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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

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

The Articles started December 2007.

 

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

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Onetime DeKalb newspaper’s anniversary recalled

By Barry Schrader.................................April 27, 2010

My old Northern Illinois University classmate Jerry Smith brought a 1970 newspaper with him to breakfast at the Lincoln Inn last week. The content brought back a flood of memories for both of us. The paper was exactly 40 years old to that day. It was the first issue of a new daily.
He was serving as editor of the Sunday Journal for the DeKalb County Press owned by John Castle and a group of investors back in April 1970 when the company decided to take on the (DeKalb) Daily Chronicle head-to-head by becoming a daily newspaper, publishing each morning while the Chronicle was an afternoon paper. At the time I was editor of the Chronicle and welcomed the challenge of two newspapers competing in the county. It would mean more reporters covering the beats and sharpening our skills at being the “first with the scoop.”
A little background is in order to explain this competitive move, from my viewpoint at least. Back in 1965 John Castle and I collaborated on starting a newspaper corporation to publish weeklies in northern DeKalb County. I already owned the Genoa Republican and County Journal in Kirkland. He had the financial resources to acquire the Sycamore Tribune and True Republican and build a printing plant with the latest offset press equipment to handle multiple newspapers. But the partnership didn’t last, and I left the corporation, taking a daily newspaper job in California.

Front page of the DeKalb County Journal just 40 years ago in April 1970 when it became a daily to compete with the Daily Chronicle head to head. (Provided by Jerry Smith)

Then three years later the Chronicle was sold by Bob Greenaway, Chuck and Eddie Raymond to the Scripps-Hagadone chain. They were looking for a new editor and found me in California and moved me back to join the Chronicle in 1969. Meanwhile, Castle thought the county needed a locally-owned newspaper and decided to seize the moment and leap into the daily market. In so doing they determined the best approach was to consolidate the four weeklies they owned—Genoa, Kirkland, and two in Sycamore, into the new DeKalb County Journal. So here I was, competing with my old weeklies and watching them being eliminated.
I happened to run into John Castle a couple of weeks ago after not having met for 40 years and we had a cordial chat about our separate paths. But Jerry and I had remained friends over the years even though we were miles apart and one time fierce competitors, so we were comparing notes over breakfast about how things unfolded. Jerry said the Journal took the approach of being the aggressive “new kid on the block” looking for news the more staid Chronicle might not cover. He mentioned the example of “breaking the story” about a state elected official’s misuse of expense mileage on a state vehicle, then the fact they were backing former DeKalb mayor Joe Ebbesen for State Senate while we at the Chronicle were supporting incumbent Dennis Collins. Both newspapers were Republican-leaning politically on the editorial page since DeKalb County was a one-horse GOP ride at that point in its history. We both remember the feisty Martin Dubin from the NIU political science department who headed the minority Democratic Party in the county. Now 40 years later his widow Eileen holds the same position, only with more political clout as the Democrats have gained more power each election it seems.
Our newsroom staffs were mostly young, many of them coming from the burgeoning Journalism Department at NIU. But I had old timers like Rollie Wallace, Ina Glover, farm reporter Don Duncan, and sports editor Stan Shallet, along with some new talent like City Editor Ray Gibson and Society Editor Phyllis Mackall. Among those on the opposing team with Jerry were county bureau chief John Mark, agriculture editor Craig Rice, society editor Sandra Abdel-Hameed, and photographer Chuck Richardson, backed up by their publisher Ralph Sherman, a former WLBK staffer who wrote a popular Sunday column.
I should also mention that WLBK had a seasoned news team of Bob Brown and Russ Pigott, which both Jerry and I would have given our eye teeth to have on our staffs.
But the success of a news product isn’t always determined by the editorial coverage but by circulation numbers and advertising dollars from merchants. So it came to a conclusion in December 1971 when the larger and more established Chronicle organization made a deal to buy the subscription list of the fledgling County Journal, thus ending the two competing dailies’ era for DeKalb County. The young tabloid had a paid circulation of 5,300 at the time and the Chronicle nearly 12,000, so the two lists were merged and the Journal was folded.
I haven’t delved into the “what if” scenario with Jerry about what would things be like today if both papers had continued battling it out for 40 years and we were still holding onto our respective editor’s jobs all these years. “Not a chance, old man” I bet he would reply. Our reminiscing will hopefully continue over many more meals over a few more years. Maybe somebody will even think to do oral histories on us and it will be preserved for posterity!

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The columnist can be reached via email at :

barry815sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115