The next miracle (v11.1): Owen Youngman

Knight Professor of Digital Media Strategy, Medill / Northwestern

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It was 40 years ago today, redux

Front pages, Sept. 4 1971 and 2011

That was then, this is now: 9/4/71 and 9/4/11

A couple of years ago, I noted here the 40th anniversary of my start in journalism by scanning in my first check stub. Today I note the 40th anniversary of my first day of work at the Chicago Tribune by comparing the news of the world as encapsulated by a pair of front pages: the edition I read on the Saturday morning that I went to work, and the Sunday edition I read today after a communion service, a church picnic, and a worship service at Winchester House, Lake County’s long-term health care facility for the elderly in Libertyville. (Maybe some other time I’ll write about my first worship service at a county home: in Kingsville, Ohio, during what turned out later to be called Super Bowl I.)

There are both similarities and differences.

  • First, you may note that today’s paper has a more vertical profile. The 1971 Tribune was about 15 inches wide and 23 inches deep; today’s paper is more like 11 by 21.
  • Second, you may note that the 89-pica-wide photo of a McCormick Place crowd listening to President Nixon shows that big photos are not necessarily a latecomer to Chicago front pages, though of course big photos in color appear way more regularly today.
  • Third, you may note that “soft” news was appearing on Page One forty years ago (and that today’s front page is actually pretty hard). In the lower right-hand corner of this Saturday paper is “The Motley Crew,” a regularly appearing feature by Tribune rewriteman John R. Thomson whose overall purpose was to chronicle where he and his fellow staffers went to eat on their lunch breaks.It made Page One because of President Nixon, actually; the dinner he spoke at was advertised as the largest in history, with 25,000 being fed at McCormick Place and another 15,000 getting their meals at suburban hotels, all courtesy of the American Milk Producers Association. (What reporter can turn down a free meal, fully disclosed, in pursuit of a Page One byline?)
  • Of course, one difference is that the President’s speech was about “a new prosperity.” Current Presidential speeches seem to have a different economic tone.
  • You can’t miss the weather.
  • And there’s nothing like a “Cubs lose again” headline to make a Chicagoan remember that the world is still spinning on the same axis today as when Leo Durocher was the current and future manager, two years removed from the pennant that was not to be.
There are other obvious things to compare, like story count, color, and the different kinds of people favored with head shots. Or that the Saturday paper was then a dime, not a dollar (in 2011 terms, that would be about 55 cents).
But finally, do not fail to note that the 1971 masthead noted that for your dime, you got to read “The World’s Greatest Newspaper.” Inspiration enough, don’t you think, for a new copy boy to show up for the 3 to 11:30 p.m. shift. that day? And then to continue showing up, on a fairly regular basis, for the 37 years that followed.
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