Mary Schmich and Eric Zorn, in conversation

To: Mary Schmich
From: Eric Zorn

The Tribune’s been pretty good to you over the years — given you a lot of freedom as a national correspondent and columnist, paid you decently and even provided you the opportunity and honor to work with me when, for many years, we wrote occasional series of columns in this back-and-forth format.

The relationship seems good. More than good. So why do I see your name on the list of members of the committee that’s organizing a union of the news staff?

To: Eric Zorn
From: Mary Schmich

You and I have been lucky. Working at the Tribune has provided us both a lifetime of opportunities and rewards. We’ve been able to do our work knowing that the institution supported us in every way.

But today’s Tribune employees can’t rely on what our generation took for granted: fair wages, regular raises, the chance to learn, to grow, to advance.

They—well, all of us now—are also working without the confidence that the newspaper’s corporate owners believe in great journalism, are willing to invest in it or share the newsroom’s sense of civic responsibility.

I’m putting my name on this union effort not primarily for our generation, but for the people who are coming after us. They’re capable of great work and deserve the conditions that allow them to do it.

I’m putting my name on it because I believe that when we speak together we have a better chance of being heard.

And I’m putting my name on it because I believe it’s the best way to make sure the Tribune survives to do the work our readers want and need. Chicago deserves—relies on—a strong newspaper, and a strong newspaper depends on workers who are treated right.

What about you, Eric? You have a fulfilling career. 

You've done it all without belonging to a union. So why are you behind this one?

To: Mary Schmich
From: Eric Zorn

I have a fulfilling career in large part because Tribune management took a chance on me long ago when I was fresh out of college, and they continued taking chances on me as the years went by. 

You wrote a lovely tribute Sunday to your departing editor, Mark Jacob – his tenacity, his talent, his fairness, his open-mindedness, his ability to offer useful guidance. I have similar kind words and thoughts for nearly all of the editors I’ve worked with in my time here. They, like Mark Jacob, are clearly devoted to bringing out the best in their staff and offering compelling journalism to the public.

All this throat clearing is my way of saying that I don’t see this union movement as being a reflection on them, and I regret the inevitability that it will generate tension between me and those I respect.

It’s also not about me. I’m fairly compensated and my work conditions could hardly be better.

It’s about the future of this institution, which is so integral to the future of journalism in Chicago. It’s about giving the men and women in our newsroom more and better leverage in dealing with ownership during rocky times in our industry. 

I put my name on this effort because I believe it’s the best way to assure that corporate resources are directed to sustaining this newspaper — excuse me, online content generation company — and advancing its core mission. Pay copy editors, not consultants.

That, in turn, will retain our younger, talented colleagues and attract to the field those who keep the Tribune strong well into the future, when you and I will be in our rocking chairs at the Old Columnists Home trying to remember that Rex fella’s last name.

I think it’s “Hopkins.”


Joseph Hernandez