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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column every other Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


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Scotty Reston and Dirk Johnson
share Sycamore ties

By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist...................February 3, 2015

Note to readers: Barry Schrader’s “DeKalb County Life” column will appear every other Tuesday.

Many longtime Sycamore residents will remember the famous New York Times writer and editor who married a local girl named Sarah “Sally” Fulton, whose father, William Fulton, was a justice on the Illinois Supreme Court.
Probably a lot fewer residents today know the name Dirk Johnson, another journalist who spent much of his career with the New York Times, graduating from Sycamore High School in 1976, followed by earning a degree from the University of Wisconsin and then many years reporting for the Times in various locations.

First, a little about James “Scotty” Reston, who met his future wife, Sally Fulton, at the University of Illinois, which they both attended. He went on to become a nationally- known journalist for the New York Times, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, nationally-syndicated columnist and executive editor of the paper over the years. I’ll write more about him in a future column.

This week I want to highlight the ongoing career of Dirk Johnson, a local product who continues to write for the news media as well as authoring books.

Dirk Johnson spends hours at his laptop on the kitchen counter of his Somonauk Street house in Sycamore that he has owned since 1996, preferring to report and write from home instead of a high-rise office in downtown Chicago. (Schrader photo)

His recent project as a co-author with Robert Carr is titled “Through the Fires: An American Business Story.” It heralds the life of Carr, who overcame adversity early in life to start up a credit card processing business that made millions, only to lose it through a data breach, then make a remarkable comeback. He also established the Give Something Back Foundation to help deserving students get an education. It is more than just a success story, but an inspiring guide for would-be entrepreneurs on how to remain ethical and honest in their chosen profession.

This was Johnson’s first joint book project, but he has two earlier titles to his credit. The first one came about when he was working in the Denver news bureau for the Times and was assigned a rodeo story.
Never having been to one before, he went behind the scenes to talk with cowboys and learned of their tough lives on the road. That sparked an idea for a true-life tale titled “Biting the Dust: The Wild Ride and Dark Romance of the Rodeo Cowboy in the American West.”

His second book was also generated by a story assignment, this time back in the Times’ Chicago bureau where he covered the harrowing methamphetamine drugs and meth lab problems. That book is named “Meth: America’s Home-Cooked Menace.”

Once he had spent a second stint with the Times for six years in Chicago, they wanted to move him elsewhere, but after putting down roots for his family with four youngsters in Sycamore schools, he instead accepted a job offer as Chicago News Bureau Chief for Newsweek, until it was shuttered in 2006.

Although his kids have moved on to college, one now at Columbia Law School, another in grad school at Columbia, the third at Harvard and the youngest attending his alma mater at the University of Wisconsin, Johnson prefers to stay put in Sycamore where he writes from home, utilizing his laptop on the dining room table or kitchen counter. He freelances for the Times now, plus takes other assignments from magazines like Chicago.

Johnson has also become a professional speechwriter for corporate America. In addition to that, he spent seven years as a part-time Writer in Residence at NIU. That included speaking for the university at other colleges, conferences, and serving on the board of the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association.
He said his philosophy about Sycamore is similar to something Reston wrote many years back. This community is a barometer of middle America and provides a good sounding board for what people are thinking. He had even corresponded briefly with Reston about their Sycamore ties before Reston’s retirement and death at age 86 in 1995.

Johnson’s next project? A book is in the making with a working title “Shackled,” about the exorbitant college student loan debt and how it impacts students’ lives for decades in the future.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115