Home | Blog | Columns | Photos | Books | Biography | Links

Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I have been writing a column for the Chronicle most of the time since December 2007, with two breaks, one in 2016 and the other in 2017 when my wife Kay suffered a stroke. They are all archived here.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

Archive Page

My time at the old Chronicle 50 years ago

By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist.............................Nov 30, 2018

(This is an expanded (uncut) version of the first person article I wrote for the 140th anniversary section of the Chronicle Saturday, which ran on page 34 of that paper. They had space limitations and I always seem to go over the number of words wanted. They did not load that section on their website so it could not be found anywhere other than on paper. Be forewarned, this is rather lengthy and many be boring.…)


In late November I was invited to recollect the highlights from my time as editor of the Daily Chronicle from the Spring of 1969 to the Fall of 1972. It is with pleasure that I share some of those memories with readers some of whom have remained loyal subscribers the since that time.

For my part, it all began in early 1969 when I saw an advertisement looking for an editor at the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. At the time I was editor of a suburban daily in Livermore, CA, having moved there from Genoa where I had owned the Genoa Republican, DeKalb County (Kirkland) Journal and also had started a new weekly The Sycamore Sun. In 1966 they were bought by DeKalb County Press, a corporation headed by Attorney John Castle.

After submitting my resume to the new owners of the Chronicle, the Scripps-Hagadone chain of papers, I received a phone call from Chronicle publisher John McGaugh who had been named to his position just three months before. Being a native of Montana and not knowing anything about Illinois or Dekalb County, he said they were looking for a local person who had a background in newspapers.

Barry in 1969 at age 28 at my Livermore, CA newspaper office just before moving back to Illinois. If you look closely you can see I had a manual typewriter, a dial telephone and even a pipe. I could never keep the pipe lit so gave it up when returning to DeKalb.

Front Page

I was interviewed a month later and convinced him I was perfect for the job. I had been born on a dairy farm south of Waterman, attended grade schools in Somonauk, Waterman and Sycamore, then junior high through high school at Genoa-Kingston, plus graduated from NIU. My family went back five generations in the county, my wife Kay was a Wirsing from Sycamore and had deep roots in the farming community.

So I was hired and moved back to DeKalb in April 1969. When I walked in, I found the editor's office empty as the former editor (along with co-owners Chuck and Eddie Raymond) Bob Greenaway had cleaned out his desk the weekend before. But the new publisher said I would not get that office, but rather work in the newsroom with the other staff to be more pat of the team. That was fine with me, so we used the old office as a conference and interview room.


My early months on the job were just getting acquainted with the staff and other departments in the newspaper's plant on East Locust and 8th Streets, the the public including elected officials and those who managed the city and held county offices. I had the advantage of knowing many of those people around the area when I was growing up and later when I was at NIU and later had the weeklies.

I want to mention some of the staff names in case anyone remembers that far back who worked there. Managing editor at first was Roland "Wally" Wallace, later Jeff Hartenfeld filled that position. Initially the sports editor was Arvid Koontz, then later Stan Shalett. Phyllis Mackall was Women's section editor, later renamed the Family section.Photographer was Chuck Richardson at first, then John Patsch and Pat Callahan. A good friend from the Loves Park weekly, Fred Senters joined the staff as managing editor and Barrie French, a former colleague of mine at the San Bernardino (CA) Sun, joined us as well. Others included Al Hagopian and Nick Pintozzi, and several more I don't have room to name.

I convinced McGaugh that we ought to form a Community Press council, something that was originated in Minnesota a few years earlier and was intended to seek input from a broad range of citizens. He was reluctant because he was concerned that the citizens' group might think they would set policy or influence our editorial decisions. I assured him it would be structured as an informational exchange to better acquaint him with people around the county. We included a minister, attorney, school administrator, NIU faculty member, farmer, business person, and others to meet over breakfast once a month and discuss local issues and answer questions about how a newspaper is run. It proved to be a successful community outreach effort and I relied on some of their advice in the years ahead, even though the group only met formally for about six months.

