There are some days of our lives, both happy and sad, that are so deeply embedded in our memories they never fade away. Then there are those days that are like bad soap operas (is that redundant?), just not worth remembering.
A recent blog post by a friend and former colleague, Alan Mutter, triggered a recollection of one of those days. Mutter, now a consultant on new media ventures and an adjunct journalism professor at UC Berkeley, had a distinguished career as a reporter and editor. His latest post was on the long-ago demise of the Chicago Daily News, a memory we share.
It was a typically windy Chicago March day in 1978 when the owner, Marshall Field V, stood on a desk and told the staff that the life of the 102-year-old Daily News was over.
A newspaper with a baker’s dozen Pulitzers, a shrinking but still substantial afternoon circulation and a legendary cast of journalists, men and women who had graced its newsroom through the years, was taking its last breath. Chicago would no longer be a three-newspaper city.
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Hundreds of us exchanged hugs and curses and wiped the tears from our eyes. Then later we put away our mourning clothes to search and to find other places to write or edit or produce images. But the loss left an indelible bruise on our souls.
How could this have happened?
This was before there was an Internet to compete against, before digital media emerged as inevitable disruptions of the status quo, even before 24-hour cable made news and information and gossip omnipresent. But it was an afternoon paper in a morning newspaper world.
The lesson was clear: Change is our constant companion.
Nine years before that March day, I was named editor of the Palm Beach Post in Florida. We inherited a large room filled with computers possessing, I assume, a lot less power than exists in the phone that at this moment rests on my desk. That was just 46 years ago. Gutenberg to that day, or even Gutenberg to Google if you prefer, took more than five centuries.
Another lesson: Change today is not only constant, it is incredibly swift, and it is going to get faster.
And there will be many other lessons to learn as the years pass. But the one lesson I pray never changes is the one that was illustrated for me in the words of the late Mike Royko, one of the truly legendary Daily News journalists.
In a column he wrote the day before the newspaper’s last edition, Mike penned these words that I often re-read and recite to others:
“When I was a kid,” Mike wrote, “the worst of all days was the last days of summer vacation, and we were in the schoolyard playing baseball, and the sun was down and it was getting dark. But I did not want it to get dark. I did not want the game to end. It was too good, too much fun.
“I wanted it to stay light forever, so we could keep playing forever, so the game would go on and on.
“That’s how I feel now. Come on, come on, let’s play one more inning. One more time at bat. One more pitch. Just one. Stick around, guys. We can’t break up this team. It’s too much fun. But the sun always went down. And now it’s almost dark again.”
Mike’s 129 words accurately mirrored our communal feelings.
For so many of us, who had invested our heads and our hearts and our hopes in the Daily News, and also for our devoted readers, it was indeed dark that day.
Then the darkness of night was soon replaced by the sunrise of morning, and we found other places where we could invest our passion.
But I recognized in those moments of grief, as I had never seen as clearly before, what it really means to love what you do.
Gregory Favre is the former executive editor of The Sacramento Bee and retired vice president of news for the McClatchy Company. He was the last managing editor of the Chicago Daily News and is now editor of CALmatters.