so one interesting — and unforeseen — aspect of my job is that the outsourced call center, sends me random calls all the time. the problem is that, when i started, i got assigned an extension that was used, at one point, for editorial feedback for the Chicago Tribune. i used to think that my extension was part of a call group and just needed to be taken out of it, but, after literally weeks and weeks of investigating and trying to get this resolved, i discovered that what was actually the case was that the call center has an Excel spreadsheet of common extensions, and mine was explicitly listed for editorial feedback. telling the callers that i work in IT does not usually help; their responses range to “well, they transferred me to you!” to “what’s ‘IT’?” mostly, i think the callers are just relieved to get a human on the phone, and they want to tell me their whole issue before i can reach over for the transfer button and they wind up at another menu.

(i can only assume that the actual editors of the Tribune would be either entertained by this tale of having some random idiot in the basement of the Tower getting their calls by mistake; be irritated by said random idiot being presumptuous enough to take calls on their behalf; or simply be relieved to not have to deal with the calls, most of which are actually very simple requests, if the call center personnel were bothering to listen to the callers’ questions rather than transfer them to “Editorial”-by-which-i-mean-me as soon as the caller turns out to not be calling about paying their subscription bill. i suspect the latter since when i transfer calls to their extension, it always goes to voice mail.)

i did, eventually, succeed in finding someone who is responsible for the call center, and she updated the magical Excel spreadsheet of extensions, but nonetheless, the calls continue. i suspect that someone in Sri Lanka literally didn’t get the memo. it has tapered off somewhat since the sheet got updated, but in a typical day, i still get around 2-5 calls, and i usually get a couple of voice mails per week, generally on Monday morning after the weekend.

i could ask for a new extension, but i actually sort of enjoy the calls, most of the time. it breaks up my day a little, and gives me a little human contact away from the computers. also, it’s an excuse for me to learn more about the paper, which is a side of the business i would otherwise have effectively no exposure to. of course there’s occasionally a real winner that turns up — like Angry Screaming Man, who left me many voice mails about how the fucking this and the fucking that were motherfucking whatever and his fucking issue was too fucking important for motherfucking voicemail (but not so important that he actually left his phone number so i could call him back), a few weeks back; or Crazy Birther Dude a week or two ago who was enraged that a reporter from our august institution had dared to go on the Chris Matthews show and remark, in response to a question, that he thought that the President of the United States had anything at all more important to do than to try and prove his citizenship by birth, which shamed the entire Tribune and we should feel just terrible about it all. (that one was, more than others, a trip.) a few days ago i got to talk with a gentleman who was barely able to restrain his glee about newspapers’ dwindling print circulation, and forecast our complete institutional demise in ten years or less!!! at least every two minutes he had me on the line (to which i responded each time, “Well, I certainly hope that won’t be the case, sir,” because sometimes i’m nicer than the callers objectively deserve). but other times i get to chat with people who organize open-house Thanksgiving dinners for entire communities every year, who want to touch base with a reporter who did a story on them years back, or whose grandkid was in a featured photo and they’d like to get a reprint, someone who is gushing with praise for a columnist and wants to make sure that said columnist knows that her work is appreciated, stuff like that. one time i had someone who wanted to know the exact dimensions of the broadsheet paper, and i’m not sure why they couldn’t just use a ruler, but who am i to judge? so far as the callers know, i’m just there to answer the phone.

the most fun ones are the truly, truly “random” calls though. one person called me to ask about how he could get a Russian travel visa for vacation. someone had told him to call the newspaper because we would know. (i’m not sure why; maybe because of correspondent writers? i guess journalists travel a lot and so therefore newspaper people can answer all kinds of travel-related questions? i’m still drawing a blank on that one. i referred him to the Russian embassy, feeling relatively certain that they could either help him out, or decide he was too hapless to be let in to their country.) another woman called me because she wanted to send fan mail to the Regis and Kelly show. sure, we have TV stations, but … we’re not, you know, WABC where Regis and Kelly shoot. we’re not even in New York. but she was adamant that she’d been told that we would be able to help her, and did not want to hear any of my expressions of doubt. i quickly figured out that she wasn’t going to let me go until she had an answer (and she had my direct extension because the call center happily gives this to the callers, so they can all call me back directly any time they like, now that they know what line goes directly to a human), so i pulled up my browser, put write letter to regis and kelly in the search field, and read her the answer. hey, she went away happy, i got her off the phone, win-win.

but most of the calls are more routine, so i’ve gotten good at answering some of them off the top of my head. i don’t know why the call center doesn’t do the same, but, truthfully, i think they just want to get the callers off their lines as fast as possible, to keep their individual call times down — that was one of our objectives, in the call center i worked in in high school — and so they don’t bother to take the two (to twenty) minutes it takes to establish what the caller is trying to ask, and look up a phone number not on their magical Excel list.

here are some of the things that i have learned, thanks to the random calls:

  • Pretty much all the useful phone numbers and emails are listed on the web site, including a list of all the editors, their job titles, and email addresses. There’s also an FAQ.
  • The main switchboard is (312) 222-3232, Advertising (including classifieds, announcements, and obituaries) is (312) 222-2222, Editorial is (312) 222-3348. For help with a subscription, call 1-800-TRIBUNE, but if you ask them any question they don’t know they’ll probably just transfer you back to me.
  • There is a list of fax numbers and email addresses to submit your press release here.
  • To suggest a story idea or submit information, email
  • Recent back issues of the paper are available in the Tribune Tower gift shop for $1 each.
  • To search the Tribune archives, go to the main page, scroll all the way to the bottom, find the column labeled “Perks,” and click on the last item in that list, “Archive.” There are two archives, 1985 to present, which is text-based and fully searchable; and 18-something to 1985, which is scanned print and you can search headlines. Article reprints are available for a fee. If you would like them for free, you can contact the Chicago Public Library or your local library, and learn about the wonders of microfiche and inter-library loans.
  • (Kids today have no frigging clue what microfiche is. And they should turn that noise down and get off my lawn.)
  • To get photo reprints, go to the main web page, and click on the “Photos” link all the way to the right on the tabs across the top, then click “Buy Tribune Photos” in the right-hand sidebar. If you don’t see the phone you’re interested in in the listings, there is a requests page. Or you can call (312) 222-3080.
  • If you want to contact the author of an article, their e-mail addresses are usually printed at the end of the article on the web site.
  • Some people, inexplicably, do not know what section of the paper “the front page” is in. Others don’t know what a byline is, or what “above the fold” means (though, arguably, i suppose, that latter one is less important since we started printing a tabloid format.)
  • Other people think it is easier to call the newspaper in order to ask what section of the paper an article is in — even when they have the actual newspaper in front of them; they just want to be told where to turn the page to. (i really, really have no explanation for that one.)
  • We cannot delete your comment from a blog that you posted and want to rescind now that your rant looks pretty silly a couple days later.
  • Most of the writers seem (to me) happy to hear from readers.
  • Mary Schmich’s last name is pronounced “schmeek.”
  • Jon Yates is The Problem Solver, and can be reached at
  • And yes, I understand that he may have upset you with his latest editorial, but no, I seriously do not know what time John Kass comes to work so you can call him and not get his voice mail. I am in the basement, nowhere near the newsroom, and, much as it saddens me, I cannot just go up to his desk and ask him to call you back, either.