Another part of the newspaper which had been a mainstay of local news for decades was a large number of "country correspondents," mainly women who did not work outside the home but had a knowledge of their neighborhoods, social and school activities and the skill to write about it. They were organized by our County News Editor Ina Glover and at one time included 26 women. They were paid the paltry sum of 25 cents a published inch so Ina had to measure the number of column inches each one produced in a a month and issue checks for those small amounts, some less than $10.

Readers liked the idea of having local news from each part the county, even though it was mostly social, school-connected or club activities. Correspondents often submitted lengthy accounts of weddings, anniversaries and other social events which built up their inches in the measured columns and told us who handled the gifts, what color dresses were worn by attendants and bridal couple's mothers, what kind of corsages, color scheme, and even who came from "out of town" for weddings and anniversary celebrations.

I embraced the "chicken dinner" news items as they were called, but our publisher wanted to reduce the number of "stringers" so that slowly went away. I must mention that each holiday season we bought turkeys from the HO-KA turkey farm and I offered to deliver the frozen birds around the county. It was a chance for me to meet our stringers and find out more about them. I remember some of them still today-Fern Worden from Kirkland, Win Bradford from Kingston, Mrs. B.P. Stroberg from Genoa, Sada Lillia and Martha McCabe from Sycamore, Sara Mendez and Erdine Gletty from Waterman, plus several more whose names I can't recall. My old G-K school chum Eddie Carter knows them, since he owned the Hinckley Review and dealt with many of the same people who sometimes wrote for the Chronicle plus their hometown weeklies.

After meeting these women I decided we could give them some advice on news writing so held two "teas" or seminars for them with Ina organizing the events. They were't very instructive but you should have heard the exchanges of juicy tidbits from all corners of the county. I wish I could have recorded those conversations for posterity.

One drawback for Ina was that only two or three of them could type, so she had to take piles of handwritten pages submitted by courier or mail and type them for our Linotype operators (who operated metal typesetting machines that created the justified columns which were assembled and locked into page forms to be placed in the letterpress for printing each day's paper). I especially remember two Linotype men, Jimmy Jarvis and Jay Elliott who could set type faster than anyone around, yet took the time to ask about an unusual name or possible error that they might spot from years of setting all that local news with familiar names. We also had the luxury of proofreaders. The person I remember most is Eileen "Tessie" Tessier who was an encyclopedia of knowledge and an expert in English and its proper usage. She "saved our bacon" more than once by catching an error before it got into print which could have embarrassed us or maybe even resulted in a lawsuit. But I didinstitute a "corrections" column on page 2 which still exists to this day.

This brings up the subject of the "backshop," which meant all the men working in the composing room and pressroom. I enjoyed going there since I learned a lot about printing when I owned my weeklies. They were a congenial bunch and I can remember names like Don Merwin, Gene George, Warren Larson, Doc Telford, Quentin McDowell, Tom Engstrom, and a young Vietnam veteran David Hegberg, my wife's first cousin who had just returned from military service. There are a dozen more whose names I can't recall. They had been setting the type, assembling the pages and printing the newspaper for many years, but that would all end in one fell sweep.

The Scripps-Hagadone organization had a record of converting the old letterpress printing plants into more modern offset-printed operations which produced much higher quality papers with sharper photos, more color with faster press times. But the downside was the new method required very few "backshop" employees, also an attractive feature that would cut labor costs tremendously.

When the Chronicle moved from the Locust Street plant its new state-of-the-art printing plant and offices on Barber Greene Road in the Spring of 1971, some 20 employees were laid off-nearly all the backshop. They had been misled into thinking they would be retrained to compose and print at the new offset plant, but in truth it was not the case. The new production department only required a handful of people (mostly women who were paid about half of what the experienced printers had earned) using compositor machines with typewriter keyboards which were completely different than the keyboard layout on the old Linotypes. So it was a sad time for me to see good loyal workers in the production laid off. They did keep most of the pressroom crew, retraining them.

