I've had the privilege of working with a lot of talented people in the newspaper business. One of the best was Melissa Isaacson, who has been crafting stories for the Chicago Tribune since 1990. She is also the author of two books, "Transition Game: An Inside Look at Life With the Chicago Bulls" and "Sweet Lou: Lou Pinella: A Life in Baseball."
Melissa got the call last week that her job had been eliminated, a crummy way to end nearly 20 years of service. Unfortunately, this is happening to way too many journalists in this transition of the information delivery system from print to cyberspace.
After a day of gathering her thoughts, Melissa started a blog, which already has several terrific entries. But that's not the end of the story.
On Friday, the Chicago Headline Club held its Lisagors Award dinner. Melissa won for Best Feature of 2008, a story she entered on her own.
She writes: "The winning feature was the most meaningful story I’d written in my 26 years as a journalist. It was the story of my parents and their simultaneous 20-year battle with Alzheimer’s until their deaths from the disease. It was the story of my family, the story of my adult life, the story, as it turned out, that would mark a career soon to be over at the only newspaper I ever wanted to write it for."
Moments after Melissa was announced as the winner, Tribune managing editor Jane Hirt leaped into action. Michael Miner of the Chicago Reader details what happened:
"This led to the amusing incident — amusing, at least, to those who witnessed it from the Sun-Times table — in which Isaacson's victory was announced but by the time she made her way up front to accept her plaque it had disappeared. That's because Hirt had hopped up from the Tribune table next to the dais to claim it for the Tribune. 'My friends asked me later if I got to bask in any of the applause,' says Isaacson, 'but there was no basking. I had to go find my award.' "
Jim Romenesko of tracked down Hirt on Tuesday. "I do regret the awkward moment at the Lisagors," she wrote. "I didn't see Missy in the crowd, and I wanted to pick up the plaque to make sure she got it. When she arrived at the stage at the same time I did, I handed her the plaque. I wasn't planning on keeping it for the Tribune."
Melissa said it was never about the plaque. It was about her parents.
"I went last Friday to accept the award in their honor. And yes, for the paper that allowed me to write it, the paper that once seemed to care about stories like this one. The paper that I never thought would allow its employees to walk out the door without a thank-you or even a good-bye.
"But it is not, of course, just those of us let go last week. We grieve too today for the Baltimore Sun, for the editors and managers, loyal and trusted employees only seconds before, ushered out of the newsroom by security guards on Tuesday. And for the sportswriters who were called out of press boxes and fired on Wednesday.
"We grieve for every worker laid off in this country without being given the dignity they have earned.
"It was never about the damn plaque."
Hirt is catching hell — as she should — on the Sports Journalist forums.