A young girl in pajamas huddled close to her father, stranded on the roof of their apartment building in the middle of the night. It was minus 20-degree weather in Chicago. Their home was on fire and the family’s only way to safety was rushing to the roof of their 44 story hi rise where they waited for firefighters to rescue them.
The first reporter on the scene to get this breaking story was Loyola University Chicago graduate and Chicago Tribune reporter Rosemary Sobol.
“I love writing about fires. They are so scary and fast moving. The work of firefighters is just unbelievable,” Sobol said. In fact, her reporting on fires in Chicago won her the first journalism award of her career, back in 2009 while she was at the Chicago Sun-Times.
Sobol is a 20-year vet of Chicago journalism. She has covered the breaking news for the Tribune the last two-and-a-half years as well as been a reporter at the the Sun-Times for over eight years. Before that she worked in the City News Bureau of Chicago. She has been awarded the Jones-Beck Award for Outstanding Professional Performance and she won first place in deadline news from the Illinois Associated Press Editors Association.
“Rose takes her job very seriously,” said fellow Chicago Tribune reporter Liam Ford. “She knows that the stories told about crime in Chicago matter to people more if they actually give people a picture of what is happening to other people.”
There is no such thing as a typical day for this tenacious reporter, and how Sobol gets that information changes each day. Stories can take her anywhere in the city. Nowadays, you can find Sobol almost anywhere reporting on the city’s breaking news–well, almost anywhere.
“I don’t like to go banks anymore honestly!” she exclaimed. “After covering so many bank robberies, I know how dangerous and common they are. The FBI doesn’t want us to know, but a lot of the times it’s just like the movies. They (robbers) have guns and tell everyone to get down.”
However, at least part of each workday she usually finds herself sitting down at her desk, situated in the heart of the bustling newsroom within the walls of the gothic Tribune Tower. There are mountains of manila folders chock full with morgue reports sitting on her desk and on top is a teetering police scanner with its perpetual police officer voices ringing out.
Prying open one of these folders on her lap, she explained, “The first time we can hear a big story could be in a dead body that shows up at a morgue. When we work the overnight shift we have to visit morgues often. Like if we see a 40-year-old year old woman whose cause of death was dozens of dog bites? That’s a big story.”
“There are so many stories, too many to write about,” Sobol said, glancing at the copious piles of information on her desk.
When asked how she finds her story, she answered, “It’s all about relationships. Your job is to keep in contact with as many people as possible, to gain their trust. It takes a long time for cops to trust you.”
One of the first things she does each day is beat checks. This involves making about 20 phone calls to detectives, police sergeants or lodge commanders in the different regions of Chicago. She calls, asks how their day was going, and if anything new has happened that she should know about.
Capt. Marc Buslik of Chicago’s Shakespeare District understands the interesting and complex relationship between the police and the news media. The captain first met Sobol while she was at the Sun Times. “Her job was to contact the police station to get updates on news stories,” Buslik recalled. “I’m also a university professor and teach a class in policing. I’ve had Rose come in and talk to our class about the role the news media plays with the police.”
Buslik admires Sobol for her objectivity in reporting of crime stories. “Frankly sometimes the police screw up, the issue for us in policing isn’t one of, will the media write about it? The question is will they present the story in a way that reflects the reality of what the police do,” he stated.
“This is where the criticism comes from the police towards the media. She’s really tried to be unbiased, and not just get our side of the story but all sides of the story. She’s generated a fair amount of trust from the police and I suspect other forms of government that she deals with.”
Getting scoops requires that people open up. She had a good role model for getting people to open up to her—her dad.
“I’m lucky because my dad was a barber. It’s part of the job to just gossip all day and know how to talk to people. You can’t discount that. You can’t control if people will like you or open up to you. You have to just try your best, and I’ve always just been lucky in that sense,” she said.
Other times, she finds breaking stories listening to the police scanner. Then, she has a few seconds to jot down the address and names then she is out the door with a photographer.
“I find myself talking to people who are having the worst day of their life–literally the worst day. Lots of grieving mothers whose children were just shot, or wives of police officers who were shot,” Sobol stated.
“It’s about finding hope in these stories. I try to find that good samaritan who saw what happened, was on the sidewalk and maybe he did something that really helped the situation. I try to find any positive angle I can.”
Sobol put herself through Loyola’s Business School by working lots of jobs and taking out loans. She spent a semester abroad in LUC’s Rome program and also studied finance at the business school.
She credits Loyola to being a great university that gave her for giving her a lot of options after graduation in 1993.
“(LUC) wasn’t just known for being a good school in one field, but many different fields,” Sobol said. “I just wanted job security at the time but I am so happy with where I am today. Sure, I’m not making as much money as I’d like but I am so fulfilled with my job. Knowing it’s an important job, I absolutely love doing it.”
By: Shirley Coenen