The 85-year-old Baltimore Evening Sun, once described as "the rollicking son of the staid old lady, the morning Sun," will cease publication Sept. 15, the publisher said yesterday.
The evening paper's circulation has fallen by 100,000 copies since 1987, the victim of changing reader habits, the company said. But the loss will be offset by a thorough redesign and expansion of the morning Sun, which has been enjoying strong circulation gains, said Mary Junck, publisher and chief executive officer of The Baltimore Sun Co. "It was an extremely difficult decision to make, although I think many people in the community have expected it for some time," she said.
"Many great journalists, such as H. L. Mencken and William Manchester, worked at The Evening Sun. It's touched the lives of countless Marylanders and helped shape our community. But a consumer shift to morning papers, which has claimed many other evening newspapers across the country . . . led us to our decision," Ms. Junck said.
The Evening Sun's closure will improve the company's financial performance "modestly" after 1996, she said.
The move will claim the jobs of fewer than 50 newsroom and production employees, Ms. Junck said. The staff reductions would be accomplished mostly through buyouts, attrition and reassignment.
Editorial personnel on the morning and evening newspapers were combined in a 1992 reorganization and buyout program that reduced the payroll by 300 employees.
That merger, which ended 72 years of lively news competition between the two papers, means few jobs today are exclusively Evening Sun positions.
In the newsroom on Calvert Street yesterday, editors and reporters learned of the closing from Editor John S. Carroll. He said it would be a week before he could answer their questions about how the closure would affect individuals.
"I realize this causes a lot of anxiety for everyone," he said. "Obviously these are very sensitive issues, and I would rather do it one-on-one."
Mr. Carroll did assure them that "nobody's going to be laid off in the newsroom. If you're a columnist and your column is discontinued, you will not lose your job. You will have a place here."
Mr. Carroll thanked the handful of editors who have worked to put out the evening paper in the years since 1992. Theirs was "a hard and not terribly rewarding job," he said. "They've done it with dedication and deserve the thanks of all of us."
Looking to the future, he said he believed The Sun "can succeed in producing a truly first-class newspaper if we devote all of our resources and energies to a single paper."
The closure will have no effect on reporting efforts by the Sun's foreign, national or local news operations. "We intend to do more in-depth treatment [of the news] rather than less," Mr. Carroll said.
Beginning Sept. 18, the money saved by closing The Evening Sun will be reinvested to produce a morning paper Monday through Friday with 11 additional pages over the course of a week. Three more pages will be reallocated from the Saturday and Sunday papers to the weekday Sun, the company said.
Expanded business section
Some of the added space will be used for expanded business news. Now combined with sports in a single section on weekdays, financial news will get its own free-standing section Tuesday through Friday.
The Maryland section also will get more space for local news for readers in Baltimore and in Baltimore and Harford counties.
Surveys, focus groups, and discussions involving more than 7,000 Sun readers and others have led to design and content changes the company believes will help readers use their reading time more efficiently.
The new Sun will feature better indexing and more informative use of headlines to help readers decide "what to read and what to skip," Mr. Carroll said. Stories will be printed in an easier-to-read typeface, and headlines will appear in a style used by The Sun between 1920 and 1970. New page designs will be reminiscent of the 1940s.
Readers will get more comics than found in either paper now, but the least popular strips from both papers will be dropped.
Other changes will include an enhanced weather map in color; an improved weekly entertainment guide; redesigned classified ad pages; and a later press start, allowing more people to get later news and sports scores.
Job losses among the newspapers' 1,700 employees will affect mostly newsroom personnel, but shift and hour reductions will also affect workers in the mailroom, transportation and circulation departments. Details must be negotiated with union representatives. "We hope to avoid layoffs," Ms. Junck said.
Mr. Carroll said some columnists and features that appear now only in The Evening Sun will be integrated into the morning paper, "but how that will shake out, I'm not prepared to say."
As of March 31, the most recent report, The Evening Sun's daily circulation was 86,360, down by 100,000 since 1987.
The present circulation is the paper's smallest since audited record-keeping began in 1927. The high was around 220,000 in the mid-1950s.
"We have stuck it out longer than most," Mr. Carroll said.
The Evening Sun joins a long list of afternoon newspapers that have closed in recent years. The most recent to succumb: the Evening Bulletin of Providence, R.I., set to close on June 5; and the Houston Post on April 19.
The morning Sun, meanwhile, has gained readers, reaching a record high of 264,583 in the latest report, up a total of 40,000 in the last three years. The growth has averaged 5.45 percent since the first half of 1994, the second-strongest performance among the country's top 50 big-city dailies.
The Sunday Sun's circulation, more than 494,000, also is at a record high.
The company hopes to convert all current Evening Sun readers to the morning paper and will promote the revamped product heavily. Mr. Carroll joked that "it will be almost impossible to quit getting The Sun. . . . You can keep calling and calling and calling. But it will keep coming no matter what you do."
The company nevertheless expects to lose about 15,000 daily sales after The Evening Sun closes, almost all among readers who now buy both newspapers.
The Baltimore Sun Co. is owned by the Times Mirror Co., which also publishes the Los Angeles Times, Newsday/New York, Newsday and other newspapers, magazines, books and educational products.
