By: MARK FITZGERALD
WELCOME TO CHICAGO, Newspaper Association of America. You’re in one of the nation’s greatest newspaper towns and the temptation will be to luxuriate in a Roaring Twenties, Get-me-rewrite-Sweetie nostalgia.
After all, the evidence seems to be all around you: Walk around at rush hour and hawkers will be selling evening editions of the Tribune and Sun-Times.
Despite the city’s neatnik Mayor Richard M. Daley, who booted newspaper boxes off Michigan Avenue, the side streets are lined with dozens of honor boxes dispensing everything from the Jewish Star to El Imparcial.
Chicago is home to one of the last remaining black-interest daily newspapers in the United States: the Chicago Defender. Chicago is home to what is probably America’s most successful alternative weekly, the Reader, and to a scrappy, 12-year-old competitor, New City.
In the dailies from the suburbs or downtown you can read columns today from journalists who are legends: Irv Kupcinet, Bill Granger, Jerome Holtzman, Michael Sneed, Bill Gleason, Bob Greene, Jack Mabley or Clarence Page.
Mike Royko isn’t in your Tribune today only because he is recovering from a minor stroke.
And there is a new generation of future legendary columnists writing here: Richard Roeper, Jay Mariotti and Rick Telander at the Sun-Times and Eric Zorn, Bernie Lincicome, Bill Verdi and Mary Schmich at the Tribune are just a few examples.
And Chicago is even home to an institution right out of the Front Page: the City News Bureau. Drop by a police station tonight and you’ll see a kid just out of school being harassed by cops who don’t want to give out information and by an editor back at the dingy City News offices who is loudly demanding more details.
Paid a salary that would shame a Nike subcontractor and harried like a Marine recruit at Parris Island, that City News Bureau kid is getting the kind of journalism education unavailable almost anywhere else.
But don’t be fooled: Chicago newspapers competition is no longer a matter of “scoops” and “skinbacks” and “knockdowns” or impersonating the coroner to get into the crime scene.
Chicago’s newspaper competition remains fierce ? but these days it’s more like a game of 3-D chess. It’s so much not a matter of competing on the “big story” ? but expanding from core strengths, finding new markets, bumping up against the traditional local paper, pushing out into what used to be cornfields and convincing the Lyric Opera ticket holder that her paper should be a tabloid not a broadsheet.
Chicago’s newspaper competition is fought out in ways Hildy Johnson could not have conceived: Not just in single copy sales ? but on the audiotex and the World Wide Web, in real estate and auto books, in microzoning and neighbors sections, in redesigns and on new presses, and in Spanish.
Ben Hecht and his colleagues fought some romantic newspaper wars, but they never had to compete against Advo, Channel 7, Newsradio 88, CNN, MTV, HBO, Seinfeld, Liar, Liar, Sports Illustrated For Kids, or Blockbuster.
Let alone Microsoft.
For several Chicago newspapers, 1997 is a big milestone: The Chicago Tribune turns 150 years old. The Daily Herald in Arlington Heights turns 125. And the Chicago Sun-Times is beginning its 50th year since the creation of the Chicago Times.
What follows over the next several pages, then, are a series of snapshots from the Chicago newspaper market as it is in 1997.
Not every Chicago-area paper is represented, and these brief treatments are intended to show only one or two specific ways that some dailies are competing today.
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?copyright Editor & Publisher- April 26, 1997.