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Good Night, Hon Thanks for a great 85 years; will you love us in the morning? Circulation faltered, but heart never did The Evening Sun sets as 85

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Today, The Evening Sun writes its own obituary.

Baltimore's last evening newspaper, which publishes its final editions today, is 85 and a victim of failing circulation.

It was both a child and a casualty of changing times. Born in 1910, the new evening paper was a morning Sun gambit to

snatch readers, advertising and profits from its afternoon rivals, the News and the Star.

This 'paper of the future' took breaking stories flashed across the nation or the ocean by the new telegraph news associations, set them in type and raced fresh editions all day long to Baltimore's eager readers.

It succeeded, and for most of its years gave the city a colorful, irreverent report from a remarkable roster of talented writers and editors, including Henry L. Mencken. It outlived all its afternoon competitors, and even outsold the morning Sun for 41 years - from 1936 to 1976.

The evening paper dies today a victim, in part, of a faster and flashier technology - television. But more lethal were the nation's changing lifestyles, which have left fewer readers with the time or inclination to spend their evenings with words on newsprint.

Nationwide, there are 470 fewer evening newspapers today than in 1946. They still outnumber morning papers 3 to 2, but 26 million more readers now take a morning paper.

The Evening Sun's once-robust paid circulation - which peaked at 220,000 in 1960 - had been slipping for nearly three decades. It fell below the morning Sun's rising sales at 174,000 in 1977. After a 1992 newsroom merger made the two papers' local pages almost indistinguishable, it plunged below 100,000.

Now, newspaper executives say, it makes better business and journalistic sense to focus all the company's resources on a single, vigorous, morning newspaper.

So today The Sun's brass are The Evening Sun's pallbearers. And tomorrow, a city which nine years ago had three daily newspapers will have just one.

On Monday morning, however, The Sun will debut a redesigned and expanded morning paper that combines the resources of both papers. The company believes it will have a strong appeal for its former Evening Sun readers. This 'new morning Sun will be better than the old Evening Sun or the old morning Sun,' said Sun publisher Mary Junck.

It will continue to emphasize 'strong reporting,' she said. There will be more space for coverage of Baltimore and Baltimore County, where 70 percent of Evening Sun readers live. New typefaces, new page design and better indexing will make the paper easier to use. The Entertainment section will arrive earlier, and the Business report will no longer be buried inside the Sports section. Evening Sun readers who subscribe will again get a complete set of stock tables.

'I think it's going to be a great newspaper,' Ms. Junck said.

Today's editions end a remarkable roller-coaster ride for The Evening Sun. Its lifetime spanned all but 15 years of the tumultuous 20th century, from an era of candlestick phones, telegrams and streetcars, to one of computers, jet travel and instant, global communications.

Baltimore's industrial economy boomed and faded in those years, first building, then eroding the prosperity and stability of many communities served by the paper. Downtown development and tourism boomed, and some neighborhoods revived. But many readers left the city anyway for new homes and opportunities in a sprawling suburbia.

Change in newsroom

It was a time of great social change. Maryland's segregation laws fell, and the civil rights movement wrested justice and new opportunities for minorities, women and others. The paper covered it. It also listened.

The Baltimore Sun's publisher today is a woman, as are four of her 11 top executives. Its newsroom - once entirely white and nearly all male, - has moved closer to reflecting the region it covers; it is now 17 percent minority and 35 percent female.

During The Evening Sun's lifetime, the old newspaper world of clacking typewriters and clanking Linotype machines was transformed into one where computers beep and glow at every turn. Crowded, gray pages yielded to big color photographs and more inventive display.

This last edition was set electronically and transmitted to high-speed presses at Port Covington, four miles from the Calvert Street newsroom. Its contents will be archived on computer discs accessible in the future worldwide via the Internet.

The Sun newspapers were industry leaders in the mid-1970s in the switch from hot-metal type to computer-set 'cold type' and offset printing. There were mixed consequences, however, for the paper's commitment to give readers 'today's news today.

' The new systems cut labor costs, but some insist that their complexities - together with urban traffic and suburban sprawl - forced earlier deadlines.

'I don't care what they say, [the old way] was faster. We coulput a newspaper out on the street in half an hour,' said Joe D'Adamo, a makeup editor for 41 years.

When he started at the evening paper in 1946, there were seven editions, and the Final didn't close until 4:55 p.m. 'Today,' he said, '. . . you close before noon. The Kennedy assassination [at 1:30 p.m. Baltimore time] would not have made the evening paper today. . . . We have surrendered to the TV industry.

' Fewer than 100 printers today paste up The Sun's paper type. In the 1950s, 500 men raced to set metal type for morning and evening deadlines.

