Letter to the Editor: Why Eric Zorn should be heard at DePaul


Audrey Champelli

A newsstand near Tribune Tower on Michigan Avenue.

Among the things we admire and respect about journalism is the ability (and responsibility) to talk to and listen to a wide variety of voices with a diversity of opinions.  As reporters and columnists, that is what we do. Or what we are supposed to do.

An opinion piece posted in the DePaulia on-line this week calls into question our invitation to former Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn.  Zorn was invited to appear with other former colleagues at a Wednesday forum on the DePaul campus to discuss tough times for journalism, including recent ownership changes and buyouts at the Tribune, that pose challenges facing our soon-to-graduate students.

The authors take Zorn to task for several columns, most recently one concerning the fatal police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo.  The piece asserts  Zorn’s writings contribute to “racist views” and “racist ideologies.”

Eric Zorn is neither a racist nor a contributor to ideologies of hate.  The DePaulia op-ed authors fail to mention that Zorn almost immediately, following publication of his column, wrote a follow-up saying he regretted the “analytical tone” of the first column, writing: “I regret that tone. In focusing on details and marshaling evidence and arguments, I can neglect the emotional resonance in situations, as though I’ve forgotten or don’t care that a child who was loved has died, and that the death of someone with so much life ahead of him is always, always a tragedy. I should have done better.”

In our Advanced Reporting class, our students greet guest lecturers by presenting them with a list of facts about their lives. The reason we assign that exercise is to help students appreciate the complexity of the journalists they are about to meet.  And to show our guest lecturer that students have done their homework.

So here are a few facts about Eric Zorn:

*He believes man-made climate change is real.

*He believes it is “vile to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

*He argues access to quality public health care is a right.

*He has written widely that the death penalty should be abolished and Zorn’s columns, in no small way, contributed to Illinois outlawing it.

Zorn started writing columns at the Chicago Tribune in 1986.  We have not agreed with everything he’s written over more than three decades.  But we do believe he is entitled to express his views, controversial or otherwise, and that blocking his presence at DePaul runs counter to basic tenets of journalism.  And Vincentian values as well.

Ultimately, Zorn declined our invitation writing this:

I was honored to be invited to discuss “Tough Times for Local Journalism” with so many thoughtful and experienced members of the local media. There are many intriguing challenges and opportunities for legacy institutions on the digital landscape. But in recent days I learned that some of those in attendance would like to turn this into a forum to protest some of my columns pertaining to the justice system, and I concluded that my presence here would distract from the agenda and be unfair to my friends on the panel.

I’m open to anyone who wants to engage in thoughtful dialogue about my work, which continues on Substack. My email address is there and in my Twitter bio if you’d like to follow up.

The DePaulia op-ed includes a call for greater diversity among the DePaul journalism faculty. We agree.  Every journalism professor we know agrees.  Why?  Because that is the right thing to do.  Diversity means more voices can be heard.  And the more voices heard, the better the journalism.

Our invitation to Eric Zorn to come to campus to talk to our students—anytime—remains open.