Tribune Hangover

It is 4:30 in the morning and I have spent the last two hours reciting my memoirs in my head, the last half hour going through my buddy list and asking everyone without an away message: “Are you up?”

Apparently, I am not the only one to remain logged on without an away message as the 10 people I have asked are either not up or a little scared of me.

I always thought that whole first-day-of-the-rest-of-your-life thing was one of the lamer clichés. But this is it. And I don’t think sleepless and swollen-eyed is exactly the way it was intended to be interpreted.

Today is supposed to be my last day at the Chicago Tribune. But does anyone finish out their shift after being laid off? Actually, I guess I did. My first thought after being given the news in a phone call yesterday morning was to hang up and think, damn, I had two good story ideas I was working on. One interview I did that won’t see the light of day.

And so I wrote. Not because I needed to finish a shift but because that is what we do. In nearly all of life’s circumstances. Sometimes it takes a little while to gather it up. But it always ends here, in front of the keyboard, a writer’s best friend regardless of where his words end up.

I want to be angry. But right now I am merely sad and sentimental after 19 years and four months at the Tribune. I keep flashing back to that day in mid-January, 1990, standing inside the lobby of the Tower, looking up at all of the famous quotations inscribed in the marble of the walls above me, awe-inspiring and frightening, as chills washed over me.

I remember at age 28, walking outside and seeing my childhood friend Mark, who worked across the street at the Wrigley Building at the time, waiting for me to see if I got the job. And I remember us hugging and crying and him swinging me around like Mary Tyler Moore without the hat.

I am remembering a lot of things, which pleases me since I often have trouble remembering if I put on deodorant each morning.

I will continue writing because that is what we do and because it makes me feel better, like I have not been robbed of the love of my life. But I do wonder how I will ever adjust to identifying myself as anyone but “Melissa Isaacson from the Chicago Tribune.” It is who I am, with or without my employee ID card. It is my identity. It was not a job.

Who am I without that? Am I still a sportswriter? A journalist? Being “Melissa Isaacson from the Chicago Tribune,” gave me the confidence I did not always possess on my own, a veneer of credibility I had not yet earned. And I wonder, rather pathetically, I suppose, after 26 years in the business, if my name can stand up on its own.

I never changed it when I got married, a week past my 30th birthday, because my editor at the time said he didn’t want any of those ridiculous long hyphenated bylines and because I thought it would break my father’s heart not to see our name in the paper any more.

So I agonized over the decision and cried to my husband that I did not want a different last name from him and my future children but that I felt I had to keep it. He laughed and never gave it a second thought, or if he did, he never let on.

I am Melissa Isaacson in the paper and on airline tickets and hotel registries so people who have to, can find me. I am Missy Mawrence everywhere else and Missy Mawrence is really who I am. A mother with two beautiful children, both of whom cried for me yesterday. A wife with a husband so wonderful I do not deserve him.

That’s what I need to remember.

18 Responses to “Tribune Hangover”

  1. CJ

    Challenging issues, troubled times. The Tribune has no soul. But you do, and that makes all the difference.

  2. Sam Farmer

    Wow, that’s powerful, Melissa. You represent a huge loss, although you clearly will not disappear from the media landscape. That blog entry could be any of us. Best of luck. Sam

  3. karyn

    I’m so glad I can still read you! Of course, I’m crying. This,your real life writing, is the stuff that so appeals to me. I’m not an avid sports fan, so reading about sports is, on the rare occasions that I do it, a labor of love. I do it so I can say, occasionally, that I read your story. Reading your stories about the human side of sports, or the rest of life that relates to us, the fair weather sports fans of the city, is my pleasure. Lucky me. As for your identity as Melissa Isaacson of the Chicago Tribune, it was a really good run. You were part of the organization in it’s heyday. Sadly, the name doesn’t carry the prestige that it once did. Actually, it now musters negative vibes. I look forward to watching this new story unfold. It’s going to be really good.

  4. Jay


    I feel like the Cubs just lost another shot at the title! Although i know you are a White Sox Fan, for me your column was always a joy to read and one of the things that kept me spending the $.25, $.50 and now the $.75. The Tribunes loss is our loss, and you will be missed

  5. Kristin

    I cannot believe the Tribune would do something so foolish as to lay you off. You are one of my favorite Chicago sportswriters, and you were one of the big reasons I got into sports journalism in the first place. Thankfully, I have found your blog, and will be subscribing posthaste. Hope you find a full-time employer who will appreciate your talents.

  6. lori

    As i sit here crying, i just want you to know that you are, and always will be, a terrific writer, wife, mother and friend!! Remember that no one can ever take that away from you!! My thoughts are with you!

  7. Bonnie

    Melissa, Congratulations on your long run at the Chicago Tribune. Your leaving is a loss to the Chicago Tribune and the City of Chicago as a whole. After a grieving period, I believe you will come back stronger than ever! You are blessed with wonderful friends, family and a gift for writing. Good luck!

  8. Lisa

    Congratulations on your award and a distinguished career at the Tribune.
    Don’t be sad that they didn’t say thank you or good bye–they didn’t say that to any of us, including me, after 25 years.
    What you should celebrate is all the good work you did and the wonderful times you had.
    I know it will take some time, but you have to forget the paper you longed to serve. It no longer exists.
    With best wishes for a bright future,

  9. Dave

    Melissa — I never knew you well enough to call you “Missy,” and that, I guarantee you, was my loss because what you do and how you do it are the best reasons for newspapers to exist. I paid attention to you from the first day Hubert Mizell mentioned your name, what, 25 years ago? Fun does make time fly. And for all the good stuff our hero, Royko, did, and he did it on Daley, did it for his dear wife, he never did anything that touched me more deeply in important ways — as loving and caring, and as writing — than what you did in tribute to your parents.

