A life in newspapers, and long may you run

At the age of thirteen, I took on a paper route in the tiny town of Elburn, Illinois. I think there were 750 residents, but the houses spread across a chunk of the landscape and I covered the north half of town.

I’d rise at 5:30 every day, seven days a week to deliver newspapers. Back then, it was the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, and a few copies of the Chicago Daily News, I think it was.

I prided myself on doing a great job on that paper route. As a freshman in high school, I’d sometimes feel the previous day’s cross-country or track workout in my skinny legs while pedaling a Huffy three-speed around the three-mile paper route. At every home I’d drop the bike, jog up the yard and place the newspaper inside the screen door or just inside the house.

In high school I started writing for the school newspaper. That continued through college and beyond, when I produced a weekly column titled Field Day for the St. Charles Chronicle, the newspaper that had covered my exploits in track and cross country. One of the sportswriters there was Elmore McCornack, a kindly gentleman who traveled to our meets to report on race results. Forty-five years later I’d have the honor of being the officiant at the wedding of his granddaughter Annie Clarrisimeaux, whose older brother Evan was also a runner who turned a 4:07 mile at the University of Iowa.

We’ve been through
Some things together
With trunks of memories
Still to come
We found things to do
In stormy weather
Long may you run.

In my late 20s, I went to work for the Chronicle Newspapers as they consolidated into a single publication called the Kane County Chronicle. While I worked in advertising and marketing, my passion for writing continued as I traveled to cover cross country meets with the two same programs for whom I’d competed at Kaneland and St. Charles. Two years ago in 2019, both of those schools won state championships. It’s nice to be part of that heritage in several ways.

With the St. Charles cross country cheerleaders following a meet.

I worked seven years at the Chronicle and by the year 2000, had joined one of the best newspapers in the state, the Daily Herald. As an editorial writer I didn’t write much about sports except to comment that I didn’t think it was fair for home-schooled kids to compete in public school programs. My reasoning was that home-schooled kids had an unfair advantage in having more opportunity to train and rest if they chose. Despite many protest letters from all over the nation, I still believe that.

After leaving the Daily Herald I started writing nature columns for the Beacon News, a suburban daily in the Chicago region. The sportswriter with whom I collaborated was Bill Kindt, a journalist that had covered my running career as well as the basketball exploits of my younger brother Greg Cudworth.

Well, it was
Back in Blind River in 1962
When I last saw you alive
But we missed that shift
On the long decline
Long may you run.

In between all that, during the 1980s I wrote for publications such as the Illinois Runner, a monthly newspaper published by Rich Elliott, one of Illinois’ finest distance runners in his day. I absolutely loved interviewing runners and producing long-form articles about men such as Al Carius, the North Central College distance coach.

But as we know, newspapers have been struggling for the last decade or more. Even at the time when I joined the Daily Herald in 2000 and moved to the marketing department in 2001, I studied the financials and noted to my boss that with a narrow 8% profit margin, “All it would take is the loss of one category, and we’re hurting.” Sure enough, the recruitment category soon began to migrate online, followed by Real Estate, Automotive and even retail as the Internet took over.

Not only did newspaper advertising shrink, so did circulation. That combination forced many newspapers across the nation to close shop. Even newspapers with supposedly modern approaches and bulletproof formulas of short-form content, such as USA Today have still struggled to retain an advertising base sufficient to compete with other forms of media in this world.

As for the Daily Herald, which once earned the 10 That Do It Right award from Editor & Publisher Magazine, it once had the highest staff-to-circulation ratio of any newspaper in the country. Now, as I understand it, the newspaper is employee-owned and runs much leaner out of necessity. While it no longer boasts 150K in circulation as it once claimed, the newspaper has built online communities and continues producing a great product. While working for the Daily Herald, I built a literacy program with a reach of 375,000 families through 175 libraries across the Chicago market. My goal was to build an entirely self-sufficient “community” based around reading, but perhaps I was a bit ahead of the curve in that respect. The Internet in 2007 was still in its formative stages with how content communities and social media were operating. Then my wife experienced a recurrence of cancer and my focus on the reading program had to stop. I met with representatives of the Chicago Tribune to explore a re-launch a few years back, but the paper had pressing issues of solvency at hand.

There is a cancer now affecting the Chicago Tribune, a newspaper with which I’ve had a relationship for more than forty-five years. After delivering that newspaper in my youth, I’ve been a subscriber since the mid-1980s. But recently the Tribune Publishing enterprise was purchased by Alden, a firm known for gutting newspapers. The vultures at Alden offered buyouts to employees and two of the newspapers best assets, Eric Zorn and Heidi Keibler-Stevens, have announced their departure along with others. Readers of the Tribune feel like they are losing friends in writers such as these. It will be interesting and sad, perhaps, to see how many of those subscriber relationships end.

It is unlikely that we’ll keep our subscription much longer if the Tribune gets gutted. I was already disgusted by the tactics of its former owner Sam Zell years ago, who hired a bunch of radio-industry nutniks to manage the paper. All they did was trash the Tribune Tower and treat the paper like a big game. So much for the wisdom of supposedly wise capitalists like Zell. The only thing he proved by buying the Tribune is that rich assholes are still assholes. True journalism is something entirely different than a pack of shallow bastards looking at spreadsheets. Yet that’s who owns the Tribune now.

The Randy Michaels era of Tribune management did not last long.

Maybe The Beach Boys
Have got you now
With those waves
Singing “Caroline No”
Rollin’ down
That empty ocean road
Gettin’ to the surf on time.

That’s the problem in today’s world. It is devastating to the propagation of honest culture when the world rewards gutless, shallow, and dishonest organizations such as Fox News…a company that hasn’t told the truth for decades except by accident. Yet Fox makes money hand over fist while companies like the Tribune struggle to survive. The only exception to the ghastly Fox formula of despotic opinion cloaked as news were the rare cases when hosts refused to accept the lies anymore and spoke out against the likes of Donald Trump. The amoral truth about Fox is revealed in the many sexual harassment lawsuits against its leadership and personalities. That has proven the feckless nature of its operations, yet the station persists with its “tits above the fold” approach and its blathering panels of talking heads.

Fox News has ruined many lives, but especially those of its followers.

I trust somehow that newspapers will survive in one form or another. But my life in newspapers, both as a writer and consumer, has surely changed. That’s both an honest assessment and a lament.

Though I’ve lost a few prized sports clippings over time, it was that hard copy recognition of your name in print that used to mean so much. As an athlete, I loved printed results, both good and bad, because they told a “real” story. You go out there and do your best, and it gets printed for all to see. There’s a deep honesty in that. Thus as a writer, I have always loved bylines because there is an honesty to actually putting thoughts on paper rather than just copying memes and pretending you have something to say. That’s even a problem on social media networking sites such as Linkedin, where the dog-whistle memes serve as bully pulpits for all kinds of partisan hacks.

I’m proud of my life in newspapers in many ways. But I’m sad that shallow societies fail to see their value, be it in digital or print form. Of course there have always been ratty newspapers as well as good ones, and the industry as a whole had to deal with that.

But even the good ones are suffering now. So, to those now vacating space in the newspaper world, we all wish you well. See you in the PR world or some other realm because that’s where many of us hang out. So long may you run.

Long may you run.
Long may you run.
Although these changes
Have come
With your chrome heart shining
In the sun
Long may you run

About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @genesisfix07 and blogs at werunandride.com, therightkindofpride.com and genesisfix.wordpress.com Online portfolio: http://www.behance.net/christophercudworth
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