By: Mark Fitzgerald
City News Service — the successor to the legendary City News Bureau of Chicago that launched the careers of Mike Royko, Seymour Hersh, and Kurt Vonnegut, and gave its rookie reporters the famous advice, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out” — will shut down at the end of the year.
In an interview Thursday, Paul Zimbrakos said the news service, which can trace its roots back 124 years, will shut down on Dec. 31.
“We’re closing shop,” said Zimbrakos, who was the old City News Bureau’s last editor, and has run the agency since it was relaunched as a wholly owned Tribune news service.
The 19 people employed by City News Service are being laid off, but will be given a chance to apply for 13 spots opening up in the Tribune’s expanded 24-hour news desk to service the printed paper and its Web and electronic news outlets, Zimbrakos said.
The idea is for the 24-hour news desk to take over some of the function of City News Service, he said. “But there won’t be anybody putting out the daybook like we do, they won’t have anybody covering the police the way we do.”
City News’ daybook, which lists upcoming news events such as court appearances and press conferences, is a critical reason the agency has 14 Chicago-area news outlets as clients, including all the local television stations with news programs.
City News Bureau began as a cooperative news agency of the many dailies serving Chicago in the late 19th century. From the start, it employed beginners as rookies, who were put through a rigorous baptism of fire covering police stations, morgues, and accidents — and always being cross-examined by demanding editors on the details of their reporting.
Mike Royko once wrote that City News made its reporters fear nothing on the job, except the wrath of a disappointed editor back at the office.
“I’m sad for all the young kids that have no place to go for what they learn at City News,” Zimbrakos said. “And I’m sure the broadcast people are going to be hurting for their daybook, and for the spot news we cover.”
Zimbrakos, who has been with City News since 1958, said he is undecided about his own future. “I want to work, I don’t want to retire or sit around,” he said.
By the 1980s, City News Bureau was jointly owned by just two papers, the Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times. The papers sold off PR News Service, which had been part of City News, in the 1980s and in 1999 the Sun-Times decided to pull out of the cooperative.
On March 1, 1999, the day after the last City News Bureau dispatch was sent, the Tribune opened New City News Service. The name was soon changed to City News Service, Zimbrakos said, because the original full name didn’t fit on business cards with the Tribune logo. The news agency also caught some flack for its name from New City, an alternative weekly newspaper in Chicago, he said.