Dan Corkery | How to write, end stories for a family newspaper

Dan Corkery | How to write, end stories for a family newspaper

Funny the things we remember.

In the early 1980s, during my first year at The News-Gazette, a reporter had a tricky story to write. How much detail should he include about a sordid crime?

His solution, and I'm paraphrasing:

The suspect is accused of committing an act that cannot be described in a family newspaper.

I've spent my 38-year career learning what a family newspaper is.

In my youth, a family newspaper was a daily publication the entire household could share. Dad the news, Mom the crossword puzzles and Dan the box scores.

It was a paper that was expected to report local news but with a delicate touch. Stories shouldn't be graphic. Mom and Dad didn't subscribe so their kids could read filth.

Over the years, countless callers have told me what they like — and don't like — about their newspaper. I learned to listen: They were drawing the line on what's offensive. Learning readers' sensibilities is key to retaining them as subscribers.

For those who have thought calling an editor is a waste of time, let me assure you: We listen. Even if the conversation turns testy, we still listen. And the feedback does help shape how we make news decisions and how we write stories.

Being a family newspaper has a unique meaning at The News-Gazette. One family, from 1919 to 2002, owned and managed this newspaper. David and Helen Stevick died years before I started in May 1980, but I knew their daughter, Mrs. Marajen Stevick Chinigo.

One of the early lessons for a beginning copy editor: It's Mrs. Chinigo. Despite what The Associated Press Stylebook says, use the courtesy title. When you own the newspaper, you set the rules.

When I say that I knew Mrs. Chinigo, it's more accurate to say we were acquainted. Members of senior management knew her. She had genuine affection for frontline workers like me, but there was an appropriate distance that I learned to respect.

Since her death 15-plus years ago, I've learned to respect her legacy, too. She could have sold The News-Gazette years ago. She had plenty of offers.

She didn't sell because the newspaper was her family. Her father and mother. And the hundreds of employees who labored away to support their own families.

It was that family commitment that keeps The News-Gazette a locally owned newspaper today.

And that's rare.

Last month, GateHouse Media bought the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman and now owns one out every 10 daily newspapers in the United States, including the papers in Peoria, Rockford and Springfield. Gannett, Lee Enterprises, CNHI, tronc (the inane name for the owner of the Chicago Tribune) and other chains dominate the newspaper industry.

For News-Gazette employees, "family newspaper" has an internal and long-lasting meaning. Romance has bloomed here. It certainly did for me.

The former Tori Wagner used to work part time in Vistas (if you remember that section, you are a longtime reader). She worked under Annabel Schmelzle, who had her own News-Gazette romance: She met her husband-to-be here when he was city editor and she a reporter. She resigned after they married but rejoined the paper after he died.

The family theme applied not only to weddings, but also baby showers. My daughter's was held here in 1996. She slept through the whole thing.

Like a lot of workplaces, News-Gazette co-workers become like family to one another. I had that experience in my first week on the job. John Beck, my first boss, introduced me to Nancy Hadler Tully, who worked on the night copy desk.

"Are you John Corkery's brother?"

Nancy and John were friends in college. We became friends, too.

For the one year our careers overlapped, she became the older sister that I never had. She was the first to defend me if the criticism was harsh, and she was the first to scold me when I had it coming.

And it was her job as the night copy desk slot — a sort of shift supervisor — to bark at reporters writing on deadline.

"Put a -30- on it!"

Back when we wrote stories on typewriters, a reporter would put a -30- to indicate the end of the story.

So it is for me. Time to put a -30- on it.

After nearly 38 wonderful, productive years, I have retired from The News-Gazette. Lest anyone get the wrong idea, this is my choice. I walk away a happy man.

Dan Corkery lives in Urbana.

Sections (2):Columns, Opinion