If there is a Great City Room in the Sky, ace reporter Hildy Johnson of the classic film "Front Page" surely was smiling down at the big story here today.
No fewer than 136 reporters were issued credentials by the Board of Education to cover the opening of Chicago's public schools and the debut of a new busing plan that required the transport of 572 black children into several all-white neighborhoods.
Inspired by weeks of impassioned hyperbole on the television screens and by daily front-page treatment in the city's competitive newspapers, the early-rising reporters descended like an army on the three-square-mile Bogan High School area for the opening of school.
Mobile television units cruised the quiet residential street at the break of dawn, while cameramen leaned out of helicopters in anticipation of the scene that would unfold below.
Police cars, many umarked saturated the area, whild 800 specially trained riot offiers and another 1,200 policemen on standby duty readied themselves for the climatic moment.
Finally, shortly before 9 a.m. at the Adlai E. Stevenson Elementary School on South Kostner Avenue, a chartered school bus with police squad car escorts leading and trailing pulled up to the school. The microphones and cameras were pressed forward in anticipation.
Twenty-eight small black childrens - two of them protectly escorted by the Rev. Jesse Jackson of Chicago's Operation PUSH - were whisked through the doors and into the first day of classes.
Who the young students were being protected from was not clear, because there were only a score or so of curious parents and nothing approaching a demonstration or violent confrontation.
The scene was repeated a few blocks away at the John Hancock Elementary SchooL, and on an even smaller scale at the nearby Charles G. Dawes School and at several other schools.
Throughout the city's 667 schools, black pupils were bused to new neighborhoods under a Lilliputian voluntary desegregation plan that is little more than an extension of a 13-year-old program to relieve overcrowding citywide.
The lack of hostility or violence - save for some scattered racial epithets and one man arrested for spitting at Jackson - appeared to confuse some of the reporters going around the schools.
In almost one-on-one fashion, they descended on a handful of students hanging around the school grounds. But there was little grist there to match the previous night's telecasts of a noisy but largely ineffective car-honking motorcade that seemed to presage violence.
Mark Rabin, a white seventh-grade at Stevenson, said, "I kinda feel good about it [busing] because they are human beings, and if everybody is nice to them and doesn't call them name, then it will be okay."
Jeff Goliszewski, another white seventh-gradeer, said he thought all the news coverage anticipating big trouble was "kind of stuipd."
"If you were them [the blacks], you wouldn't like being insulted. Some people think black peopl are bad. I don't think so, if they are nice we will be friends.
If all of the 2,180 students eligible to participate in the busing program had signed up - or even if all of the 6,573 pupils eligible under the busing plan and a companion transit token subsidy program had signed up - the transfers would still represent a minuscule fraction of Chicago's total enrollment.
But the news media spectacle and the carrying out yesterday of a threatened one-day boycott in the Bogan neighborhood illustrate not only the competitive nature of the Chicago news business but the rising fear within the few remaining all-white middle class enclaves in Chicago.
The boycott reportedly was 80 per cent effective in Bogan schools, and leaders of an antibusing group that calls itself "Bogan's Broads" claim they had struck a blow for the sanctity of neighborhood schools.
In interviews, parents freely acknowledged deep-seated fear about black intrusions in all-white neighborhoods, particularly civil servants who said they are required by law to live within the city limits.
"Where are we supposed to go from here?" asked Marilyn Moran, wife of a Chicago policeman and an antibusing activist.
Thomas Maloney, the school spokesman who handled a press operation, made it plain what he thought of the press efforts.
If we ever mounted this kind of public interest in educating kids, you would see reading scores shoot up around here," he said.
Although some newspaper reporters grumbled aloud abou the heavy traffic of reporters at a "non-story," one leading Chicago newspaper executive said he felt his papers' coverage was warranted.
James Hoggs, editor-in-chief of The Chicago Daily News and the Sun-Times, which gave near-daily front-page treatment to the story for weeks, said, "The printed press, in my opinion, acted responsibly. There was a lot of coverage, but most of it was explanatory. We were following the old saw that you've got to hit the readers a number of times before they understand a company sociological issue."
Hoge said he assumed that the busing plan would be carried out without incident, but he said the "extreme" staffing was ordered because of the importance of the boycott and because of the symbolic nature of the story.
"This is not a statistical story. It is a sciological story. It could be one student, but it captures the public imagination. Whie the numbers are small, this is a symbolic event in Chicago. it is the beginning of a larger desegregation program, and everybody knows it," Koge said.