Journalism continues to be worth the investment

At a newspaper conference years ago, a speaker talked about the virtual circle of newspapers.

Owners invest in the creating a good product. That quality product attracts readers. Readers attract advertisers. Advertisers spend money to buy ads, providing the owners funds to invest back in the product.

That model has been the guiding philosophy of The Hinsdalean since the first issue in September 2006.

Unfortunately, the same model has not been followed at the Chicago Tribune. And things have gotten even worse since hedge fund Alden Global Capital purchased Tribune Publishing, publisher of the Trib and other major newspapers, for $633 million a month ago.

Two days later, the new owners offered newsroom employees a buyout, and some 40 journalists are taking it. Among them are columnists John Kass, Mary Schmich and Heidi Stevens and sports columnist Phil Rosenthal. Columnist Georgia Garvey is leaving as well, and in her farewell piece, reflected on her early days in journalism.

“In that world, facts were beautiful, never shameful,” Garvey wrote. “In that world, truth sat on a throne, was more valuable than money or fame or any other common reward.”

That is a world a hedge fund with a reputation for cost-cutting values little.

In his final column, John Kass turned nostalgic as well.

“I’ve loved this newspaper from the moment I walked through the doors of the Tribune Tower as a smartass kid copy boy more than 40 years ago,” he wrote.

Kass, for those who don’t remember, was a city hall reporter before taking over for another Chicago legend, Mike Royko.

Why is any of this relevant? Longtime Chicago news anchor Ron Magers, commenting on one of Rob Feeder’s columns, said it best.

“I don’t like every columnist I read but I like to read almost every columnist,” he wrote. “I’ll continue my subscription to several newspapers because to cancel feels like giving up on journalism.”

We hope there are more who feel like Magers does.

Not all the news on the state of journalism is distressing. In January 2019 the Illinois Press Foundation created Capitol News Illinois, a syndicated service available free to all member newspapers, to provide coverage of the Illinois Legislature. Dozens of reporters across the state used to cover Springfield, but with consolidation and cost-cutting, that number has dropped dramatically over the years. During the last session, CNI had six reporters (three of its own, two interns and a reporter from Report for America) providing credible and unbiased coverage of state government. The service had some 50,000 stories published in 441 newspapers (including The Hinsdalean) in its first two years and two months of existence.

The First Amendment is often cited for guaranteeing people freedom of speech, which is certainly important. But its real power, in our opinion, is its guarantee of a free press AND the ability of people to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Without reporters covering lawmakers at all levels — federal, state and local — how will people know what the government is doing?

In his farewell column, Kass shared his favorite quotation inscribed in the Tribune Tower lobby, from Lord Macaulay.

“Where there is a free press, the governors must live in constant awe of the opinions of the governed.”

Let’s not give up on journalism.