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It's the final edition for The Evening Sun

Sun Staff

The Evening Sun publishes its final editions today, a victim of changingtimes and failing circulation.

During its 85-year lifetime, the Baltimore paper gained a nationalreputation for the social and political commentary of its most famous alumnus,H. L. Mencken. It won a pair of Pulitzer Prizes and helped launch the careersof many talented journalists, including biographer and author WilliamManchester, and broadcasters Jim McKay and Louis R. Rukeyser.

Lively and irreverent in its heyday, The Evening Sun was created by themorning Sun in 1910 to challenge Baltimore's two afternoon papers, the Newsand the Star. It won editorial independence in 1920, and has outlived itsafternoon rivals. It outsold the venerable morning Sun for 41 years -- from1936 to 1976.

But company executives say an increasingly white-collar regional economy,and greater competition for readers' evening hours, left fewer and fewer withthe time or inclination to spend those hours with words on newsprint.

The Evening Sun's paid circulation had fallen to 86,360 in the last auditin March, a loss of 70,000 since 1992, when much of its news operation wasmerged with the morning paper.

At its peak in 1960, The Evening Sun sold 220,000 copies daily. By 1991,it had slipped to 156,000. The morning Sun's circulation today was about264,000.

The Evening Sun's farewell edition today will carry an obituary of thepaper, its history told in briefs, and recollections of its most colorfulcharacters. News columnists, editorial writers and contributors to the OtherVoices page will offer final commentary.

After the last press run this afternoon at the Sun printing plant at PortCovington, Publisher Mary Junck was to present the Page 1 printing plates tothe Baltimore City Life Museums. Representatives of Enoch Pratt Free Library,the Maryland Historical Society and the H. L. Mencken House were to receivecopies of the final edition.

Redesigned paper

On Monday morning, The Sun will unveil a redesigned and expanded morningpaper. The company believes it will have a strong appeal for former EveningSun readers it hopes to attract.

This "new morning Sun will be better than the old Evening Sun or the oldmorning Sun," Ms. Junck said.

It will continue to emphasize "strong reporting," she said. The paper willhave new typefaces, new page design and better indexing to make the papereasier to use. Sports deadlines will be an hour later, the Maryland Livesection will arrive a day earlier, and the Business report no longer will beburied inside the Sports section.

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

The Evening Sun is the latest in a growing list of evening dailies thathave fallen victim to "evening paper syndrome" -- the migration of readers andadvertisers to morning papers. It claimed the Baltimore News American in 1986,and most recently the Evening Bulletin of Providence, R.I., and the HoustonPost.

Sun spokesman Michael L. Shultz said The Evening Sun's closing will meanthe loss of no more than 36 news and editorial jobs, and 14 in production.Almost all of the handful of people still in jobs exclusive to The Evening Sunhave been offered new ones with the morning paper. But the company is seekingto cut its payroll by up to 50 people with a program of buyouts.

About 300 Sun employees left the paper with buyout packages in 1992 whenthe morning and evening news operations were combined.

Earlier deadlines, city traffic and suburban sprawl made it more and moredifficult to publish "today's news today." But until their paper lost itsindependent newsroom in 1992, Evening Sun staffers continued to scramble forcomprehensive same-day stories on events that broke on their deadlines.

But the paper could not overcome changes in the lives of its readers.

"There was a shift in how people used late afternoon and evening hours,"said former Sun publisher Reg Murphy.

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

Too busy

Wives and mothers today likely have careers. More people have second jobs,or community meetings or Little League after work. Many say they're toorushed.

Longtime readers, however, hung on stubbornly. "I never had seen theintensity of loyalty that you could find among readers for The Evening Sun,"said Mr. Murphy, who came to Baltimore from papers in Atlanta and SanFrancisco.

It was a loyalty attributable in some measure to the paper's longtradition 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 allmanner of stuffed shirts, scoundrels and sacred cows.