Meanwhile, I was overwhelmed with the move and learning all the new techniques of producing a completely redesigned Chronicle by the offset method. When I arrived two years earlier we were still using manual typewriters and in that short period of time went to the precursors of computers.

At the time of the move, we redesigned the paper with a new look, different headline types and reduced from a nine-column page to six wider columns. At the same time the publisher decided we should shorten the name of the paper, from DeKalb Daily Chronicle to just Daily Chronicle. I opposed that since I thought the generic name did not identify our circulation area, so wanted the name DeKalb County Chronicle. But I did not prevail. Our new slick-looking product with new typefaces and layout did not please many of our longtime subscribers, so we were forced to rethink part of our "modernized look" and compromise with less changes in appearance.

As editor it was my role to hire staff, assign beats, monitor the output and orient new reporters on their beats. I also wrote editorials, had a weekly column called "Barbed Wires" was active in community organizations like Kiwanis, Chambers of Commerce, and charitable organizations, while having to deal with budget issues which the chain owners seemed to want trimmed each year.

My one saving grace was the fact there was a competing newspaper, the group I used to be a part of, DeKalb County Press, Inc.owned by John Castle. They decided to merge all their weeklies into a daily product the DeKalb County Journal, a morning tabloid-sized paper which went head-to-head with us. They hired former WLBK station manager Ralph Sherman as publisher and a former NIU classmate of mine, Jerry Smith, as editor. That resulted in some lively competition as we battled for readership and getting "breaking news" into print before the competition.

They had the same breed of young writers fresh out of NIU, and as much editorial staff as us. I had hired some of the best graduates from the campus paper The Northern Star, to join our staff and was pleased with how they jumped into the fray and did some excellent reporting.

Probably my two best hires were Ray Gibson as city editor who eventually became one of the top investigative reporters for the Chicago Tribune, and Don Duncan. Don was a retired DeKalb Ag executive, knew everything about agriculture and many of the farmers in the county. We added a farm section and Don edited it. He worked from his home but produced a fine section and even had his own column "Around the County" which was enjoyed by many of our readers, probably better read than mine.

Speaking of columns, the Journal publisher Ralph Sherman wrote a column called "People" which featured as many names as he could crowd into it each week. I always envied his ability to weave all those names into a column and since that time have strived to do the same.

Since I am on the subject of the competing newspaper, its editor Jerry Smith and I were fellow staffers on the campus paper while at NIU so it was ironic we were on opposite teams. We both tried our best at scooping each other and I even kept score in our newsroom. But eventually Castle decided to sell the Journal to the Chronicle owners and concentrate instead on their printing and magazine publishing business. I felt sorry for their young staffers, as the Chronicle did not hire any of them so they faced uncertain futures. But Jerry and I have renewed our friendship since my return to DeKalb 11 years ago and now enjoy reminiscing about the "good old days," claiming each one of us had the superior product. He has been known to call me a "muckraker" and a campus radical. I am sure it is just in jest…. We collaborated on the media chapter in the recent county history "Acres of Change" and managed to agree on equal coverage for each of our former papers.

My most exciting front page was the one heralding the first moon landing. We found some big wood type and filled half the page with MAN STEPS ONTO MOON. I still see copies of that paper being saved as a collectible. It is attached here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking back, I think the biggest local story during my tenure was the NIU student riots in the wake of the Kent State shootings. I, along with several of our news staff, stood behind the police lines as the students marched to the west edge of the Kishwaukee River bridge on Lincoln Highway. The police line held. The students threw some objects, but no tear gas was used. This was after a night of business district vandalism and destruction of vehicles, window smashing and small fires in the campus area.

The giant wood type I used to mark the Moon Landing.

