Embedded in the exterior walls of the Chicago Tribune building are more than a hundred rocks, bricks and fragments from famous sites around the world. They include bits of the Berlin Wall, Notre Dame Cathedral, Pearl Harbor, Taj Mahal and the White House.
Beside the Tribune Tower’s main doors, on Michigan Avenue, I spotted pieces from The Great Wall of China and Fort San Antonio Abad in Manila.
The idea for the artifact collection, according to an article in the Tribune, came from Robert McCormick, the paper’s former publisher and editor. In 1923, two years before the Tribune Tower was constructed and while pondering how to decorate the building’s outer walls, McCormick apparently asked reporters to send in stones from famous places, such as the Pyramids of Egypt and the Parthenon at Athens.
Seeing the fragments reminded me of the days – not too long ago – when major U.S. newspapers had bureaus around the world, and when even mid-sized papers could afford to send reporters around the country.
Following the explosion of the internet and social media, a good number of newspapers in the U.S. closed down. Those working to remain profitable, including the Chicago Tribune, have cut costs in various ways, including slashing newsroom staff.
But no matter how much newsrooms shrink, every day I see reporters striving to tell stories that educate and inform the public, promote transparency and encourage people to participate in community building.
Inside the Tribune Tower, on the marble walls of the lobby, are etched about 20 quotations about the media’s significant role in a democratic society.
The one that struck me most was a statement by McCormick.
“The newspaper is an institution developed by modern civilization to present the news of the day, to foster commerce and industry, to inform and lead public opinion, and to furnish that check upon government which no constitution has ever been able to provide.”