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

When war came, The Evening Sun sent its best to cover it. Lee McCardelland Price Day reported on American forces in Europe. Howard Norton, Robert B.Cochrane and Philip S. Heisler were sent to the Pacific. Mr. Cochrane'sdispatch from the battleship Missouri on the Japanese surrender wasacknowledged as one of the best pieces of journalism to come out of the war.

The post-war Evening Sun produced a remarkable roster of reporting talent,with names such as William Manchester, an author and Mencken biographer; JimMcManus, better known later as ABC Sports anchorman Jim McKay; and "WallStreet Week" host Louis R. Rukeyser.

The paper won two Pulitzer Prizes, both for stories written bythen-science writer Jon Franklin, as well as hundreds of national and regionalawards.

With fewer resources than the morning paper, The Evening Sun sometimesmissed or ignored stories that broke in The Sun. What it lacked incomprehensiveness, it tried to make up for with passion.

"We were always on deadline and full of energy, and more or less burstingwith talent," said William E. N. Hawkins, an Evening Sun reporter in the 1970sand later assistant managing editor. "You were writing hard stories,first-edition stories, breaking news . . . and letting The Sun pick 'em up thenext day. We liked nothing more than beating The Sun."

Newsroom rivals

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

The paper's future was in question within two or three years after Mr.Murphy was named publisher in 1981. The questions, he said, came from "boardmembers, advertisers, our own financial people and a broad spectrum ofpublishers around the country."

"I told them I thought I could make it economically viable and keep iteconomically viable," he said. Besides, "I didn't have guts enough to kill H.L. Mencken's newspaper."

But he did act to cut its losses. On July 4, 1983, the first "Holiday Sun"appeared -- combining the morning and evening staffs on national holidays. InMarch 1984, the evening paper's wizened Saturday edition closed.

"I thought they were things that would save The Evening Sun," Mr. Murphysaid.

In May 1986, the Hearst Corp.'s ad-starved, afternoon News Americansuddenly closed. Evening Sun editors mourned, then went after its readers.They bought the News American's comics and hired some of its most popularwriters. "We picked up more than twice the circulation the morning paper did,"said former Evening Sun Managing Editor John M. "Jack" Lemmon. But the gainsmelted away in five years.

To the suburbs

In 1991, a new publisher, Michael J. Davies, saw The Sun's future in thegrowing outer suburbs. He set out to expand news coverage in those areas. Butit was expensive and the move came during a deep recession. To cut costs, TheEvening Sun's news operation was absorbed by the morning paper, and 90 newsstaffers took buyouts.

"We simply couldn't afford to have several reporters covering the samestory," Mr. Davies said. The Evening Sun's independence was doomed by itslagging circulation. "You can be romantic as long as you wish. You cancontinue producing a product people don't want. But at some point reality hasto take over."

In effect, The Evening Sun became a late edition of the morning paper, andtoo much like it for readers who took both papers. Evening circulation wentinto a tailspin. Nearly 30,000 readers bailed out in the first year after thenewsroom merger. On May 25 of this year, after a loss of nearly 70,000, Ms.Junck announced the paper's close and more staff cuts.

Evening Sun alumni remain fiercely proud of their paper. Some are angrythat more wasn't done to save it. "I tell you, we're closing the wrong paper,"said Joe D'Adamo, a makeup editor for 41 years. "It didn't die of its ownaccord. It was killed. It was murdered."

Some Marylanders lament the loss of The Evening Sun as it once was. Butnot what it had become.

"I don't think it [the closing] makes much difference," said former mayorand Gov. William Donald Schaefer. "I'm sorry to see the jobs lost. I hate tosee anybody lose a job. But when you have a paper that's just a copy ofmorning paper . . . If we had a competitive newspaper, that would be somethingelse."

A "saddened" Mr. Murphy worries about what newspaper closings mean for thefuture of "the American democratic dialogue."

"The democratic dialogue is best done by people who have a sharedinformation base," he said. "And too many Americans are going to have such asmall information base about what is going on in their own community, nevermind the world, that we may have more single-issue politics, and single-mindedattitudes about politicians. And that concerns me."

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