Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Thrill of it All

Oh Glory. Oh Joy. Oh Newsprint! You just wouldn't believe how giddy I've been for the past five days. I simply can't erase the smile on my face. I went, for the first time in my life, to visit the Chicago Tribune. Imagine that? Invited by an editor to sit in on what they call a "Page 1 Meeting", I had the chance to be in a room where all the paper's editors hashed out the day's events and decided upon those items important enough to grace the next day's front page.

Truth be told, the front of the Trib has not met with much grace lately, as the paper transitions from the staid, conservative standard it once wore to the more modern and approachable tabloid veneer it now sports. In fact, grace is sorely lacking. I'm sure the editors heard.

That's not why I was there. I was there because I had written to tell them something else. I had written to tell them I was glad they were trying. The Chicago Tribune of my childhood, delivered in muted newsy tones to stately addresses and carried in neat folds under the arms of the blue-suits downtown, has had to make way. Make way for the jeans-wearing, coffee-trained, i-pod-plugged-in speed junkies who, today, make up the greater percentage of readers the Tribune must reach. However sad for those of us who enjoyed the news being spoken instead of shouted, the change has been necessary.

Sure - its garish in places. And, yes, I agree, the 'news' seems to have gotten a severe crew cut. Its easy to concede that it stinks to have to make this change. But then, I rather liked my pound-as-you-go typewriter until I got used to the IBM Selectric. And it would be embarrassing to describe my treatment of the IBM AT that unceremoniously replaced the Selectric on my desk. I was verbally abusive. Let's leave it at that.

Change is hard. Those of us who love newspapers and recognize their irreplaceable value are worried about the changes at the Trib. That's natural. But we've got to let go and see that this change is important not for us - we already read - but for people who may tend away from muted tones and soft-spoken words in favor of blips and blurbs on a screen. Ultimately, we have a vested interest in making them readers. The more they read the better for us all.

And let's not pretend that it's all 'them' either. We, too, have cheated on our long-winded, deliberate newspaper in favor of a quick grab online, just to catch up. We have and we do.

So instead of behaving like oversized three-year-olds - insisting on wearing our favorite shoes when we know they don't fit anymore - let's get on board with some change. Where constructive, let's offer our ideas for making this a successful transition. Our newspaper is reaching out to to us, trying to recapture our attention, reinvigorate readers and find new readers it hasn't been able to reach yet. Let's be a part of that process.

The people around that Page 1 meeting table were all thoughtful, intelligent and fair-minded. Their debates were engaged, lively, relevant - just what you'd imagine - and not what you might think. I honestly got blurry taking it all in.

Still, today, I am feeling the effects. I am overjoyed they are trying so hard to save my beloved newspaper. I am excited and hopeful that they will find new readers and new ways to reach more readers. I am glad, beyond measure, that I had the chance to see for myself, in person, that the people in charge of this effort really get the magnitude of it all. They do.

And I am still grinning, ear-to-ear, from the sheer thrill of it all.

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