Chicagoland

Former editors reflect on their time at the paper

By Chicago Catholic
September 6, 2017

Editor A.E.P. Wall (center) looks over an issue coming off the press in this 1977 Chicago Catholic file photo.

A.E.P. Wall  (editor and president of Chicago Catholic Publishing Co., 1976-1984)

A.E.P. “Ed” Wall remembers his time at the New World like this:

A safe but wheezy elevator took me up to the 12th floor of the New World Building on Dearborn Street. It was my first day as editor of the New World, weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago, already 84 years old. The newspaper, that is. I was only 51 and the United States was 200. It was 1976. 

I looked down from my office window into the Richard J. Daley Center, right into the face — I think it was her face — of the 50-foot-high sculpture placed there a few years before by Pablo Picasso. Now the archdiocese celebrates the 125 birthday of its newspaper and Chicago marks the 50th anniversary of its famous Picasso statue of whatever it is. I stared at it a lot, especially when writing editorials, but it remains anonymous. 

In 1976, the New World was written and edited in its venerable office building in downtown Chicago, and printed 162 miles away in Huntington, Indiana. Almost 300,000 copies had to be printed, addressed and mailed. 

Phone calls to the New World were received through a switchboard that seemed to dominate the room, with an operator plugging incoming calls into receptors that connected to office phones. Notes were written by hand in notebooks. Articles were turned out on typewriters. Nobody had heard of a phone that takes pictures, and electronic transmission of entire newspaper layouts was something new, too expensive for tight-budget, non-profit publications.

So, once a week, virtually the whole staff drove to Huntington to put the paper together for printing. This required spending one night in a Huntington hotel each week. When that printing contract expired, we changed to a Chicago printer. 

I was hired by Cardinal John Cody. I had interviewed him, and almost everyone appreciated the journalistic excellence of the New Orleans Catholic weekly when he was archbishop there. I was director and editor-in-chief of the National Catholic News Service in Washington, D.C., when the chance to get back into hands-on newspapering seemed dandy. And my wife was born in Chicago, with many relatives to help her absorb health concerns. 

Cardinal Cody’s Chancery Office was in leased space, and when he suddenly realized the owners of the building were not going to renew the lease under any circumstances, he quickly arranged for the purchase of a building on Superior Street. He phoned one day to tell me he wanted me to sell the New World Building and move the newspaper into the Superior Street property. 

In the new space we provided a news room for the editorial staff of, I think, seven or eight journalists. There was a news library with a full-time librarian, a circulation office, advertising office, business office, editor’s office, a darkroom for a full-time photographer, and a production room for typesetting and page makeup, with a full-time manager. There were word processors for everybody, plus the NC News Service printer, a telex and a connection to the archdiocesan television studio. 

Once we were settled in our new space, Cardinal Cody had another surprise. Taking down the electric sign at The New World Building stirred thoughts about the name itself. The cardinal decided it was time to change the name to something more contemporary. We held a naming contest among readers and were happily surprised by the stacks of suggestions. The cardinal made the final choice, and the prize went to the contestant whose choice of the Chicago Catholic was the first received.  

The managing editor at the time was Joe Kozak, an outstanding journalist with years of experience. Because of health concerns, Joe asked to be relieved of management duties. He edited the Polish column, wrote general news and sports stories, and turned out stunning coverage of the church in Poland. 

He was succeeded by Bob Zyskowski, an exceptionally bright journalist working for the archdiocesan paper in Philadelphia. Mary Claire Gart was a knowledgeable editor on a staff that included such young pros as Chris Gunty, now a major force in American Catholic press and editor in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. James Kilcoyne was a prize-winning photographer. 

Nobody was more important to the welfare of the paper than Dolores Madlener, who was my administrative assistant and encourager. She recently retired after decades on the job. 

Circulation is vital to any newspaper, and was the major measure of success in those days before electronic notebooks and phones that can be read. I think our paid circulation was around 280,000, and most of it was mailed. We promoted circulation by way of paid television commercials. We arranged for the sale of our paper at a number of newsstands, and we used direct mail. But it was the parishes, and the priests, who provided the major support for readership. 

An archdiocesan newspaper is a sign of faith and purpose in the church. It can be prayers in print. 

Wall retired in January 1984.

 
Bob Zyskowski 

Bob Zyskowski was hired as assistant managing editor of the New World in 1977. Several months later, he was promoted to managing editor upon the retirement of Joseph Kozak. He left the paper in 1983.

When he was hired, he said, the paper was a weekly tabloid, probably running about 16 pages. The staff included an editor, managing editor and two staff writers. Advertising had a staff of four. There was a circulation manager, two business office staff and a secretary, and the staff included a part-time priest who was also the pastor of an inner-city parish.

