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The death of Jack Lemmon reminds everyone in this town -- or informs newcomers -- that once there was an Evening Sun, and it was one of the best afternoon papers in the country before and during Jack's time as the top editor. It was Mencken's paper, Hamilton Owens's, Lee McCardell's, Price Day's, William Manchester's, Jim McKay's, Lou Rukeyser's, David Culhane's, Carl Schoettler's. It was Jack Lemmon's for about 12 years.

Until 1986, when the News-American went out of business, afternoon circulation in the Baltimore region far outpaced morning readership. Combined News-American and Evening Sun readership was probably about 300,000 when the Hearst Corporation killed off the old "News-Post" and the Abell Co. sold The Sunpapers to Times-Mirror. It wasn't long before the new management started downsizing and squeezing The Evening Sun, in the hopes of making it die because, well, that's what the industry did everywhere else. They succeeded. It was one of the worst decisions ever. (See Jim Burger's comments below.)

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They buried the Evening Sun in 1995, and lost thousands of loyal daily readers in the process. Jack was the last managing editor of a seperate Evening Sun, and he spent a lot of time scratching his head, trying to understand why the new owners wanted to kill the paper he'd come to town to manage. He held the fort until his retirement, then the inestimable Ernie Imhoff took his place for the last stand, the final few years, when management made the afternoon paper so much like its morning counterpart, those many readers who once purchased both stopped that practice.

The PM Sun was much like baltimoresun.com these days; the Web version of the newspaper is a throw-back to the evening dailies that once thrived in Baltimore.

We covered breaking news, and there was plenty of it.
We wrote stories at 6 a.m. that were in print by 10, wrote stories at 10 that
were in print by noon, wrote stories at 3 that were in print by evening rush.
A reader could pick up the 7-Star or Final as the sun set on the city and
know, pretty much, what had happened that day in the trial of former Maryland
Gov. Marvin Mandel.
    Or what had happened in Dundalk overnight.
    Or what had happened in Arbutus that morning.
    Or which horses had won the first couple of races at Pimlico.
    Or what the pope had said in Rome.

Back in the day, I often went home, turned on the TV news at 6, and heard anchormen (and,
once upon a time, an anchorwoman named Oprah) recite, almost word-for-word,
local news stories Evening Sun reporters had dictated to rewriters on the city desk from
pay phones that morning or afternoon. And across the open newsroom of The Sunpapers -
that's what native Baltimoreans called us - morning Sun editors and reporters
examined our paper (sometimes with sneers) to see what they had missed.
    They scooped us. We scooped them. Some days, The News American scooped
us both.
    For the first 10 years that I worked in Baltimore, there was a delicious
newspaper rivalry, and the town was better for it. After the News American folded in
1986, the Evening Sun lost its identity as the morning and evening news staffs were merged. But for most of the years, The Evening Sun was as distinct from The Sun as Haussner's
from Hampton's. (Haussner's is gone now, too.)

We had a much better sports section than the morning paper, and a more talented local staff of news reporters. Some of the best hiring at the paper took place under Lemmon -- Laura Lippman, Dan Fesperman, Tom Waldron, Mike Adams, Diana Henry, Tom Keyser, Kevin Cowherd, Stephanie Shapiro, Mike Fletcher, Rick Berke, Gwen Ifill, Frank Roylance, and too many others to mention, and who have moved on to other vineyards. (Jack Lemmon gave young Nestor Aparicio a break, too. See his comments below.)

In 1986, Jack Lemmon grabbed the News American's comic strips and
hired some of its most popular writers, including sports columnist John Steadman, sportswriter Jim Henneman, gossip columnist Sylvia Badger, Baltimore columnist Jacques Kelly and reporters Richard Irwin and Joe Nawrozki. From News-American readers, The Evening Sun picked up twice the circulation the morning Sun did. And yet, the new management did everything possible to kill off the Evening Sun over the next several years, despite its loyal readership. It was a sad day when Jack retired in 1991; it meant the Evening Sun no longer had a distinct leader, and the paper's days were numbered. It was gone in four more years, the victim of corporate-think that never understood Baltimore and the town's preference for lively, intensely local, brightly-written afternoon papers.

Jack Lemmon understood it, right to the end.

From Jim Burger's From "10 Decisions that Changed Baltimore, and not for the Better."

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Killing The Evening Sun

On Friday September 15, 1995, I shot a photo of Baltimore Sun publisher Mary Junck receiving the last Evening Sun newspaper as it rolled off the press. I always liked Mrs. Junck. She was a kindhearted soul. But there she was hoisting that paper up like Herodias carrying the severed head of St. John the Baptist. The only thing missing was a bloody sword. It was Mary's job to kill The Evening Sun because it wouldn't die by itself. Not that it didn't get the chance: Over the years the staff had been cut, and cut some more. A newsroom merger meant that people who took the morning and evening papers were reading the identical story twice. Circulation slid, but even on that last day of publication, paid subscriptions stood at 86,000. There are plenty of newspapers around the country that would love to sell that many copies.

So let's say that instead of killing The Evening Sun, the decision had been made to fix it. Visualize a snappy paper — perhaps in a tabloid format — a late story filling the front page. Inside could be updates from the morning edition. And lots of entertainment, arts, and music stories that young people want to read. Sun management had been drooling over the City Paper's readers forever, and here was a real chance to go after them in earnest.

But instead, Times Mirror, the Sun's parent company at the time, chose to pull the plug. They killed The Evening Sun, and pocketed the money, because that's what they do. It's just business. Look for Times Mirror on the stock tables. Can't find them? Oh, that's right, they went out of business, too.

-- Originally published in Style magazine

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