Friday, February 3, 2023

Gather in the newsroom for a brief meeting


     Harry Golden Jr. came striding into the fourth floor newsroom at 401 N. Wabash Ave. like a character from “Guys and Dolls.” The dean of the City Hall reporters, he looked sharp in a double-breasted pinstripe suit and well-shined shoes, the only jarring note his face, which looked like a skull. He was dying of cancer. We all knew it.
     Why is he still here? I remember wondering, slumped in a corner of the vast expanse of metal desks and stacked newspapers. Me, I’d be anywhere else but here.
     I was young, and newspaper ink hadn’t yet seeped into my bones. Wasn’t coursing through my veins like blood. Yet.
     The 75th anniversary of the first edition of the Daily Sun and Times was Thursday, and since even Stefano Esposito’s ambitious overview of our history could touch upon only a fraction of the reality, I hope you’ll forgive a few follow-ups, today and occasionally throughout the year.
     To have survived the Great Newspaper Die-Off and not only reach our diamond anniversary, but with the gift of a confident future, wedded to WBEZ, flush with new energy, money, talent and ambitions, is an occasion for joy and reflection.
     For me, on staff exactly half of those 75 years, thinking of the newspaper immediately conjures up colleagues long gone, answering the call to gather in the newsroom of memory. M.W. Newman drags in, rumpled, slump-shouldered, a dour man who wrote incredibly. In 1967, he described a killer hurricane this way: “Death came dancing and skipping, whistling and screaming, strangely still one second and whooshing and bouncing the next.” I never saw him smile.

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16 comments:

  1. I imagine the newsroom of a major paper could be as exciting as working on the floor of a major exchange or the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. No wonder you got hooked.

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    1. Exciting? It was as intoxicating and as exhilarating as any drug. I worked on the fourth floor at 401 N. Wabash for less than two years ('76 to '78), but I still retain so many indelible memories. I called into work when the "L" toppled into the street. We could see those 25-ton cars from the newsroom window. Was working when Daley died. And Elvis. Unforgettable. But wait...there's more...

      * Knew Harry Golden Jr. Probably the best-dressed man in the building. Took his stories from those rudimentary line-by-line 70s fax machines, the ones where you stuck the phone receiver into the machine itself. Did the same thing for all the sports guys...on both papers. Football and basketball weekends were insane. High school, college, the pros.

      * Still own a copy of "Call Northside 777." Love the old red streetcars and all those three weeks of 1947 location shots...downtown, Back of the Yards, Bridgeport. First Hollywood movie ever filmed in Chicago.

      * The Sun-Times store, at street level, sold hundreds of thousands of copies of Bill Mauldin's "Crying Lincoln" ...for the next twenty years. I bought one. Mauldin signed it. Wish to hell I could find it. He was a hero of mine.

      * After Flight 191 crashed, it was impossible to find a copy of the Sun-Times (or the Trib, as well) anywhere on the whole North Side. I know. I looked...in vain. Every store, newsstand, and street box was completely cleaned out. Went home empty-handed. Never seen a front page from that awful Saturday.

      * The Mirage...oh, yeah...the Mirage. Still have a crumbling reprint of the 25-part series. The book that followed is extremely rare...it fetches $80 on Amazon. Fetching indeed. Petite and red-haired Pam Zekman swept through the newsroom but never made eye contact with the likes of me. Not even once. The Mirage was just another dive bar to me, in what was then (late 70s) a seedy neighborhood between the river and Grand Ave. I was never aware of what the hell was happening just down the street. Hell, CIA operatives don't tell lowly corporals anything. Or even talk to them.

      * Didn't know Ebert. But I knew Tim Wiegel. Saw Royko almost every day, but never had the nerve to talk to him when he held court in the newsroom...too intimidating, too much like the Mob "boys" that one of my connected uncles knew. Closest I ever got to Mike was side-by-side in the john...at the Billy Goat. We just nodded...and grunted at each other. That oughta count for something.

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    2. Exciting? Yes, indeedy. I always came in early for the day shift in the library - usually quiet. The day the Pope (don't recall which one) died, it was a mad house; people called in to work early, wanted all the clips and photos from the dawn of time.... John White running down the hall at full speed - either Mayor Daley dying or the L falling off the tracks.

