A new name appeared on the masthead of the Chicago Tribune this week, and it belongs to a 36-year-old resident of Riverside. Last week Michelle G. Lopez was named a director of content for the Tribune.
She is one of eight directors of content, what used to be known as editors, at the Tribune. Lopez’s promotion was first reported by media reporter Robert Feder. Lopez told the Landmark that her job is to be the director of audience.
“I will be leading a team that will be managing all of Chicago Tribune’s digital platforms,” Lopez said. “My goal is to grow and engage our digital readership, whether they are loyal digital subscribers to our website or readers who are just searching for something and stumble upon one of our articles.”
Lopez will be responsible for shaping how the Tribune looks online and on social media as the newspaper tries to appeal to a younger and more diverse audience.
It’s a dream come true for the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Lopez has loved newspapers ever since she was a young girl and delivered the Suburban Life in her native North Riverside when she was a student at L.J. Hauser Junior High.
Lopez was born in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, moved to Berwyn when she was 5 and to North Riverside when she was 10.
She has lived in Riverside since the summer of 2017 with her husband Juan Mario Lopez, a nuclear medicine and molecular imaging technologist at the Hines V.A. Hospital, and has two young sons.
“I love the area; I wanted to be close by to my parents.” Lopez said. “It doesn’t take much to want to live here. You just walk down the street and see all the beautiful trees and the winding roads and it’s like you’re in a movie. I always dreamed of having a house in Riverside.”
Lopez’s mother, Florinda Gonzalez, died of cancer at the beginning of October.
“It’s been kind of a whirlwind of emotions this past month,” Lopez said. “I’m really, really sad, but then I’m having this big career milestone. But I did get to tell her before she passed away, so that was a really, really sweet thing.”
Her father, Artemio, still lives in North Riverside and is a sheet metal worker for the CTA.
Lopez traces her love of newspapers to her parents, who learned English by reading the newspaper, watching the news on TV and listening to the radio.
“That was really inspiring to me,” Gonzalez said. “I thought how cool would it be to work for a newspaper,” Lopez said.
Her first language was Spanish.
“I learned English by watching Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street and basically any other kids programming on PBS,” Lopez said.
At Riverside-Brookfield High School, when her name was Michelle Gonzalez, she was on the staff of the Clarion, the school newspaper, for all four years. She did a little of everything, writing stories and a column, Michy’s Minute, and serving as a top editor as a senior. While at the Clarion she learned about page design, which became her passion.
“I liked writing but I think being a reporter is a really, really challenging job, and I just felt the page design or copy editing was more my skill set, even back then,” Lopez said.
After graduating from RBHS in 2002 she went to the University of Illinois and majored in journalism. She became the design editor of the Daily Illini. Her first job out of college was as a page designer for the South Bend Tribune before signing on as a page designer and copy editor for the Suburban Life.
She briefly left newspapers to become social media director for Clear Channel Communications, now iHeartMedia, where she developed the digital skills that are now much in demand by running the social media pages for a diverse set of Chicago radio stations.
Those digital skills, and her strong background in newspapers, attracted the attention of a Tribune recruiter and she joined the Tribune in 2013, first serving as the senior digital and design editor for The Mash, the Tribune’s publication for teens. She moved on to become a digital editor for RedEye, the Tribune’s now defunct tabloid for commuters.
From there, she worked her way up the ranks of Chicago Tribune Media Group and Tribune Publishing.
She knows that the media landscape, particularly for newspapers, is a challenge, but she is committed to keeping the Tribune relevant, however the news is delivered, and to grow its digital audience.
“It’s very important for me to engage a younger audience, because not a lot of my friends have print subscriptions to newspapers,” Lopez said. “But everybody at the end of the day needs to get their news somewhere, and local news is so important whether it’s the Tribune or the Landmark.”