The Chicago Tribune moves into a new digital ‘space’ age

By Jesse Wright | Staff Writer

Published September 4, 2018

The Chicago Tribune’s move from the Tribune Tower to Prudential Plaza was not just a change of address for the storied paper, it was a change in the corporate organism itself.

With the move, newspaper leadership used the opportunity to shake up the newsroom and reconfigure the layout, transforming a legacy newspaper into a 21st century media player, active online and in print with its reporters feeding stories into myriad digital platforms.

Christine Taylor, managing editor of audiences, explained how the new newsroom layout—devoid of a lot of offices and cubicles—is improving how the staff reports the news. “We can move quicker to facilitate a more organic conversation,” she said of the open floor layout.

Reporters hard at work in the new Tribune newsroom.

The editorial department has five offices reserved for senior staff while everybody else, including multimedia editors, mostly digital natives, work shoulder to shoulder, she said.

Those editors help shape reporters’ stories as they’re written to better deliver the news to specific digital platforms.

“As we pursue different ways we tell stories, we’re not just driving everything toward the printed product and we want the people who understand those platforms best to be part of the conversation,” Taylor said.

In this way, the journalism giant hopes to compete with digital-only news outlets, like Buzzfeed, that operate across social media platforms in order to maximize exposure to a younger, tech-savvy audience, she said. Taylor said the Tribune will not sacrifice quality for clicks.

“I try to understand why [readers] tend to gravitate toward [digital] storytelling and then ask how do we participate in that space,” Taylor said. “How do we sell stories on those platforms and get those readers to interact with us?”

If that is the main question facing legacy news outlets, Tribune leaders believe the Prudential Plaza could provide the answer. Without walls to divide the newsroom, the operation works like a hive—each reporter working on his or her story, toward a common goal of greater readership. At the center of the newsroom, reporters have access to digital metrics, scorecards that track how well stories are performing and connecting with readers.

“As we pursue different ways we tell stories, we’re not just driving everything toward the printed product and we want the people who understand those platforms best to be part of the conversation.”

– Christine Taylor, Managing Editor, Audience

“One of the ideas around the restructuring was to put the audience at the center of everything we do,” Taylor said.

It’s a new way of reporting, in a new location, and Facilities Director Lynne Allen said the move was rough, especially on long-time employees who felt a personal
connection with the old tower.

“It was hard for people,” Allen said. “It’s an iconic building.”

For nearly a century, that iconic building was home. The Tribune moved into the Tower on July 6, 1925. Within those walls, presidents visited with editors, Ann Landers, Mike Royko and Gene Siskel banged out innumerable columns and hundreds of reporters pursued leads, called up sources and did the work that earned the paper 25 Pulitzer Prizes.

Despite the move, that history is far from forgotten in the Tribune’s new home in Prudential Plaza. In one corner, two couches, relics from Ann Landers’ office, sit ready for reporters to use during a break.

Historic front pages, etched in glass and illuminated from behind, line hallways. Quotes, taken from Tribune Tower’s front lobby now glisten in new shiny steel, old relics and artwork juxtaposed against a sleek modern day office interior. A historic wooden editorial board table, with chairs so worn that the leather has split, are given prominent positions in the the office landscape.

“If we had good furniture, we tried to reuse it,” Allen said.

In the middle of it all, a broad highway of a staircase connects the Tribune’s three floors. Allen calls them the “town hall stairs,” designed to accommodate staff for all employee meetings. The staircase also opens up the space, unifying the separate floors.

Eastlake Studio designed the space, and Allen said adding the wide staircase through the heart of their property in Prudential Plaza was no small feat.

“This was probably the most ambitious part of the project,” she said. “The stairs interconnect our space and make everything make sense.”

This, Allen explained, is a big difference from Tribune Tower.

“The Tower was a dark space with small windows,” she said. Floor to ceiling windows surround the office space at The Prudential Plaza. “Here, it’s nice to look out over Millennium Park all day long,” Allen said.

She said the newspaper looked at several properties but Prudential Plaza
was the best.

“We couldn’t have ended up at a better place,” she said.

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