and over and over again (we have a lot of them) and shined light on moments of otherworldly triumph and soul-searing despair.
In recent years, they’ve pulled the curtain back on the horrendous use of seclusion and restraint in Illinois schools. They’ve unraveled the Cook County tax system and figured out how the wealthy were getting breaks while lower-income residents were taking it on the chin. They exposed the ways Chicago Public Schools teachers and principals were failing students who reported being raped or sexually assaulted by CPS employees.
At the end of April, they reported that fires “killed 61 Chicagoans from 2014 through 2019 in buildings where the city had been warned about fire safety problems yet failed to adequately address them. The majority of those fires were in low-income neighborhoods mostly populated by Black and Latino residents.”
I have colleagues who work all hours of the day and night covering the city’s violence, capturing the voices of victim families and neighbors, voices that would never be heard otherwise.
The things that happen around us, the good and the bad and the brilliant and the devastating, the things that make up any community, the things that people need to know to be part of a functioning city and democracy — those are all in the pages of this newspaper, every single day. And they come to readers from people — my people — who care deeply about the world around them and the varied souls that keep it running.
Without owners who care about what this newspaper does, who recognize the crucial role journalism plays in civic life, the Chicago Tribune’s ability to watch over the city and highlight the wonderful and the wicked will almost undoubtedly be diminished.
That benefits no one. (Well, I suppose it could benefit the hedge fund folks, but my definition of “benefit” and theirs might differ dramatically.)
I don’t care if this makes my potential future hedge fund bosses angry. If they win out and take over, I’m happy for them to prove me wrong.
But until then, I’m going full Bonnie Tyler, holding out for a hero to join Mr. Bainum and recognize how important newspapers remain.
To that end, I can offer only myself. If you buy the paper, I come with it, like a dent in the rear quarter panel of an otherwise pristine used car.
To sweeten the deal, I would be happy to mow your lawn. I would gladly attend any yacht parties you might be hosting, playing the role of server or eye candy, your choice. I will be your friend. I will watch movies with you and engage in robust discussions.
Heck, at this point, if you swoop in and save us, I’ll carve a statue of you from the stone of your choosing.
I love and admire these people I’ve had the honor of working beside for so long. I want what’s best for them, and what’s best for them, conveniently, is also what’s best for Chicago.
Please, anyone rich enough to buy my newspaper, this is a chance to save something important. This is a chance to be a hero.
This is a shot worth taking.
P.S. The lawn mowing offer includes weed whacking, no extra charge.
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