I’ve been away a couple weeks. In Spain. Didja miss me? No? Not even a little?
Can’t say I’m surprised. We exist in such a howling media pandemonium nowadays, a continual cacophony of bugles and brasses blaring all the time. Who can even notice if a particular tin horn drops out or joins in?
Did I miss anything? Of course I did. A city like Chicago is a Niagara of news, a never-ending cataract of information roaring past. Blink and you overlook something important.
So what did I miss? Let’s see ... the past two weeks ... Lori Lightfoot? Fact-finding in Mexico! People being shot? Already covered like a damp shirt. For the record: It’s bad.
There was the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Sun-Times — actually the Sunday Sun and Times, the hyphen came five months later — on Oct. 5, 1947. That could be viewed as a big deal, at least by people who work here. The folks still left at the Tribune certainly felt their 175th birthday was an occasion worthy of note, with a six-week celebration last spring penned by my pal Rick Kogan, the ghost in their increasingly stripped-down machine.
I like that image. The once mighty Trib sets up circus tents and holds a month-and-a-half-long jamboree to mark its anniversary. While here at the scrappy Sun-Times, some crusty oddball who’s been wandering around, blinking in the Iberian sun, his absence at home unnoticed, comes scurrying back, drops his luggage, raises a finger and trills, “Umm, sorry, we, ah, missed that ...”
Though my timing is perfect. (It’s better to be lucky than good.) Because just last week the Sun-Times announced a big change in our business model. Instead of covering your eyes until you cough up for an online subscription, our online content is now free, thanks to voluntary contributions, the way it works with our bosses, whoops, partners, at WBEZ.
This is a perfect time to remember the newspaper’s founding, because it took place for exactly the same reason: to survive and maybe thrive in a changing media landscape. To glance at how Mr. Sun wed Miss Times 75 years ago is to see ad hoc adaptation at its finest. Department store scion Marshall Field III had created the Sun in 1941 with the sole purpose of pushing back against the isolationist, xenophobic, Hitler-canoodling Chicago Tribune. The first issue was published Dec. 4, 1941. Three days later, its entire reason for existence vanished after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and America entered the war. We came into a world mooted, with darkness setting in and two strikes against us.
But we came out swinging.
By 1947, the morning Sun had never made a penny of profit, and Field, obviously slow on the uptake, had purchased a second newspaper, the afternoon Times. A grubby sports-fixated photo tabloid founded in 1929, out of the ashes of the Chicago Journal (a paper begun in 1844, which is why you sometimes see claims that our roots pre-date the Trib. It’s a stretch).
In its first issue, Sept. 3, 1929, the Times ran a manifesto describing its average reader, who of course was assumed to be a man, and a semi-literate man at that:
“He wants the news at a glance, because his life is crowded and he hasn’t much time to waste on words.”
Hasn’t ... much time ... to waste ... on words. Ouch, that stings. It’s like they saw Instagram almost a century before it appeared.
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