Column: 60 years of press journalism and unimaginable changes in the industry

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George Willhite (left), DG Schumacher (middle) and Bill Judy (right), in the Courier newsroom, Urbana, Illinois, in August 1972.

When I started my first full-time reporting job in Carbondale, Illinois 60 years ago this month, I was as full of journalistic zeal as a 22-year-old could be. Even so, I never imagined being a journalist for so long.

We took notes in a “Reporter Notebook” or folded copies, wrote newspaper articles on manual typewriters. In the southern Illinois building on Main Street, reporters and editors were stuck in the same space where printers would retype our edited copy to create punched tape for typesetting machines.

Typesetting machines were mechanical marvels that produced hot lead lines from which newspapers were printed on presses. I was familiar with linotypes and printing presses because I worked in the back office of the commercial printing and bi-weekly newspaper business my father was a part of for over 50 years.

Mom had also worked at the newspaper in Pana, Illinois, before I arrived, helping to oversee the delivery force. Young people everywhere delivered newspapers and sold them to buyers in the big cities.

Manual typewriters, metallic type, young people delivering newspapers – not all of them are known in today’s newspapers where the emphasis is necessarily on digital. One day I realize with more than a little sadness that people will no longer have a printed newspaper to read with their morning coffee.

AM, PM PAPERS

In 1961, every city, regardless of its size, had a weekly. Large cities like Charleston and Charlotte, North Carolina, had morning and afternoon dailies, sometimes published by competing companies. New York had seven or eight dailies.

From smaller weeklies to larger dailies, newspapers had their own printing presses, in the same building where the news was written and edited. Later, the new printing centers were far from the main newspaper building, but no one imagined that dailies like The Sun News would be printed miles away.

My second summer job (1962) was in Chicago at The Associated Press. The city had four major dailies, including The Tribune and Sun-Times published in the morning, The Daily News and American afternoon. They had multiple editions, all verified by the AP editors.

The highly reputable Chicago Daily News was a Knight newspaper for a time, the same Knight-Ridder family that previously owned The Sun News.

The AP summer job led to a post-graduation job offer from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. After the PA, I graduated from Northwestern University with a masters degree and returned to Southern Illinoisan, then to other Illinois dailies in Champaign-Urbana, Alton, Waukegan and Arlington Heights.

UNUSUAL MARKET

Courrier Champaign-Urbana found itself in an atypical market, competing head-on, seven days a week, with the local News-Gazette. The Courier was owned by the Lindsay-Schaub newspapers of Decatur. There was also the Daily Illini, the University of Illinois student newspaper.

The two newspapers fought for every news article, every inch or line of advertising, every subscriber. The advertising rates of the two competing newspapers of Champaign-Urbana were roughly equivalent to the rates of the newspapers of Decatur and Bloomington-Normal.

Lindsay-Schaub was sold in 1979 and The Courier closed. The building on Race Street in downtown Urbana has become the Courier Café. The place had ghosts to me, and that was a few years before I went there, along with a former press colleague.

The second floor newsroom looked out over the neon sign of the Rose Bowl Tavern across the street. It was handy for a beer on Saturday night, if there was time for it in the Sunday newspaper production crisis.

Our copy went to the composition room by pneumatic tubes, like we use in banks. A dumb little boy on a rope carried envelopes to the business office.

Around the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, The Sun News customer service and information operations moved to the bank building at 38e Avenue Nord and Grissom Parkway. It’s another thing no journalist would have imagined – a newsroom in a bank building.

As I cleaned my office in the Frontage Road building, I remembered over a dozen newsrooms in Illinois and Myrtle Beach.

22 YEARS LATER

After moving here and having our condo installed, Rita said I’d better find something to do – away from the apartment. The Sun News needed part-time help with text editing and the editor asked me how many hours I wanted to work and when could I start. I thought I would work part time a few years, and here is 22 years later.

The news department had so many reporters, photographers and editors that for a while I and another new employee shared an office.

The Courier said goodbye to Champaign-Urbana over 40 years ago, the Waukegan newspaper building was demolished for green space, the Alton Telegraph presses are gone, and the building abandoned and The Telegraph printed in another city.

Something important that has not changed: the journalistic dedication of today’s journalists and editors. They work hard to keep The Sun News and other newspapers relevant in troubled times that surely need solid journalism.


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