Front Page closing

Speaking of classic comedy, the newsroom that inspired the movie, Front Page (remade multiple times), is closing.

Chicago Tribune Fabled bureau to file final page at year's end The Front Page gave way to the Internet age Thursday as the New City News Service checked out. Dec. 31 will be the last day of operation for the 115-year-old news service where generations of reporters learned the abiding lesson of journalistic skepticism: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

Born when buggy whips were still a boom business, the wire service is dying at a time when newspapers seem vulnerable to the latest big new thing: the blog-clogged Internet.

City News was a respected training ground for many of journalism's best-known bylines. They included Charles MacArthur, who went on to co-write “The Front Page,” a play that immortalized his experiences in the service's no-holds-barred heyday. Columnist Mike Royko, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh and novelist Kurt Vonnegut all got their starts there. So did thousands of workaday journalists, including this one.

Founded in the midst of the city's most viciously competitive newspaper wars, City News was a peace treaty of sorts. To cut costs and stop the blood-and-guts hyping of minor overnight crime stories, the publishers of Chicago's five major newspapers agreed exclusively to “depend on the City Press Association for night police news.”

City News' mission expanded from there to cover stories from the major to the mundane.

Courts, city government, demonstrations, and press conferences all fell within its purview. So did “death watch” reporting such as a vice president's plane landing at O'Hare field's military strip: City News covered it in case the landing turned into a crash.
The irony in all this is that City News' chief mission--the training of young talent--will be all the more needed in this content-mad age. There are other places for wannabe reporters to learn their craft: journalism schools, small newspapers, internships at big newspapers. None can hold its own against the sink-or-swim training ground of City News, a place where hazing was the board of education as colleagues passed down the art of their trade.

Newbie reporters quickly learned to get the full name, middle initial, age and home address of everyone they interviewed. Hair and eye color were optional, but sometimes called for.

On my first day, my editor would not accept my report about a demonstration at Michigan and Randolph because I could not provide the street address of the open plot of land where the protesters were gathered. There was no building and no apparent address, but that seemed to make no difference.

In my first month, I was covering press conferences about a spree of murders caused by cyanide-laced Tylenol, a story my City News colleague John Rooney first broke. I rode in a limousine while interviewing a mayoral candidate the city's newspapers had barely yet noticed: An African-American congressman named Harold Washington.

I saw my first shot cop and my first dead perp. I also learned, in an era when race seemed to be a factor in news judgment, that certain South Side murders were declared “cheap,” and not worth a City News phone call. Virtually every North Side killing was worth a story.

Oh, there is one more important matter I quickly learned at City News.

When a story ends, you're supposed to put -30- at the bottom. It's a symbol to show editors that the story is complete, and occasion for the reporter to relax that the hardest work is done.

Now City News is finished. Writing -30- never hurt before


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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on December 2, 2005 8:57 AM.

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