Hustle and bustle of Chicago newspapers unchanged despite decades of upheaval

SNEED: As the Sun-Times morphs into a non-profit and merges with WBEZ, I’m reminded that so much has changed about the news business since my career began. But not the competitive spirit to get the news first.

SHARE Hustle and bustle of Chicago newspapers unchanged despite decades of upheaval

A Chicago Sun-Times front page from Tuesday, May 1, 1979, and the headline about the murder in Inverness

Sun-Times Media

It was a long time ago.

But oh, what a time it was.

A city of four major newspapers.

The Chicago Sun-Times.

The Chicago Tribune.

The Chicago Daily News.

The Chicago American … which eventually morphed into the now defunct Chicago Today.

All four of the big-city newspapers co-existing in an era of getting it first and getting it fast; getting it right before you got it wrong; and hustling before you got busted.

Back then, news percolated in snail-mail time before email, computers and cellphones. The telephone and typewriter ruled. 

How times have changed.

The clack clack clack of typewriter keys gave cadence to newsroom noise, which is now far more quiet in a techno world.

Newspaper scoops were set in “hot” type; newsrooms dinged with teletype machines; galley proofs passed from editor to editor; pneumatic tubes dispatched wire stories; bulletin bells rang; editors shouted; and rewrite men composed fast-breaking stories based on a street reporter’s rapid dictation over the phone.

Back in 1967, this reporter stepped into the chaos of a newsroom at the legendary City News Bureau of Chicago, a wire service of young street reporters overseen by seasoned editors tasked with filling the hungry media’s trough.

Paper impregnated with carbon copies filled the newsroom, where heads were straight up, gazing down at a typewriter or commandeering a heavy, black desk phone while someone yelled “copy, dammit, copy!”

Then, in early 1969, there was new territory for me to cover when the Chicago Tribune came calling; an entry into a new world of “hot” type; galley proofs; page proofs; subheads; four heads; three heads; stories written in takes; a library called a morgue; and editors screaming “hat and coat” — a code signaling a fast-moving story being tossed to a reporter. 

Then, puff! Two of the city’s four major newspapers closed. 

In 1974, Chicago Today closed its doors and many of its writers were absorbed by the Chicago Tribune. In 1978, the Chicago Daily News ceased to exist and was absorbed by the Sun-Times.

Two Chicago newspapers, the “conservative” Chicago Tribune and the “liberal” Chicago Sun-Times, continued to soldier on.

In 1986, I left the Chicago Tribune, where I grew up, and walked across the street to the Sun-Times, where I grew way, way gray writing five columns a week, until eventually cutting back to a Sunday column.

I loved both papers and was sent all over the world on stories for the Tribune, but the Sun-Times, which finally gave me the opportunity to write my own column, is truly the hardest-working paper in America. 

So when the Sun-Times confirmed THIS WEEK it was becoming a non-profit newspaper via a groundbreaking merger with Chicago Public Media — and becoming a subsidiary of public radio station WBEZ-FM — I dialed up gratitude.

And a little reflection. 

How times have changed since my first Chicago byline more than half a century ago.

Back in 1967, I left behind a high school teaching career earning $5,300 per annum for a cut in pay at the City News Bureau for $3,600 a year.

It was one of the best decisions of my life; setting up shop in a haven for the curious and a playing field where questions can get answers.


Reproduction of December 8, 1941 Page 1 of the Chicago Daily News of the day the United States went to war against Japan.

Chicago Sun-Times File Photos.

Truth be told, the absence of male hires due to Vietnam War recruitment landed me my first news job. Women’s liberation may have been on the march, but men on the battlefield got me a job in this never-ending man’s world.

Now our beloved paper has a new life as a non-profit newspaper, and a woman, Sun-Times CEO Nykia Wright, helped keep us alive.

  • Question: What will it be like as a newspaper NOT endorsing political candidates?

Hmmm. Terrific.

  • Question: What will it be like as a new organization funded by pledges of $61 million from nearly a dozen philanthropies and donors?

Hmmm. Why not? 

(Ummm… I might be curious to find out who the one anonymous donor among them might be? )

  • Question: What will it be like reaching more than 2 million people a week in the Chicago area across broadcast, print and digital channels? 


  • What will collaboration be like between two newsrooms?

Now that’s a good question.

Seeing Red!!!!!

Break out the binoculars! The Redpolls are here!! 


Common redpoll

Kathleen Bartels

Sneed is told bundles of these tiny Arctic finches with red-dotted domes just blown in from Canada are joining four other finch species now dining en masse at North Shore bird feeders.

“It’s magic; a visual gift during the pandemic; a visit from birds who usually dine in mega sub zero temperatures,” said birdscaper extraordinaire Tim Joyce, who manages Wild Birds Unlimited in Glenview. 

“Sometimes their Birch and Alder trees don’t furnish enough seed … which is NOT due to climate change,” said Joyce. 

“Just look out your backyard. It’s extraordinary.”


Sneedlings …

Yikes! Got a spam call from Tombstone, Arizona this week. Tombstone? Just had to answer a call from the “Town too tough to die.” It turned out to be Boot Hill swill. … Saturday birthdays: Chris Parnell, 55; Laura Linney, 58, and Charlotte Rampling, 76. Sunday birthdays: Axl Rose, 60; Tom Brokaw, 82; and Mike Farrell, 83.

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