The Evening Sun began April 18, 1910, as an evening edition of the then-73-year-old Sun. Company President Charles H. Grasty told readers the new paper would be "orderly and plain in its presentation of the news, without thrills or frills."
It soon became much more.
'It was readable'
In his 1987 history of the newspaper, 40-year Sun veteran Harold Williams described The Evening Sun of the 1920s and 1930s as "at once rambunctious, breezy, imaginative, visionary, mocking, whimsical, mischievous, saucy and sometimes irreverent. It liked think of itself as the rollicking son of the staid old lady the morning Sun. . . . It was attuned to its time and place, and above all it was readable."
Grasty liked the immediacy of evening papers, spiced with the day's breaking news delivered by wire from news associations around the country and the world. The morning papers carried yesterday's news.
In the 1920s, The Evening Sun took on Prohibition, referring to government revenue agents as "spies, snoopers and agents provocateur." Editor Hamilton Owens coined the term "Free State" in anti-Prohibition editorials suggesting Maryland's secession from the rest of the Union if the nation insisted on remaining dry.
The paper also went after pork barrel spenders in Congress, and big government.
"Of all the evils threatening this country today, the greatest is the constant inflation of government. . . . Nearly every law which government passes clips a little off the edge of the citizen's independence. And the same law takes a little more out of his earnings," the paper editorialized.
Owens opposed equally the anti-saloon leagues as "shrewd fanatics" and the Ku Klux Klan as "avaricious clowns," because they all sought to takes rights away from citizens. "We are against the lot of them."
One of The Evening Sun's most memorable stunts, Mr. Williams wrote, was a Feb. 10, 1938, editorial that consisted of a million dots, each one representing a federal employee. The point was lost on readers with poor eyesight. All they saw was gray.
That editorial page was the brainchild of Mencken himself, the irreverent, iconoclastic Sage of Baltimore whose acerbic prose became an Evening Sun tradition. Mencken's Monday column during the 1920s and 1930s helped make Mencken's national reputation and brought the newspaper wide acclaim.
The paper's most embarrassing gaffe was its April 15, 1912, headline, taken from wire service reports: "All Titanic Passengers Are Safe."
The Evening Sun's early editorials tended toward ridicule, while the Sun's favored earnestness, Mr. Williams wrote.
Until the 1990s, the papers' typography also differed, but many readers nevertheless had trouble thinking of them as two.
The rivalry was never in doubt in the newsroom, however, where generations of reporters scrambled to beat their morning competitors to the day's big story.
From the morning side at one time, people liked to refer to The Evening Sun as the "caboose." But evening editors would snarl back that "the caboose is pulling the train."
The evening paper for decades enjoyed stronger circulation than its sister paper.
In 1920, the evening paper became the first in America to have its own airplane for news gathering -- a Canadian Curtiss biplane with a top speed of 75 mph. It was used in coverage of train and ship wrecks, floods and fires.
Although Evening Sun writers and photographers won hundreds national and regional awards over the years, The Evening Sun's sole Pulitzer Prize winner was science writer Jon D. Franklin, who won in 1979 for feature writing, and again in 1985 for explanatory journalism.
Evening Sun employees began to fear for the future of their newspaper as early as July 4, 1983, when the company, in a cost-cutting move, combined the morning and evening papers that day into a single "Holiday Sun."
The boundaries that had separated the two staffs had been breached, and the Holiday Sun became a fixture, appearing on five other holidays each year.
In March 1984, the ad-starved Saturday edition of The Evening Sun disappeared, and subscribers began receiving the Saturday morning paper -- with some Evening Sun columns and features.
Speculation about the demise of The Evening Sun persisted in the newsroom. Worries increased in 1986 when Hearst's News American -- the Sun company's last afternoon competitor -- closed.
The Evening Sun enjoyed a brief boost in circulation as thousands of News American readers followed favorite columnists such as John Steadman and Jacques Kelly to The Evening Sun.
For all practical purposes, The Evening Sun's identity as a separate newspaper was finished in January 1992, when the company merged the morning and evening reporting staffs, and recycled most morning stories for the evening paper.
In the end, Mr. Carroll said, the paper's fate was sealed by the region's changing demographics. More women and more single parents are working these days, and simply aren't home, or haven't the time to read the afternoon paper.
A newspaper "always on duty"
April 18, 1910: The Evening Sun begins publication, promising to be a newspaper "always on duty."
1911: First appearance of H.L. Mencken's "Free Lance" column.
1920: The Evening Sun puts a Curtiss biplane into service, becoming the first newspaper in America to have its own airplane for news-gathering.
1920: The staffs of The Sun and The Evening Sun hold a "divorce dinner," marking the younger paper's move to acquire its own identity.
1924: Five members of The Evening Sun Newsboys Band are among those killed when the steamer Three Rivers catches fire on the Chesapeake Bay off Cove Point.
1925: H.L. Mencken's coverage of the Scopes "Monkey Trial" in Dayton, Tenn.
1979: Science writer Jon D. Franklin wins the Pulitzer Prize, the newspaper's first.
1985: Jon Franklin wins a second Pulitzer Prize.
1992: The staffs of The Sun and The Evening Sun merge.
September 15, 1995: The Evening Sun to publish last edition.