    All the best.

  10. Gil

    I missed something the first time I read this: You got the news in a phone call? A phone call?! Was it at least from a human, or was it one of those automated robocalls? Unbelievable.

    I hope at least they were “decent” about severance, insurance, outplacement, etc. You deserved better.

  11. Ramona

    Hey Melissa,

    We’ve never met but I’ve always seen your byline from afar and loved the way you wrote and connected with your stories. So sorry to hear about all this. Seems like every day I hear of some other person getting laid off I could never imagine getting laid off.

    I have no idea what to say in such cases, but I worry about the day I’ll be writing that first day of the rest of your life blog post too.

    Not sure what the answer to all this is, but keep putting yourself out there, keep writing and doing all the things that got you to the Trib in the first place, and there will always be a place for you. It might take some time, and it might not be the place you expected, but I really do believe there will be a place.

    All the best,

    Los Angeles Daily News

  12. Sandy

    Dear Missy: Saul and I were so sorry to hear of the Tribune’s loss. I have always believed that when one door closes, another is waiting to be pushed open. In time you will realize that change is good and will create opportunities yet to be realized. I have told you in the past that your words have been an inspiration to me . Your job doesn’t define you but your talent does. You have been blessed with a beautiful loving family and devoted friends and that’s what is most important. We look forward to reading “Sweet Lou” and other publications yet to be written. A teacher friend has this anonymous quote written on her studio door which I love : We go through life constantly surrounded by opportunities…cleverly disguised as problems.” I look forward to seeing you real soon.

  13. Joel

    Melissa, your beautifully written blog stirs memories of 1990, when I left the Sun-Times to enter a family business. I felt the same emotions you express. The good news is that they gradually subsided. And, as they did, I realized my identity was not “Joel Bierig, sports writer,” but Joel Bierig, husband to Barbara and father to Becky and Brian.

    The decision to leave my chosen career (I still do occasional free-lance writing) involved many factors, notably family. My children were ages 4 and 1. And, after sports writing stops in four other cities as a single person, I wanted to establish permanent roots in Chicago, my hometown and a place where my family was happy. Prognosis for newspapers was bleak even then. If anything happened to the Sun-Times (I had worked for the Minneapolis Star when it folded), what would be my chances of landing another sports writing job in Chicago? I couldn’t bear the thought of another move.

    Unfortunately, no matter how much we enjoy what we do, we are easily replaced, except among those who love us. As you say, young people today haven’t heard of Royko. During my sports writing days, Red Smith was an icon. Yet, a year after his death, I was surprised how infrequently he was mentioned, even in press boxes. This made it easier for me to pull the plug on my lifelong dream.

    After my “retirement” from journalism, I had no desire to attend sporting events — until little Brian discovered Michael Jordan and the Bulls, followed by Sammy Sosa and the Cubs. Forget the press pass. I loved sitting in the stands with my son, sharing the ups and downs he experienced with the fluctuations of his favorite teams. Fortunately, Brian lacked the inside, clubhouse knowledge that often made me cynical as a sports writer. Today, at 19, he’s a freshman engineering student at an Ivy League school. Yet the Cubs and baseball still dominate our phone conversations.

    My kids often asked how I could abandon such an exciting career. Simple: As a sports writer, I never would have made it to all of Brian’s Little League games and all of Becky’s high school golf matches. “Honestly, kids, while I enjoyed talking with Michael Jordan, I would rather be talking with you.”

    Starting in seventh grade, Becky and I developed a weekend golfing partnership and a father-daughter bond that still brings tears to my eyes. As much as I love golf, would you believe I never had time for it as a sports writer?

    You are blessed to have a loving family and to have realized–before it was too late–how important it is to be diversified. Countless journalists pour their lives into their work and have nothing else when their careers end. Your writing skills are forever, and they will be your best friend in whatever your next pursuit might be.

    I’ll end with this: As a sports writer, I seemed to miss every event that was important to my family. Today, at age 55 (and 19 years removed from the Sun-Times), I honestly can say I haven’t missed anything.

  14. Laurie

    Hi Missy,
    Your first blog entry made me cry. This is really great. Keep it up. Maybe it’s somewhat cathartic, too. Let me know and we’ll tweet together. No excuses, now, for not seeing you every Friday a 9 am!

  15. Phil

    Hi Melissa–All the best from someone who very much appreciated your work and expertise. Where the profession has gone is very, very sad. Keep your head up. You’re too good not to land a gig somewhere.

  16. Malcolm

    Melissa — Do you know what you have just done?
    In a digital world of mean-spirited shots presented as alleged humor, you have just created this wonderful community. I feel like I’m reading a book, and I can’t stop. All it needs is a blurb, so here goes:
    “All those years she thought the Tribune’s name made her’s better when it was really the other way around.”
    P.S. You can’t really believe you would ever miss the mixed zone.

  17. Sue

    I’ve just read every entry – both touching and entertaining, as always. I can’t believe how prolific you are! You certainly can stand alone without a newspaper following your name. Talent cannot be denied; I know you will succeed again. As a writer, wife, mother, daughter, sister, and especially cousin, you have so much to be proud of.

  18. Bruce

    Don’t sell yourself short – you do deserve him, and I would be willing to bet he feels that he doesn’t deserve you. Not only were you the proverbial local girl who made good, you were one of the best writers on the entire newspaper staff. The rumors I have heard about how you were let go are very disturbing; if they are true, I will not be renewing my subscription.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)