Last year, the Chicago Daily News unveiled a striking new format, a mix of color and bold black lines designed by an outside consultant for $100,000.
"Oh, my God," said the paper's Pulitizer prizewinning cartoonist John Fischetti when editor James F. Hoge Jr. showed him the new graphics, "it looks like an obituary."
Fischetti was right - it may have taken a year, but yesterday the Daily News printed its last editions and quietly rolled over and died.
But it did not go down with class - the kind of class it lived with for 102 years, the kind of class that won it 15 Pulitizer prizes and caused it to invent such newspaper mainstays as the daily column.
The Daily News died in a pool of bitterness. Most of the 145 newspeople who lost their jobs, and even most of the 90 or so who were spared and moved over to the morning sister paper. The Sun-Times, were frustrated and gloomy at the end. The many newspaper bars were filled on the last night, but there were no sounds of reminiscing, only gripes, verbal blasts, and - in true Chicago tradition - even a few fist fights. They pitted underlings against bosses, columnists against editors, and those with jobs against those without.
"You know," said one copy editor and former seaman who was drinking at the Billy Goat Inn, across the street from the Daily News, "when a ship runs aground there is an inequiry and almost invariably the captain is relieved of his command. But when they runa newspaper into the ground, they keep the commanding officer and throw the crew overboard."
"There's a new book out about the Daily News called 'Done In a Day'" said reporter Larry Finley, who is out of a job. "It should have been called 'Done In In a Da.'"
Most of the ire of the staff was directed at Marshall Field V, the 36-year-old publisher.
To be sure, Field has never been overwhelmingly popular with his staff. After making a speech a few years back suggesting that legal grounds for libel ought to be broadened so that reporters could be sued more easily, Field read a column in his own paper by star columnist and Pulitzer prizewinner Mike Royko that said, in part:
"I've read the complete text of Mr. Field's speech and it is not, by any means, the most foolish speech I've ever read. There are at least three or four others that I can recall as being more foolish.
The Daily News staff was always rebellious. Once, when the paper endorsed Mayor Richard Daley for still another term, the staff chipped in and bought an ad in the paper denouncing the endorsement. And when the city editor ordered that no lead opening sentence contain more than 14 words, one star writer wroter every sentence in every story with 14 words until the rule was dropped.
After last month's announcement that the Daily News would fold, the former publisher who sold it to Field in 1959, press baron and octogenarian John S. Knight, accused the Daily News of lacking direction and blamed its demise on "editorial ineptness and managerial malnutrition."
The paper invested more than $1 million about a year and a half ago in an effort to revitalize. Yale-educated Hoge was brought over from the Sun-Times to head both Field papers, but circulation and advertising revenues continued to fall. Nothing worked.
Some staffers wonder aloud whether the Daily News could have been saved by going the route of another troubled afternoon daily. The Washington Star, which cut costs to stay alive. After several years of losses and purchase by Time Inc., it is expected to finally turn a small profit in 1978.
But Field Enterprises spokesman James Stuart questioned that thinking, saying, "We didn't want to put out an expedient type of publication to reduce costs. I don't think costs were the major problem. Revenues were the major factor."
The staff continued to lose faith in management. A final manifestation of that lack of confidence came when some top staffers who were asked to stay refused and went elsewhere: Washington bureau chief Ray Coffey and critic at large Richard Christiansen to the Tribune, assistant city editor jack Schnedler to the Miami Herald, to name a few.
The circulation of the afternoon Daily News had dropped from a high of over 600,000 to just over 300,000. Like many other metropolitan afternoon dailies it was plagued with a readership exodus to the suburbs, problems delivering the paper in snarled traffic, a trend showing that people were getting late news from television, and another disturbing trend revealing that many people weren't interested in getting any news at all.
In recent months, according to one major advertiser, most Daily News advertising salesmen, who sold for both the Daily News and the Sun-Times, would not even ask advertisers to "bother" with the Daily News. "They made much more money selling the Sun-Times, he said, "and since it was no one's job to just sell ads for the Daily News none of them ever did."
But editor Hoge says, "Throughout the year, I got the support [from management] I should have expected, and as much as possible within that year the editorial staff came through to add some revival to the product. We're all disappointed that it wasn't enough by itself. Sure, I'm disappointed but I also feel the management of this place went to all lengths to try to keep this paper alive."
As in almost any death, there are beneficiaries. In this case, they are the suburban newspapers surrounding Chicago. In the past week alone, two of the seven suburban weekly chains have introduced new afternoon dailies.
And of course, both morning papers in town - the Sun-Times (circulation 581,000), which will pick up many features of the Daily News, and the Chicago Tribune (752,000) - have expanded their street editions which actually appear in the early evening to fill some of the demand for an afternoon paper.
The suburban papers are "a threat I take quite seriously," said editor Hoge, who will stay in the same position at the Sun-Times. "They have been on a sustained growth program for a number of years now, and there are a number of them that are quite good."
Still, said Hoge. "I think much of the circulation of the Daily News will just disappear altogether" - implying still more readers leaving newspapers for television.
Long-time daily News reader, and advertiser, Paul Karrol doesn't argue. His men's clothing store had had to shift an increasing amount of its advertising dollar to the suburban papers like the newly born Southtown Economist.
"The Daily News was a great newspaper with political clout," karrol said, "and people may have bought the Tribune but they believe the Daily News."
But "in one shopping center," according to a suburban publisher, "the lease for every store had a clause stating that the store has to advertise in our local newspaper, where that shopping center regularly buys complete advertising sections."
The Southtown Economist's publisher, Bruce Sagan, owns a string of 23 weeklies, which he published out of one plant. He has merged 11 of them into his daily, giving the newspaper a solid advertising base which includes 11 pages a day of highlt profitable classified advertising. His editorial staff is almost entirely made up of energetic, low-paid recent college graduatess.
His daily blankets an area of 16 miles by 9 miles along the southwestern border of the city, covering a population of about 1 million.
While none of the city dailies has more than 30 per cent penetration in his market, Sagan gets about 50 per cent. And, Sagan says, his papers carry 80 per cent of all real estate advertising placed in his area.
The young editorial staffers of the Economist, like so many journalism school graduates, came to the weekly to get the training needed to move on to a daily.
"I did want to go to a daily," said education writer Ken Miller, 26. "But now the daily has come to me. This kind of paper is the future of journalism."
The big city papers have not been in the dark about suburban markets. All the Chicago papers, for example, have included zoned inserts two or three times a week in their main papers. These tobloid inserts are circulated within a local zone, and contain news and advertising from only that area.
But the Sun-Times and Daily News insert for the south-west part city couldn't be printed in the main plant, so it had to be farmed out to another printer.
That printer is Sagan.
He told them when they began inserting that he would probably become daily competition in a short time.
"In a way," Sagan said, "they financed my entry into the daily market with their business."