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A Trip to the Chicago Tribune

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After 150-plus years of publication, how does news remain relevant, interesting, and popular? In the modern age, how will printed news hold up against the revolution of online information? What exactly does an editorial meeting room look like? I learned the answer to these questions, and more, when I had the great privilege and honor of being able to take a tour through the Chicago Tribune with my family, thanks to former Chicago Tribune journalist and current world-walker Paul Salopek (Here is my interview with him to find out more about our meeting, and HERE is the National Geographic site to find out more about his journey), who introduced us to Chicago Tribune nation and world editor Kerry Luft.

The Chicago Tribune's message and goal shines in the very first room. Quotes from Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and many more were engraved all over the walls of the lobby room; the key point here is they were all related to the importance of the newspaper, and the importance of free speech and freedom in general. That's how after your first look, you get the sense of what the Chicago Tribune is really all about: displaying the truth for their readers, giving them the freedom of honest knowledge.

Mr. Luft, the editor whose responsibilities are to "Make sure you get the right stories, with the right emphasis. My job is to tell people what is happening in the world," gave us a generously detailed tour of the publishing process. The newsroom was filled to the brim with stories being made; each and every desk out of the dozens set together in the open floor plan, featured cluttered yet somewhat organized notes and a computer, over which a Tribune employee furiously typed the latest story. It was like an information-making hub for all of the reporters. Next was a small section of the room where live video is sometimes filmed. The Chicago Tribune recognizes all the forms of media; after all, the LA Times, WGN-TV and radio, and six other newspapers aside from the aforementioned are under the Tribune Company banner, plus the company's subscription of the Washington Post's news service.

The most interesting and exciting part came next: the editorial meeting (usually held twice a day, at 11:00 a.m. and 3 p.m.), where the editors all come to discuss what exactly were the newest newsworthy stories to show the world through their online and printed sources, and update on new finds of the day. The scene of the editorial meeting room was just as focused on the news as anywhere else; the last two weeks' front pages were proudly displayed on the walls, and important historical moments were framed as well (such as the Chicago Fire, and Al Capone's trial). The world news, business, sports, entertainment, and social media categories were all discussed systematically, and it seemed new riveting stories were being found and debated every few minutes. The whole time, a projector showed the edits being made to the Chicago Tribune's website as the editors spoke, giving a truly live and current feel to the entire conference, as if it were a work in progress (which it was; the stories discussed are confidential, since who knows if they'll be posted or not?). Every piece of the newspaper had to be examined to create the final product: graphics, videos, centerpiece, and the most newsworthy stories. Unlike the firm, reserved businessmen sitting around the elongated table you'd usually find in an enclosed room like this, the editors were freely chatting and laughing about the topics, but it still seemed they truly cared for the information they were about to publish for people to discover.

As for what that information should be, Mr. Luft explained the simple classifications of the most newsworthy articles: recentness (newer stories), location (near Chicago), uniqueness ("Only a story we can tell"), impact (how many people affected), trying to fight against corruption and other hidden enemies ("We are the watchdog, representative of the people"), and of course interesting and emotionally engaging. On the subject of the news, I asked Mr. Luft whether the Chicago Tribune primarily focused on local news in Chicago, the United States, or the entire world. He explained the Chicago Tribune as "Increasingly focused on Chicago and the world through a Chicago lens, though with a pretty robust foreign coverage." Chicago is usually on the front page of the paper.

Then, I wondered on the popularity of the paper itself. After all, in the battle of printed news vs. online news, it would appear the latter is severely winning. That seems to be not exactly the case; the most revenue for the Chicago Tribune comes from print, so Mr. Luft said it's going to be a while before it's going to switch fully to digital media. On the flip side, print takes up a lot of the budget, such as paper, ink, and distribution. On the website, breaking news can be posted all day long, while stories on the printed paper can be even a day late thanks to the schedule. Mr. Luft made an analogy of the paper to a "Daily magazine."

Then again, this is a daily magazine that has operated for well over a century, since 1847 to be exact. Mr. Luft's reason for the Chicago Tribune's steady relevancy was the paper "Giving people what they can't find anywhere else; it's an indispensable tool to navigating Chicago." That relevancy was almost compromised recently; according to Wikipedia (which is admittedly not the best source for researchers), the Chicago Tribune had filed for bankruptcy. I had misunderstood it, though; the Tribune Company itself went bankrupt, as the result of a financing deal made to purchase the company several years ago. The company successfully emerged from bankruptcy.

The next two stops on the tour were the most unique. There was the test kitchen, where recipes were tested out for the paper's food page; after all, an untrustworthy recipe that won't work isn't ideal. Next was the Editorial Board Conference Room, where there are meetings twice a week. I got to sit in the same seats as the former Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, President Barack Obama (before he was president, though), and Saudi Arabia's ambassador (which were all oddly in the same, neighboring two seats). It was in this room that Mr. Luft explained the Tribune's history in a more in-depth, personal description. It was originally founded to support original Republican ideals, especially abolishing the slavery at the time. The paper supported one of its subscribers, even, a young man named Abraham Lincoln. The newspaper has leaned towards Republican ideals since then, but has endorsed President Obama in both of his presidential campaigns.

On that note, you can see the Chicago Tribune for what it is; a freedom tool for the people, showing them what is going on in their world every day across all media. It is the loyal voice of a people.

(A personal thanks to Mr. Kerry Luft... it was a great pleasure and you were a wonderful host! Also Mr. Paul Salopek, for opening the door to this opportunity!)