Fate is funny.
One of her little jests was that it should be left up to me, the bookworm, whether to dump the Sun-Times library card catalog or save it.
The cards, that is. Not the squat little wood cabinet. That I wanted to take to decorate my home office. The cards make it far heavier. I could get rid of them, lighten the load, and use the long thin drawers to store small objects.
But that would mean trashing the labor of countless hours of work of untold librarians. A unique trove of information.
What would you do?
One of the many questions, logistical, emotional, almost ethical, facing moving a newspaper — two newspapers, that is, the Sun-Times and the Reader — a mile due west and five blocks south. From Wolf Point to the West Loop, as the Sun-Times moved its offices over the weekend.
Our fifth home, by my count. Founded as the Chicago Sun in 1941 and published at 400 W. Madison. Merged with the Chicago Times in 1948 and relocated to 211 W. Wacker. Into its own modern trapezoidal gray barge at 401 N. Wabash in 1958. Then to the Apparel Center at 350 N. Orleans in 2004.
And now, as of Sunday morning, open for business at 30 N. Racine. The result of being sold to a consortium led by former Ald. Edwin Eisendrath and paired up with another company, Answers Media, sharing their video and sound production facilities.
A retrenchment, one might think. Survivors, into the citadel! Boil cauldrons of oil and defend the crumbling walls of professional journalism!
The logic is clear: smaller, less centrally located office space equals lower overhead equals a better chance of survival for the newspaper (whoops, dynamic multi-platform synergistic storytelling system).
This is not happening in a vacuum. Newspapers (whoops, dynamic multi-platform, synergistic, etc.) — like every business from cab companies to coal mines — are struggling to exist in our internet-driven world. The Chicago Tribune on Friday announced that next year it is leaving its Gothic horror show of a building, the Tribune Tower, and moving south into Prudential Plaza.
On my last day at 350 N. Orleans, I wandered next door into the Merchandise Mart food court. Packed with young people, great rolling crowds, flying wedges of 145-pound 20-somethings in untucked shirts and black glasses. I noticed one print newspaper — USA Today — among a thousand people.
Print is going away, and if the Sun-Times wants to exist online in some form amid the whirling word storm, we have to compete against every other news site, Russian troll farm, and machine aggregator. Maybe it’s impossible. Maybe the idea of news is fading along with print. Nearly half the country doesn’t seem to accept that things they find unpleasant can yet be factual. Maybe the news media is a magician doing card tricks for an increasingly blind audience.
But maybe not. The Sun-Times has always done more with less. As for as the trappings, the place, the office, the things, who cares?
The story is what’s important, not where it’s typed or photographed or videoed or tweeted . . . you get the picture.
As stuff falls away, you approach the essence, the idea, which doesn’t change: Find out what’s happening and report on it, honestly and clearly. Keep track of the events and highlight some as significant. Take the whirl and interpret it in a way that is reasonable and forceful. Care about stuff in print — or electrons, rather.
So ho, on to 30 N. Racine! Wishbone is four blocks to the east. Warm up some jambalaya and chicory coffee for us, because we’re coming. I imagine I’ll give the Divvy even more of a workout than ever, my laptop slung over my shoulder, huffing somewhere, running late, a grizzled ghost weaving his way among the platoons of young people clogging the streets.
By the way, I trashed those library catalog cards as quickly as I could draw the rods out and flip them over a dumpster. Except for A-B, which I kept for aesthetic purposes.
I shocked myself at how briskly and easily it was done. I felt nothing but a sense of moving forward, of shedding heavy outer garments weighing us down and kicking hard toward the surface.