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Chicago's American

Chicago's American, an afternoon newspaper in Chicago, Illinois was the last flowering of the aggressive journalistic tradition depicted in the play and movie The Front Page. The American was published by the Chicago Tribune from 1958 through 1969 and then finally, as Chicago Today, from 1969 until it was closed in 1974.

The American was the product of the merger or acquisition of 14 predecessor newspapers and inherited the tradition, and the files, of all of them.

As an afternoon paper, the American was dependent on street sales rather than subscriptions, and it was breaking news that brought street sales. The American was noted for its aggressive reporting. Its editors, writers, and photographers went hard after every story. It was not uncommon for them to pretend to be police officers or public officials to get a story, although many of them could simply talk their way into any place.

These techniques were usually used legitimately. Reporters would demand information as if they had a right to it and would often get it. With its connections with news sources and its bravado, the small staff of the American regularly scooped its larger and more respectable afternoon competition, the Chicago Daily News[?].

Frank Lloyd Wright announced plans to build a mile-high building in Chicago. The American stole the drawings and printed them.

The tradition was exemplified by the American's longtime night city editor, Harry Romanoff[?], who could create news stories almost at will with only a telephone. Since the afternoon paper was put together the previous evening, the night city editor was the key news editor.

One night floods threatened southern Illinois, and, even worse, the American did not have a big story for the front page. Romanoff called fire departments and police stations throughout the region, posing as "Captain Parmenter of the state police" (a nonexistent individual) urging them to take action. One fire department, bemused by the call, asked what they should do. "Ring those fire bells! Call out the people!"

Romanoff then turned to his rewrite man to dictate the lead story:

Fire bells rang over southern Illinois as police and fire departments called out the people to warn them of impending floods.

It never did flood, but the American had its banner headline. These headlines were necessary for sales of the early editions. Later in the day, breaking news would generally replace them or reduce their importance. Of course, many stories developed in this way were genuine scoops that would be expanded.

The American gave the same attention to smaller stories as to large ones. It was always first with police news. One notable headline:

Mother of 14 kids kills father of 9 in police station

In addition to Romanoff, notable American staff members included:

In the end, TV news brought an end to most afternoon papers, but up until the 1970s, Chicago had a competitive journalistic scene unmatched by most other American cities, five daily papers and four wire services in competition, and none more competitive than Chicago's American.

The American's Predecessor Newspapers

  1. Morning Record, March 21, 1901
  2. Chicago Times, June 1, 1861-March 4, 1895
  3. Chicago Republican, January 16, 1865-March 25, 1872
  4. Inter Ocean, March 25, 1872-May 1914
  5. Chicago Daily Telegraph, 1878-1881
  6. Morning Herald, March 13, 1893-March 21, 1901
  7. Times-Herald, March 4, 1895-March 21, 1901
  8. Chicago American July 4, 1900-August 26, 1939
  9. Record-Herald, March 21, 1901-May 1914
  10. Chicago Examiner, 1902-May 2, 1918
  11. Chicago Herald, May 1914-1918
  12. Herald-Examiner May 2, 1918-August 26, 1939
  13. Herald American August 26, 1939-1958
  14. Chicago's American 1958-1969

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