Fabled bureau to file final page at year’s end
“Chicago Tribune, December 2, 2005—The Front Page gave way to the Internet age Thursday as the City News Service checked out.
Dec. 31 will be the last day of operation for the 115‑year‑old news service where generations of reporters learned the abiding lesson of journalistic skepticism: If your mother says she loves you, check it out…”
The City News Bureau was every bit as much of a news bureau as the Associated Press or the United Press. City News however was a great deal smaller and largely relegated to the police beat in the greater Chicago area. In addition the bureau was staffed mostly with aspiring journalists working their very first job in the world of reporting. It was the proverbial bottom of the totem pole.
In the early 70’s at the Maxwell Street Homicide office, city news reporters were a fixture in the squad room, especially during the late evening/early morning hours on slow news days. We were the “murder factory” and the odds were high that the next homicide would come through this office. These hapless young reporters, mostly men, were thrown into a sink or swim training ground where hazing was oft times the order of the day. Cynical homicide detectives were all too eager to participate. Thousands of journalists began their career this way and many went on to fame and fortune, among them columnist Mike Royko, novelist Kurt Vonnegut and cartoonist Herb Block. No doubt more than one developed a dislike for police during their journalistic basic training.
To the crusty homicide guys these newbie reporters were fair game. Many of us were merciless, inviting them to make themselves comfortable… “Hang your coat here in the squad room.” Later in the cold winter evening, their boots would be partially filled with water in anticipation of that rush call to a murder scene. Other times they would be invited to share a hot cup of squad room coffee with guys. Any sense of comradery was dashed when they discovered a foreign object at the bottom of their cup. It was great fun and not a single cop in the group, including me, ever contemplated seeing these people in later years.
It has always been difficult for me to pick on the little guys… I despised bullies and many times I sensed these naive kids were near tears. No doubt I participated in some of the mischief but I also remember feeling vaguely uncomfortable on many occasions, even though I don’t have any specific memory of my personal behavior.
Fast forward some fifteen years… I am a Sergeant now, working in the department’s Video Services Section. We find ourselves summoned to the mayor’s office to videotape a personal message to a charitable organization. To say we were nervous would be a supreme understatement. None of us had ever met the Mayor. As we readied our equipment I reviewed everything that could go wrong. It was a long list. We tried to at least plan for every eventuality.
The hour arrived and we found ourselves waiting in the outer office with a sense of foreboding. This experience could easily turn into a disaster given the combination of high tech equipment and what we perceived as an impatient mayor with no tolerance for mistakes. Without fanfare the door to the inner office suddenly opened and we were ushered in with our flatbed truck full of lighting and video equipment. I scanned the unfamiliar surroundings… The mayor was sitting behind a large desk befitting the office. At the far left a young man was sitting on a straight chair leaning precariously against the wall. His tie was loose and his shirtsleeves rolled up. He looked at me and literally leapt from his chair.
“Jim, Jim Padar!” he yelled. Sensing my confusion he held out his hand. “I’m Chief of Staff here now. What are you doing here Jim?”
My mind raced as I shook his hand and explained my present assignment. I recognized from the media that he was one of the mayor’s top aides. But how on earth did he know me? I had no recollection of how I might know him. He turned almost immediately to a slightly startled mayor.
“Mayor, I want to introduce you to one of Chicago’s finest officers. Sergeant Jim Padar, a real gentleman. I met Jim at Maxwell Street Homicide when I was a City News reporter. He’s a really good man!” He was positively effusive.
The mayor greeted me cordially and I introduced the rest of my team. For our crew it was the beginning of a warm relationship with the city’s chief executive officer.
Later as we packed up for the day I chuckled to my self. Somehow, some way deep inside, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff knew that years ago I was not the one who put a condom in his coffee.