When World Series action crowded Evening Sun deadlines, each play was telegraphed to the composing room by Western Union. 'I would write the play-by-play from the telegrapher' rather than wait for the reporter at the game, Mr. D'Adamo said.

'People were waiting out there for the newspaper, and we would bust our tail to get it out,' Mr. D'Adamo said.

Deadline problems

That instinct persisted. Evening Sun staffers scrambled repeatedly to publish comprehensive same-day stories on events that broke on its deadlines. Among the biggest: the City Hall murder of Councilman Dominic Leone in 1976; the conviction of Gov. Marvin Mandel on corruption charges in 1977; and the Challenger explosion, the sinking of the Pride of Baltimore, and the closing of the News American - all in 1986.

But getting late stories to readers was becoming more problematic, said John Patinella, former vice president for circulation.

In January 1982, a Florida Airlines jet crashed into the Potomac River in Washington. It was 4 p.m. and snowing. Mr. Patinella got a call from Evening Sun managing editor John M. 'Jack' Lemmon.

'He said he was holding the presses, and the Final would be late, but he said, 'We're getting the story in,' ' Mr. Patinella recalled. 'I said, 'I'm telling you, Jack, the earlier we get the paper out there, the better off we are. People are going to be leaving the city.'

' Well, Mr. Patinella said, 'we had the best story, color pictures of the plane on the bridge.' But with all the snow and traffic, 'by the time we got it out, it was probably 7 at night.' The next day 'there were more returns [unsold papers] than any day I can remember.

' Former publisher Reg Murphy says evening papers can no longer be relied on for today's news. Afternoon sports results, closing stocks, legislative votes, 'almost all the things that really touch readers, occur after evening paper deadlines.' Newspapers are best at in-depth coverage, digested overnight.

But it's more than deadlines, he said. 'There was a shift in how people used late afternoon and evening hours.

' TV and cable news were only part of it. The blue-collar jobs that got people home by 3 or 4 p.m. were vanishing. Nine-to-five white-collar jobs leave little time for an evening paper.

Also, Mr. Patinella said, 'the whole 'Leave It to Beaver' model no longer exists.' Women today aren't home waiting with dinner and the paper. They likely have their own careers. There are second jobs, community meetings or Little League. Everyone is rushed.

As recently as the late 1980s, 60 percent of new subscribers continued to choose The Evening Sun Mr. Patinella said. But the paper lost more new readers than The Sun.

'Peoples' perception was that they wanted the evening paper,' he said. But they found little time to read it. 'The paper . . . was terrific. If it had distributed in the morning, it would have grown.

' At the same time, the loyalty of Evening Sun readers was impressive. 'I never had seen the intensity of loyalty that you could find among readers for The Evening Sun,' said Mr. Murphy, who came here from papers in Atlanta and San Francisco. 'They cared deeply about their paper.

' It was a loyalty attributable in some measure to the paper's long tradition of fine writing and editing. Its best-known practitioner, Henry L. Mencken, was told in 1911 to 'write about anything you please, anything at all. . . . as long as it remains irresponsible and readable.

' He and editor Hamilton Owens in the 1920s and 1930s took on any and all manner of stuffed shirts, scoundrels and sacred cows. The paper never stopped afflicting the comfortable. One exasperated reader finally asked: 'Why irritate your readers the way you do? Why'n hell don't you go fishing and give somebody a rest?

' Often its targets deserved worse. In the 1930s it turned its editorial writers on those responsible for two lynchings on the Eastern Shore, calling the first 'a public obscenity worthy of cannibals.

' It was little enough, given the crime. But on the Shore, subscribers canceled, stores selling the paper were boycotted, and reporters were threatened.

That period produced 'extraordinary editorial writers and commentators, and I think that continued on until recent times ... That part of the tradition of The Evening Sun was quite distinctive,' said Dr. Reese Cleghorn, dean of the Journalism Department at the University of Maryland.

When war came, The Evening Sun sent Lee McCardell and Price Day to join American forces as they fought their way from Normandy to the Rhine. Howard Norton, Robert B. Cochrane and Philip S. Heisler were sent to the Pacific. Cochrane's dispatch on the Japanese surrender, written on a portable typewriter on the deck of the battleship Missouri, was printed in the book, 'Masterpieces of War Reporting.

' Mr. Cochrane, 85, says the story was straightforward: 'I tried to take copious notes, and tried to tell the story the way it went, from start to finish. The main fact was that 'World War 2 ended at such-and-such-a-time.' And that was it.

' After the war, the newspaper found new challenges. Crime, disaster, sports, politics and government were no longer enough.

