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Trib writers button lips, hoard chips

I always thought it was a mistake for Mike Royko to go to the Tribune.

Mike was born to be a member of the opposition. He loved the underdog and hated the big guys, and when he signed on with the Tower something was lost. He went over to the Trib in 1984, and when in 1988 TribCo decided to install night lights in Wrigley Field, we didn't get to read the great columns Mike might have written about that victory of bookkeeping over tradition.

Mike left the Sun-Times because it was bought by Rupert Murdoch, and he didn't like Murdoch. I didn't like Murdoch either, but I figured it was my paper, not his. He was only the owner. I didn't agree with his politics, but then I've been here through five owners, and I haven't agreed with a lot of their politics. The current owner is publishing a paper I can be proud to work for, and at least his politics are crystal-clear and defend an ideological position that has been taken for ethical, not marketing, reasons. The Tribune, meanwhile, has abandoned a century of conservatism and tiptoed timidly to the center, hoping not to offend anybody.

Mike's mistake in jumping to the Tribune was that he spent his Screw-You Chip. At the Sun-Times, he could have attacked Murdoch all he wanted to because Murdoch's managers would have been terrified that he might go to the Tribune. Once he went to the Tribune, he had cashed that chip, because he couldn't very well come back to the Sun-Times.

I was thinking of Mike in connection with the current turmoil about the infamous "security shields" in the Wrigley outfield. The purpose of these shields, no matter what anybody says, is to prevent the people on those rooftops across the street from watching the game. Period. End of discussion.I personally would not want to sit on such a rooftop. I want to sit inside the ball field. Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks, and I don't care if I never get back. But I like the idea of the rooftop seats. Not because the people on the roofs can see the game, but because the people at the game can see the people--getting away with something, which tickles human nature.

The TV shots of the fans on the rooftops is one of the classic shots in televised sports. It gives a personality and intimacy to Wrigley Field that the other parks lack--it shows how goofy and eager the fans are, and how the park is smack dab in a real neighborhood. A shot of "security shields," on the other hand, sends such a negative message that one imagines the cameras will shy away from them.The shields have been a public relations meltdown for TribCo. So clear is the city's consensus that Mayor Daley even did a standup routine poking fun at the Trib. Two-thirds of Cubs fans oppose the shields, according to a recent poll which I do not believe I read about in the Tribune. In fact, I don't believe I've read much at all in the Tribune about opposition to those shields. Sixty-six percent of the fans and zero percent of Trib columnists are against them.

There must be one columnist at the Tribune who thinks the shields are a bad idea? Newspaper columnists at heart are rebels. Does every single columnist at the Tribune agree with the corporate bean-counters who would mortgage the soul of the Cubs? There have to be at least a few Screw-You Chips still in circulation over there.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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