Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Grownups in charge: the Sun-Times breaks the Charlie Trotter's story, and other media give it credit for the scoop

Posted By on 01.03.12 at 01:23 PM

Driving through Chicago Monday afternoon, I heard WFMT announce Charlie Trotter's decision to close his iconic restaurant as breaking news—and credit the Sun-Times for breaking it.

The Sun-Times had the story in its pages early Sunday morning, and maybe I should be slamming WFMT for doing a lousy job of freshening its newscast. But actually I found the brief news item oddly satisfying. As a Sun-Times alum who wants the paper to survive and prosper, I was happy to see it getting so many props for an exclusive. When other media give credit where it's due, they act as grownups.

Charlie Trotter told his staff New Year's Eve that he's going to close his doors in August. But he told Janet Rausa Fuller three days earlier. Rausa became the Sun-Times's food editor in 2007, and, she says, "from the stories I've done about him, and using him as a source, there was a mutual respect. A little while ago he'd alluded that he might consider this big move. And he said, 'If anything comes of it, I'll call you.' And he did! He kept this word. That was nice."

Fuller had resigned from the Sun-Times a couple of weeks earlier, but she says she didn't consider going anywhere with her story but to her old paper. "The desk was pretty excited about it," she says. Her agreement with Trotter, which the paper honored, was that the story would remain embargoed until midnight New Year's Eve. Then Fuller immediately tweeted the news, and the Sun-Times ran the story in its two final editions. Fuller had herself a good old-fashioned scoop, and the Sun-Times did right by it. It gave Fuller's story a big EXCLUSIVE tag in a front-page wrapper, and spread it across most of pages two and three.

Chicago-based Monica Davey chased the story for the New York Times. Her account of Trotter's decision to close the restaurant that "helped transform American fine dining in the last quarter-century" ran in the Monday Times and credited the Sun-Times in its second sentence. The AP story the Tribune posted on its website Sunday morning also credited the Sun-Times in its second sentence. The staff-written Trib piece (by restaurant critic Phil Vettel) wasn't so gallant, but it didn't appear online until nearly nine o'clock Sunday night. And on Monday morning the Tribune may have paid the Sun-Times the biggest compliment of all: it conceded the importance of Fuller's scoop by running Vettel's story on its own front page a full day after the Sun-Times ran Fuller's.

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