New name, goals

Editors impressed by women's wartime contributions gave them improved 'Woman's' section in the late 1940s. In the 1960s, the section got a new name: Accent. Its staff, limited until then to 'society' stories, fashion, gardening and other tender fare, got to tackle more serious or controversial issues. Gender barriers between the Accent and Metro desk staffs also began to break down.

African Americans and women were demanding their share of America's prosperity. The paper gradually came to support their aims, and civil rights stories gained prominence.

The Evening Sun hired Chet Hampton as a copy editor in the 1960s, among the first blacks at The Sunpapers. Other African-Americans hired in that general period included Norman Wilson, a longtime assistant city editor who is now the Sun's night city editor, and reporters Michael Davis and Welford McLellan. Since then increasing numbers of black newspaper people have joined the paper.

In the 1960s, the environment became a story, and the paper championed the Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Education, housing, social services, business, science, medicine all got new attention from a staff driven to beat The Sun and the News American.

'We were always on deadline and full of energy, and more or less bursting with talent,' said William E.N. Hawkins, an Evening Sun reporter in the 1970s and later assistant managing editor. 'You were writing hard stories, first-edition stories, breaking news . . . and letting The Sun pick 'em up the next day. We liked nothing more than beating The Sun . . . which we found to be a somewhat sluggish bunch.

' And stuffy. The morning paper clings to such polite titles as 'Mr.' 'Miss' or 'Mrs.' after the first reference to anyone not dead or convicted of a crime. In The Evening Sun, until 1992, last names, spelled right, were plenty.

Gov. Marvin Mandel was 'Mandel' both before and after his 1977 conviction on corruption charges. His trial was 'a huge story for us,' Mr. Hawkins said.

Today, his conviction overturned, the former governor has mixed feelings about the coverage. 'There were excellent reporters on both papers,' he said. But 'you'd be in the courtroom all day, and you'd go out and read the articles and wonder what courtroom that took place in.

' 'Most of the people that wrote about it [the trial] were trying to be fair, but not all,' he said. Some seemed to have their own agendas. But then, he added, 'I wasn't the most objective person either.

' Jon Franklin's two Pulitzer Prizes 'started from just good, solid medical reporting,' said Mr. Hawkins, now executive editor of the Durham (N.C.) Herald Sun.

The Evening Sun covered Mayor William Donald Schaefer and showcased his remarkable downtown renaissance. But it also annoyed him with bad news and persistent scrutiny. He has not forgotten.

In the 'olden days,' he said, reporters 'didn't try to embarrass you. They respected confidences and respected your personal life . . . I was very proud of The Sunpapers. They were a very important part of the city's progress. They were never pro-Schaefer, but it was an accurate paper.

' Misses competition

But at some point, he believes, reporters began chasing prizes, editors stopped caring about the city, and selling newspapers ,, became paramount. 'If they get something on you, it's a great coup,' he said.

Like most Baltimoreans, Mr. Schaefer rarely saw The Evening Sun as competing with the morning Sun. But he knew they competed with The News American, a dynamic he misses.

'If The Sunpaper would take a side and it wasn't a side I particularly cared for, I would go to The News American and talk about the other side,' he said. 'If it was inaccurate in The Sun, I could go to The News-Post and they would listen to you and run a story.

' With fewer resources than the morning paper, The Evening Sun sometimes missed or ignored stories that broke in The Sun. What it lacked in comprehensiveness, it tried to make up for with energy.

Columnist Dan Rodricks, hired as a 22-year-old reporter in 1976, recalled the newsroom rivalry: 'You could look straight across . . . and see your competition at work. In 1977, for about three months, I went one-on-one with a veteran morning Sun reporter, chasing a major white-collar crime story, and we kept trying to top each other with better stuff day after day. You had to read both papers to get the latest.

' 'Those days are gone,' he said.

By the 1980s, circulation was declining, and a shadow had begun to fall across The Evening Sun.

'I cannot remember a time within two or three years after I got there [in 1981], when there was not a constant set of questions about whether we should continue The Evening Sun,' Mr. Murphy said. 'Questions came from 'board members, advertisers, our own financial people and a broad spectrum of publishers around the country.

' 'I told them I thought I could make it economically viable and keep it economically viable,' he said. Besides, 'I didn't have guts enough to kill H.L. Mencken's newspaper. He stood for a kind of iconoclastic journalism that I thought, and think, is important. To have the paper that he made into a great one go away is a real loss for American journalism.

' And to save The Evening Sun, Mr. Murphy said, he needed to cut off its weakest limbs.

July 4, 1983, the first 'Holiday Sun' appeared - combining the morning and evening staffs on what would become a growing list of national holidays.

In March 1984, the evening paper's wizened Saturday edition closed.

'I thought they were things that would save The Evening Sun,' Mr. Murphy said. The evening paper just didn't sell on holidays and Saturdays, and 'they were major-league costs. There was no demand for it, and you couldn't force any advertising into them.