      I still have a copy of the final issue of the Daily News and I have the Mirage book. The Mirage team had a hideout on the 5th floor of the building which was vacant or rented offices to outsiders. I had to deliver stuff there once or twice. Locked door, knock, someone opened it a bit, hand the material through the partially opened door, and back down stairs.

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  2. I began reading M.W. Newman when he was at the Daily News. Everything he wrote floored me. I couldn't wait to read his stories. My favorite Sun-Times writer was Tom Fitzpatrick. I used to clip his columns and keep them in a box so I could read them again. On the sports side, you couldn't beat Jack Griffin and Bill Gleason,

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    1. M.W. Newman was the older brother of NBC's Edwin Newman. He worked for 49 years at the Daily News and Sun-Times (1945-1994). In 1967 he wrote the lead story on the infamous blizzard--and that same year, when he wrote: “Death came dancing and skipping, whistling and screaming, strangely still one second and whooshing and bouncing the next.”--it was about the deadly Oak Lawn tornado that killed almost three dozen people. He covered the '79 blizzard, too.

      I still have columns by Jack Griffin, and I have a book of them that came out after he died at 58. It's called, not surprisingly, "Grif"...my wife surprised me with a copy on my birthday. I have columns by Bill Gleason, too. One from '68, about a stranger's son who came home from Vietnam in a box, was--and is--especially memorable.

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  3. Congrats to you and the ST-nice pic in the paper.

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  4. "Of all my colleagues, I loved Dick Mitchell best....Dick chewed out an intern for putting his feet on the city desk so severely the poor kid ran away crying."

    Maybe you had to be there, but that doesn't exactly come across as lovable to me..

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    1. I never said he was loveable. I said I loved him, which are two very different thing. Maybe you never had a tough teacher, demanding drill instructor or mentor with high standards. You have my sympathy....

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    2. Mrs. Perkins, in 6th grade. She worked us to death...and I loved her for it. She not only made me want to learn, she was the first person I ever knew who proudly drove a VW Beetle.

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    3. When I first started reading the S-T I really enjoyed reading Neil's columns. He reminded me of a former S-T columnist, Sydney J. Harris whom I used to read when he was syndicated in the Miami Herald.
      I emailed Neil about this and his reply was, "High praise indeed."
      Deserved.

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    4. Dick and I were assistant city editors together on the 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. shift, sitting across from each other face-to-face at two desks butted together. I, too, loved him, and in fact found him lovable. Witty, erudite, self-effacing, funny. But also a fine, fast editor on deadline. His talents were underappreciated by one of the many changing regimes that ran the newsroom and he was pushed aside, and finally out, understandably bitter.

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    5. It was hard for him to see a puffed-up pooh bah like Dennis Britton brought in and promoted above him.

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  5. Mr. Esposito's article yesterday noted that "In 2022, about 53% of Americans preferred to get their news from digital devices, compared with 5% favoring print, according to the Pew Research Center."

    While that seems kinda sad, the upside of reading the piece electronically was being able to click on a link and peruse "the entire first edition of the paper from Feb. 2, 1948." Which I did, and which was remarkable in many ways.

    And then there was the embedded 15-minute WBEZ audio interview with Esposito and Steinberg -- another bonus!

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  6. Great column. Keep them coming. I just retired after 30 plus years at a great company. The stories are different but the excitement and journey are similar. Love to hear about the intensity and passion going on while everyone pulls together to get the newspaper out. Although while it's happening you seldom slow down to appreciate it, but when you come to the end you look back and there were definitely some good and interesting times. Not to mention all the characters that were part of the journey.

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  7. I once asked--not realizing just how long you had been at the paper--if you were considered an old-timer and you said something like you weren't sure what you were. Down day maybe. You are a fixture. I always read Royko's columns. I wouldn't throw a paper out until I read Ebert. Retired and disorganized, I miss too many of your blog posts but I never miss a column. Any other compliment I made would undoubtedly be awkward, so I'll leave it at that.

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