Longtime subscribers to the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune remember Mike Royko.
They flipped to his column in the city’s papers every day, five days a week — Royko was part of their routine.
Starting May 7th, the Sun-Times is re-publishing a Royko column for Classic Royko Mondays online. Royko, an icon of Chicago’s journalism history, still captures readers years after his last column.
Tom McNamee, Sun-Times editorial page editor, calls Royko the “greatest Chicago columnist ever.” He remembers when he first met him as an intern in the Sun-Times newsroom in 1982. McNamee inherited his admiration for Royko from his father, who used to read his columns every day on Page Three of the Daily News.
“I was very preoccupied with the idea that one of my journalistic heroes, the best in the business, was just down the hall,” McNamee said.
McNamee published an old column of Royko’s in the paper on the anniversary of his death last week. It was about gun regulations, published after John Lennon’s murder in 1980.
“We got a ton of reaction, I think not just from people who remember Royko and loved reading his columns but also from people who cared about the issue of guns,” McNamee said. “It made me think, ‘We should bring him back.’”
When Royko was writing his daily columns, newspapers were a bigger part of people’s lives in Chicago. But do younger readers know who he is?
“No. I don’t think they do,” said Carol Marin, former Sun-Times columnist and current political editor at NBC5 News, among other hats she wears in the world of Chicago journalism. As director at the DePaul Center for Journalism Integrity & Excellence, she teaches the next generation of journalists.
“I think young journalists coming up don’t have a sense of the history of the profession the way some of us older journalists do who grew up in that era,” Marin said.
“When I started writing columns for the Chicago Sun-Times, it was the most thrilling thing in the world. I wished my dad was still alive, so I could tell him I was a columnist at the paper Royko wrote at,” she said.
Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown said he is shocked that young journalism students don’t know Royko. He wonders if re-publishing his old columns, aside from bringing nostalgia for older readers, could inspire a new generation.
“But his time is more than a time capsule,” Brown said. “He was a genius. His columns were works of literature, daily works of literature.”