' In May 1986, the Hearst Corporation's News American suddenly closed, another victim of the 'evening paper syndrome.' Until 1977, it had outsold both Sunpapers, but by the 1980s, advertisers were bailing out for The Sun's bigger circulation.

Thirty hours after Hearst's announcement, the Times Mirror Company bought the Baltimore Sun and WMAR-TV for $600 million. In two days, Baltimore had lost its last competing daily newspaper publisher, and local ownership of the survivor.

Would Times Mirror accountants in Los Angeles now doom The Evening Sun? Why pay two Baltimore reporters to chase the same stories?

Mr. Murphy says he continued to defend the evening paper. 'I believed in it,' he said. 'It still was economically viable until then. . . and much more important, there was a readership that wanted The Evening Sun, and I thought it was our responsibility to give it to them.

' Glimmer of hope

There was brief hope. Jack Lemmon grabbed the News American's funnies and hired some of its most popular writers, including columnists John Steadman and Jacques Kelly and reporters Richard Irwin and Joe Nawrozki. 'We picked up more than twice the circulation the morning paper did,' Mr. Lemmon said.

But the gains melted away in five years.

The mortal blow came in 1991. Mr. Murphy was gone, and the new publisher, Michael J. Davies, saw the paper's future in the growing outer suburbs. He set out to produce expanded county editions, with more local news and information, and advertisers lured away from thriving newspapers.

'If we could win the hearts and minds of the newly moved people in those areas now, down the road the newspaper would be in a very, very strong position,' he said.

But The Evening Sun, it turned out, would not be a full partner. Recession had slashed revenues, and 'we simply couldn't afford to have several reporters covering the same story,' Mr. Davies said. He decided to merge the morning and evening news operations and cut staff through buyouts. The Evening Sun would survive, but as little more than a late edition of The Sun.

'You can be romantic as long as you wish,' Mr. Davies said. 'You can continue producing a product people don't want. But at some point reality has to take over.

' In January 1992, 300 employees, including 90 seasoned news personnel (20 percent of the total) took the buyout. Most of the rest began working for both papers. Many veterans were sent to the expanded suburban offices. Expanded county editions opened in Arundel, Howard and Carroll counties.

The Evening Sun was now a husk, with a single reporter, a cartoonist, a few columnists and editorial writers. A skeleton crew of copy editors, dubbed 'The Lost Patrol,' worked until the last deadline - now 10:30 a.m. - to freshen the morning Sun's report with late wire stories, occasionally breaking local news and a new look for Page 1.

But no one was fooled. The evening paper came in the morning. Familiar bylines were gone. Morning reporters' stories reappeared in the evening. Most pages were reprinted intact. The fresh voice that once made The Evening Sun so successful was now nearly gone.

On top of it all, the recession-battered papers raised newsstand prices twice in 11 months, to 35, then 50 cents. Readers who got both papers asked - loudly - why they should keep buying The Evening Sun. Almost 70,000 daily sales leaked away.

Mr. Murphy had left the paper and had no role in the merger decision. But he has no quarrel with it.

'There is a point at which a newspaper has to stay strong economically or it can't stay independent editorially,' he said. 'The Sun had to stay strong financially, and The Evening Sun, I suppose, was less and less a contributor.

' Finally, on May 25 of this year, the publisher, Mary Junck, pulled the plug. She announced that The Evening Sun would close Sept. 15, after 85 years, four months and 27 days on the planet. The news and production staffs would be downsized again.

Paid daily circulation was barely 86,000 copies. The morning paper, meanwhile, had grown to a record 264,583 daily sales, up 40,000 papers in three years.

Evening Sun alumni remain fiercely proud of their old paper and its spirited fight for life. Some are angry that more wasn't done to save it. 'I tell you, we're closing the wrong paper,' said Mr. D'Adamo, the retired makeup editor. 'It didn't die of its own accord. It was killed. It was murdered.

' Some Marylanders lament The Evening Sun as it once was. But not today's.

'The Evening Sun of a number of years ago was an excellent newspaper,' former Governor Mandel said. 'It's a shame we don't have more than one newspaper in the city . . . so that the people could get more than one perspective on any story.

' At a solemn meeting with the combined news staffs in May, Sun executive editor John Carroll said, 'It's not a happy duty to close The Evening Sun. But viewed with an eye to the future . . . it is the only way to produce a great newspaper in Baltimore.

'I feel that The Evening Sun was a genuinely inspired newspaper and a brilliant paper for many years, and a lot of intelligence and high spirits went into it. We have stuck it out longer than most,' he said.

It was time to let go. And so today we do. Fare well, Baltimore. And thanks.

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