Chesterton Tribune

Going Daily: Citizenship and community delivered every day

Back to Front Page
 

 

 
 

 

 

Last in a Series marking

fifty years of the daily

Chesterton Tribune

By KEVIN NEVERS

You have to be well over 50 years old to remember the days when the Chesterton Tribune was still a weekly newspaper.

And in the half century since the Trib began publishing a daily edition—on Monday, April 3, 1961—the Monday-through-Friday schedule has become so closely woven a part of the community’s fabric that even Duneland’s old-timers may not recall the way things used to be.

Coverage so stale it was more like history than reporting.

An honest-to-God drop-dead deadline with consequences: an advertiser’s or community organizer’s one and only shot to make that week’s edition or be out of luck for seven days.

Fewer overall pages per week: just plain less stuff to read.

It’s impossible to calculate now what impact daily publication has had on Duneland. Even at the time—in the months and years after Monday, April 3, 1961—it may have been unclear to folks that changes in the way they lived, worked, and played were originally prompted by, or outright caused by, the daily publication of their hometown newspaper.

Impossible to calculate, yes. But not so hard to speculate.

Begin with this basic fact: the daily Trib was both temporally and spatially a different newspaper.

•Increased timeliness.

•Increased newshole.

News coverage became—literally overnight—a day-after, or sometimes even day-of, thing. Reporters had to work harder and faster to file their stories, and in the process became more professional at their craft with a greater sense of responsibility to their readers.

The result: for the first time in the 77-year history of the Trib folks were treated to full-time, real-time coverage of municipal government.

Meanwhile, then managing editor Warren H. Canright simply had more space to fill over the course of a week. Sometimes that’s a blessing, other times a curse, but either way available newshole spiked by something like 75 percent after the change-over: from the typical weekly 16-page edition to an average total of 28 pages spread over five days.

Pace

If the pace inside the offices of the newly daily Trib was speeding up, outside the same thing was happening in Westchester Township. As the Trib itself noted in that first daily edition, on Monday, April 3, 1961, “There is every indication our community will continue to grow. Every survey points to that. Our location at the foot of Lake Michigan; our proximity to the new port of Indiana; recent industrial development in North Porter County; the recreational facilities of Indiana Dunes State Park; and the fact that we are a part of the Chicago metropolitan area—all point to more and more growth.”

New folks meant new homes, however, and with a spike in residential development sleepy municipal bodies like advisory plan commissions and boards of zoning appeals suddenly found themselves hopping.

“Those boards, like the plan commission, maybe they only met two or three times a year. Now they were starting to meet regularly. So there was a lot of business. And because they were meeting oftener, we were covering them oftener. When we were still a weekly we probably didn’t get to the board of zoning appeals every time. The reporters didn’t always have a lot of enthusiasm for writing up a meeting when the story might already be a week old by the time it got published.”

And so, as a daily, the Chesterton Tribune evolved quickly into the Newspaper of Record in Westchester Township, then—after the Duneland School Corporation was established in 1969—into the Newspaper of Record in Duneland, and finally—in the late seventies and early eighties—into the Newspaper of Record in Porter County.

Call it a boon to grass-roots democracy. “Probably in the long run people had more interest in and information on the so called smaller boards, because they were reading about it the day after it happened,” Warren Canright says.

Then reporter John Canright, on the other hand, has a more assertive recollection: the Trib reporters suddenly became irritants to public officials who much preferred empty meeting rooms. “Routine meetings didn’t always have a reporter when we were a weekly,” he says.

“That changed when we went daily. We did a lot of personal coverage we didn’t do before and it really had an effect on the way the community did business. Sometimes things didn’t exactly happen above board and there it was in the paper, officials doing public business as though they were in private because nobody was attending the meetings.”

Daily publication had one other immediate benefit: it was a much more forgiving format for advertisers and PR types. “It meant a lot to the service and charitable organizations,” Warren Canright says. “If their publicity chairman missed getting something into one day’s paper, why they could get it into the next day’s paper. I think that made a big difference to a lot of organizations.”

Space

But timeliness was only part of the deal. As the Trib declared in advance of the change-over—with emphasis added here—“We are doing this so that our readers will get the local news in all its details while it is fresh.”

“We had the space for fuller board coverage,” Warren Canright says. “We didn’t have to cut some articles down or leave some out.”

So it is today.

Current managing editor Dave Canright’s standing order to reporters in the mornings after night meetings: “Don’t tell me your lead. Tell me how many stories you’re going to write.”

His point: any given board at any given meeting is likely to transact more than one piece of important business. Get the whole story, even if it means more than one story.

Yet municipal news is only one slice of the pie, and probably for some people not nearly the tastiest. More column inches per week meant more coverage per week of the community at large, of its passions and preoccupations, of its quality of life. “The daily Tribune became an effective clearinghouse for the community,” John Canright says. “It helped folks sort out what they wanted and what direction they wanted to go in.”

Just how effective a clearinghouse?

Flash forward 50 years to a random two-week period just two months ago—Monday, Feb. 14, through Friday, Feb. 25, 2011—and count the local photographs which appeared in the Trib’s 10 editions over that period: 61, fully 30 of which were non-sports photos:

•Of non-athletic Duneland Schools events: 11, including the Japanese Olympiad, CHS speech and debate, the Duneland Education Foundation, the All State Band Festival, CHS Family Theater, and CMS Social Studies Community Night.

•Of service and fraternal organization happenings: six, from the Chesterton Lions Club, the Chesterton/Porter Rotary Club, the Duneland Exchange Club, Sigma Alpha, and the Women of the Moose.

•Of Duneland Resale Shop donations: five, to the Table of Plenty and Jacob’s Table, to the SHARE Foundation, to Building Together Duneland, to the Duneland Unit of the Boys and Girls Club of Porter County, and to the Duneland YMCA.

•Of other events: eight, including an award ceremony at the Duneland Y, a contribution by Horizon Bank to the Westchester Neighbors Food Pantry, and a Chesterton Fire Department training exercise.

Dunelanders—and, before the Duneland School Corporation was established in 1969, Westchester Township residents—have always been spirited, compassionate people. The Trib did not—and could not—instill civic-mindedness and generosity where there was none before.

But arguably the daily Trib has done this: by serving as a rallying point, a promoter, a booster, it has focused and channeled Dunelanders’ decency, made them aware every day of opportunities to act and belong, given credit where credit is due to Duneland’s achievers and heroes, and showcased its children as they learned, competed, and excelled.

Somewhere along the way too, you could add, the Trib succeeded in branding Duneland—more effectively than any high-paid consultant ever could—not as a place on a map, not as a tourist destination, but as a community, with a common heart and common values.

The key to all of this was the decision made in 1961 by publisher Warren R. Canright to go daily. The result: a nimbler, faster, far more responsive, and much more capacious newspaper.

 

Posted 4/6/2011