Chesterton Tribune

Going daily: Tribune keeps it local in the space age

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By KEVIN NEVERS

A Chesterton official recently told Chesterton Tribune reporter Kevin Nevers how amused his brother-in-law—a New York City cop—once was, during a holiday visit, on taking the time to peruse some of this newspaper’s police blotter items.

“Garbage can reported stolen”; “Vehicle vandalized”; “Garden gnome goes missing.”

Small-potatoes stuff, no doubt. But then to a NYPD cop, Duneland is a small-potatoes community. Nevers himself makes no apologies for the way he covers the police beat. After all, he lives here too and crime is crime. If you don’t think so, just ask the guy who wakes up some morning and finds that the garden gnome he’s paid good money for and has taken a shine to has likely ended up in some jerk’s dorm room.

It’s certainly the case, though, that in the early days of daily publication, readers could expect a jarring juxtaposition or two—front-page friction between the world-historical and the hyper-provincial—as then managing editor Warren H. Canright came to grips with competing content streams: the flood of national and international news from the UPI wire, on the one hand; and the bread-and-butter of local news, on the other.

A case in point, from the front page of the Monday, April 10, 1961, edition: “Report Russia puts man in space and brings him back,” side-by-side with “Girl Scouts sell out on cookies; reorder more.”

Or consider this one, from the front page of the Friday, April 21, 1961, edition: “Havana radio says U.S. ships covered exile force invasion,” hard by “Amateur Night at Pines Farm Bureau.”

Call those juxatpositions quaint, if you want to. Former Trib reporter John Canright does. But he also makes this point: “The Girl Scouts’ running out of cookies was a helluva lot more important to us than the Russians sending a man into space.”

Ultimately, John Canright argues, daily publication saved the Trib from a fate one step removed from death: a contrived parochialism, a too precious charm. “Weeklies were dying in those days, turning into glitzy shoppers with a little news. If a weekly could hang on, it did so by cultivating a professional quaintness. Going daily saved us from becoming a professionally quaint newspaper. What a lot of people missed from the weekly was that quaintness they could laugh at with their friends in Chicago.”

Two things in particular happened with the change-over, John Canright remembers. First, the enlarged aggregate newshole made it possible to strike a plausible balance between the world outside Westchester Township and the world outside folks’ doors—between global events and neighborhood happenings—while the daily deadline pressed the staff to think increasingly in terms of current affairs of importance to its readers. “I like to think our readers became better educated, that they learned they didn’t have to settle for less, they could have and expect high standards.”

Second, John Canright says, the reporting itself became a great deal more sophisticated, capable of sustaining the paper’s new newsiness. “The quality of the paper improved, especially what you’d call journalistically. The stories were better written and more timely. That improvement was partly driven by the younger generation of readers. They had higher standards than their parents did.”

As IU journalism prof John Stempel once said—John Canright paraphrases him—“God notices the fall of a sparrow. A good reporter is writing about that and a good photographer is taking a picture of it.”

The Trib’s business—its mission—has always been to cover this community’s sparrows, because they matter to the community and because, God knows, no one else will. Going daily didn’t change that. But it did broaden, harden, and sharpen this newspaper’s pages.

Next: Of pace and space in the daily.

Posted 4/5/2011