- Historic Sites
The Life And Death Of A Great Newspaper
Horace Greeley founded the “Trib”— and the union that eventually helped kill it. But in 125 years it knew many a shining hour.
October 1967 | Volume 18, Issue 6
Riddle-me-this was not the only game that Tribune copy editors began playing with the headlines, however. They were also fond of cryptograms. Too many readers, Denson seemed to feel, were scanning headlines and skipping stories. While he had a say in it, they would have to read the stories to find out what was going on. Some headlines became as obscure as the Tilden cipher dispatches. Such pretentious efforts as “PRESIDENT ON CENSORING: EXPLORATION & PROMISE” seemed to be promising an omniscience that the accompanying stories could not, unfortunately, live up to. Readers too soon realized that the body type made a liar out of the headlines. Many of the stories were merely warmed-over compilations of wire-service reports rewritten in the office with no more insight into background or true meaning of any event than was available, over the same wires, to any newspaper. And no amount of writing—to Denson’s credit, he recognized and encouraged good writing—could gloss over the fact that the Herald Tribune was still being beaten on local stories. The paper’s face might be changing, but one custom remained intact. At 10:15 each weekday evening, when the Times came up, Tribune rewritemen were sent scurrying to their typewriters for “recoveries.”
However effortless Denson’s free-form kind of newspaper may have seemed to the reader, it did require the editor to spend hours puttering over makeup, contriving headlines, revising them and changing type size or play. Often he would still be at work after deadline, a situation that sent the management analysts back to their slide rules. Late press runs, they warned Whitney, were costing him $85,000 a year, and reluctantly the publisher allowed Herald Tribune President Walter Thayer to issue Denson an ultimatum: either submit to the appointment of a “copy control editor” with the authority to put the paper in on time, or get out. Denson chose to get out, and the editorship of the Tribune devolved on a young man Denson himself had hired away from the Miami Daily News, James G. Bellows. Just after the change at the helm, in October, 1962, the paper’s momentum was cruelly slowed by the first of the series of labor shutdowns that eventually convinced the publisher that there was no future for the Herald Tribune. The major editorial development of the Bellows regime was destined to be the “Sunday Punch,” a highly promoted facelifting of the Sunday paper.
But whatever the Herald Tribune’s journalistic prospects may have been, the primary cause of its suspension remains the culmination of its lifelong Cain-Abel relationship with Horace Greeley’s other child, Typographical Union Number Six—and the other nine newspaper unions that descended from it. After the 114-day shutdown of 1962-63, the paper shut down again in September, 1964, to honor its gentleman’s agreement with the struck Times. Whitney kept faith with his fellow publishers for seven days and then, belatedly, he re-opened the doors of the Herald Tribune. The step came too late to save the paper—merger talks were well under way.
On March 21, 1966, Whitney, William Randolph Hearst, Jr., and Roy Howard announced the formation of the World Journal Tribune Corporation, which, they hoped, would publish the Herald Tribune in the morning, a combined World Journal in the evening, and a doubly combined World Journal Tribune on Sundays. Immediately, difficulties sprang up—the principal one involving manning requirements of the unions and the question of layoffs. When negotiations dragged on without resolution, it became apparent that yet another strike was destined to accompany the formation of the merged enterprise on April 25.
When the writers and editors of the Herald Tribune set to work on the last paper on Saturday, April 23, there was little indication that there would, somehow, be a tomorrow. Still, as it had for a century and a quarter, the work of the paper went on. Stories were written, edited, and set into type, and papers came off the presses, to be hawked about the city just as in the days of Horace Greeley. Shortly before 10 P.M., Inky Blackman finished the news story that was to be the Tribune’s, final word. True to Tribune tradition, it was well written. Fittingly, it was an obituary.
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1 It is ironic in this context that the quotation most often attributed to him, “Go West, young man,” was not original with Greeley, but represented, rather, the advice of an Indiana editor, John Soule of the Terre Haute Express, and was always so attributed by Greeley.