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I was hoping the Sam Zell team would march into the Tribune Company armed with lots of brilliant new ideas about how to save journalism. But locally the first big move -- I'm not counting the scheme to sell Wrigley Field to the taxpayers and naming rights to Halliburton -- could have been dreamed up by the old regime and frequently was: a voluntary buyout.
I've seen about a dozen names of Tribune editorial staffers who are bailing out, and by and large they've been terrific journalists. I've discussed the work of some in Hot Type, such as medical writer Judy Peres, sports columnist Sam Smith, and markets columnist Bill Barnhart. Then there's Alan Solomon. The story about him I had to tell back in 1994 was about how the woman then editing sports removed the department's TV, and how Solomon's way of protesting was to send her flowers and a note that said "The whole building, the whole country are laughing at you. Put the TV back," and how she then kicked him off the White Sox beat. He wound up on the night rewrite desk.
"Basically, I screwed myself out of baseball," he says today. But three or four months later there was an opening in the travel section and Solomon applied for it. For the last 14 years he's been bouncing around the world on the Tribune's dime, leading the kind of life that they'd have to pry out of the cold stiff fingers of most of us in order to close the coffin. "I'm embarrassed at how good I've had it at the Tribune," he told me.
I called him wondering why he would give it up. "It's just time," Solomon replied. "It's almost like what Brett Favre said, 'I could play one more year but I don't think I want to.' As wonderful as the job is, I've used up all my adjectives. How much more can you say about Branson the fourth time around?"
"I've written three times about Branson and once about the fishing not far from Branson. Now it takes me three or four days to do a story that used to take two or three hours. I'll get two-thirds of the way through it and I'll realize I've written the same story about someplace else. So I tear it up, and sometimes it works the second time and sometimes I have to write it a third time. That isn't the way it was a few years ago."
Solomon's 62. The travel editor, Randy Curwen, whom Solomon's worked for the whole time, is also 62 and is also taking a buyout. There is something to be said for age, experience, and institutional memory, but raw, ignorant enthusiasm also has its virtues. "Let's face it, we're fossils," Solomon says. "Our perspective is basically 1975. You have new kids coming up who know the new technology and embrace it." He has no complaint about the new owners. "Sam and his people brought some energy that maybe we didn't have for a long time," he told me. But when everyone else is fired up, it's easier to see that you're not.