Major Headlines

The Scripps-Hagadone papers were discouraged from endorsing candidates as the ownership felt it was bad for advertising; the candidates you didn't endorse wouldn't buy ads. I chafed at this policy and when Ray Robinson succeed McGaugh as publisher I was able to do some endorsing. We were known as the Republican-leaning paper since the Greenaway and Raymond families had owned it. In fact, Bob Greenaway even got appointed to the Illinois Tollway Authority board by Gov. Richard Ogilvie after he sold the paper. Earlier he had served as an Alternate Delegate to the GOP convention in San Francisco where they chose Barry Goldwater. So it was expected that we would back the incumbent Republicans from the courthouse to the statehouse. We support the aging Sen. Dennis Collins when he was challenged by former Mayor Joe Ebbesen, while the Journal did the opposite. BTW, Collins' son, the dentist, told me recently that his father's proudest accomplishment in his last term was getting the state to create Shabbona lake and state park.

But I did manage to stray into the Democratic camp by endorsing Jeff Strack for State Constitutional Convention delegate.We also supported a Republican Stan Johson, who won.

I also encouraged the firebrand Democratic County Chair Martin David Dubin to write more letters to the editor, something my predecessors would never have done. Dubin was tickled by our new letters policy, as was the controversial attorney Paul Nehring Jr. who was another letter writer and irritant to many city and county officials locally. When I returned here several years later on a visit, Dubin located me and claimed he had some backers who would finance a newspaper to compete with the Chronicle if I would come back as its editor. I suspect he was just "blowing smoke." His widow Eileen Dubin became a good friend when we returned to DeKalb and we still keep in regular contact since she moved away to California.

Getting back to the selection of Ray Robinson as the next publisher of the Chronicle in early 1972, it really irked me. Scripps-Hagadone management always told editors they could work their way up to publisher by learning the ropes in other areas of running newspapers and we spent a week very year at a seminar on management at the chain's headquarters in Coeur d' Alene, Idaho. We met in the palatial "playboy-like" mansion of the chain's CEO Duane Hagadone. He had an indoor bowling alley, two indoor tennis courts, impressive bar with bartender, even a pipe, a monogrammed smoking jacket and a girlfriend named Candy.

When McGaugh told me they were naming Robinson, the advertising manager for the Chronicle, as the new publisher, I was dismayed to say the least. I thought I was ready to fill that role since I had once been publisher of three weeklies. However, Robinson had a better business background, plus he belonged to the Kishwaukee Country Club, played golf with the movers and shakers in the county, and belonged to the DeKalb Rotary Club, which apparently outranked me as a member of the Kiwanis Club. (Of course that is no longer the case, I must hasten to explain.)

But in retrospect I would not have been a good choice. I was too committed to the editorial side of newspapering and would not have been able to make the tough business decisions to keep the paper raking in the big profits it did in those days. Another department head from the business side, Circulation Manager Roger Warkins, was also chosen as publisher at a later time. But on the bright side, former Chronicle editor Eric Olson is now the General Manger and dealing with the business side as much as the editorial product. (He is coincidentally also a member of the same DeKalb Rotary Club.)

So after that setback in climbing the career ladder, I began looking around for new opportunities. Seven months later I was contacted by Dean Lesher, a publisher in the San Francisco Bay Area, about becoming editor of a new East Bay daily in Alameda and Contra Cost counties. After only a couple phone interviews and reference checks (my NIU journalism adviser Donald Grubb was a big help) I was hired and packed the moving van, dragging my wife Kay, and two sons Todd and Darrin, back west again for my second shot at newspapering in the Golden State. This time the career move lasted 33 years.

Then I retired and, keeping a promise to my dear wife who wanted to be near her family, we moved back to DeKalb in late 2006. A few old-timers back here remembered me and suggested I might return to the Chronicle as a columnist. I've been cranking out "DeKalb County Life" more or less weekly ever since. The rest is history.

Home | Blog | Columns | Photos | Books | Biography | Links

The columnist can be reached via email at :

barry815sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115