“Two or three months after I arrived, I was asked to redesign the paper,” Zyskowski said. “The New World became the Chicago Catholic, regularly a minimum 24 pages with more modern layout and typography, larger photos, more color, and more local news and feature stories. Chicago Catholic took first place for General Excellence in the annual Catholic Press Association competition in both 1977 and 1978, the first two years it existed. Later during my time we started putting out a Lake County edition, dropping some city news to cover the northern part of the archdiocese.”

While the paper ran all kinds of parish and church news, “What the New World was noted for, were annual Catholic High School All-American sports in both football and basketball. Joe Kozak did an amazing research job putting together those teams, and they were highly regarded across the country.”

Some of Zyskowski’s favorite memories from his time at the paper include the  election of Jane Byrne as the first female mayor of Chicago, and the installation of Archbishop Joseph Bernardin, in addition to Pope John Paul II’s visit.

“My favorite coverage revolved around the May 3, 1983, U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter on war and peace,” Zyskowski said. 

“The U.S. and the Soviet Union were deep in the Cold War at the time, and one issue our cover story described what would happen if a nuclear bomb exploded over the Loop. A graphic with it was the Doomsday Clock, which predicted how many minutes the world was away from nuclear mutual annihilation. Credit for most of it goes to a great reporter, Jim Burke. He was just one of the people who made my time in Chicago memorable, though, because the newsroom team most of those years included a great copy editor named Mary Claire Gart; another terrific reporter, Lou Jacquet; and a photographer who would go anywhere, anytime, Jim Kilcoyne. We had a ball working together, and we did excellent work.”

While the news business has changed, the role of diocesan newspapers has remained constant, Zyskowski said.

“A diocesan newspaper should bring people closer to God,” he said. “It should tell the stories of people living the way Jesus taught us to. It should report on the life of the church, the joys and the sorrows, locally, nationally and internationally. It should share the ordinary’s wisdom and guidance. It should be forum for civil dialogue, a meeting place for various views of how best to live out the Gospel. It should promote events and activities that build community in the local church. And it should lift up the image of the church before the wider community. Above all it should inform and inspire, enriching people’s lives.”

Christopher Gunty

Christopher Gunty started at the Chicago Catholic in 1981 as an intern. He left 3½ years later as managing editor, after an eight-month stint as acting editor.

“I learned a lot working at the Chicago Catholic – both the business side and the newsroom side,” Gunty said in an email interview. “The newspaper came out weekly, with probably about 28-32 pages a week, typically; more if there was a special section. A.E.P. “Ed” Wall was the editor who hired me; Bob Zyskowski was managing editor; Tony Duffy was business manager. We published the texts of Vatican and USCCB documents, because there was no other way for Catholics to have access to them (this was at least a decade before the internet was widely available).”

His first experience with the Chicago Catholic was actually covering one stop on Pope John Paul II’s 1979 visit to Chicago as a freelancer.

“I was a college seminarian at the time, and the pope made a brief address to all the seminarians from Quigley North, Quigley South, Niles College and Mundelein at Quigley South (my alma mater) after his meeting with the U.S. bishops,” Gunty said. “I went to the Chicago Catholic office immediately after the event and cranked out my story, and I got a check the following week. I later came back as an intern, and I was hooked. I told my spiritual director at the seminary that I had found my full-time vocation, since I realized I was not called to be a priest.”

Gunty recalls traveling to Poland and Rome with Cardinal Joseph Bernardin and staff photographer Jim Kilcoyne . “I wrote from some of my favorite datelines ever: Bydgoszcz, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska and other places, often calling in my story via Western Union transcription to the Telex machine in the newsroom,” he said. “We were at a Mass for the feast of the Assumption in Czestochowa, with 160,000 people there for the vigil Mass and probably a quarter-million for the feast day itself. After the Mass, I spoke (with one of our priests translating) with a group of teens who had walked on pilgrimage from Olsztyn, about 250 miles from Czestochowa. They said they felt the need to be near Our Lady of Czestochowa so that Mary could ‘hold them in her arms, as a mother would do.’ That imagery of Mary as a loving mother of all her children has stayed with me to this day, because my mom was like that.”

Diocesan newspapers function hasn’t changed, he said, but the way they accomplish it has.

“That role for diocesan publications has been constantly changing, accelerated by the advance of the internet and social media,” said Gunty, associate publisher/editor of Catholic Review Media in Baltimore. “We cannot rely only on our print publications, because we have to deliver fresh news and info every day to our readers – wherever, whenever, and however they choose to read it. Our websites and our social media strategies have to evolve all the time. That mix is made even more urgent by the fact that few secular daily newspapers have dedicated religion writers anymore. They have more people dedicated to covering golf than faith. That means there is an even bigger gap for us to cover as diocesan journalists, who bring expertise and elements of the faith to our reporting.

“I have served 14 bishops or archbishops in my years in the Catholic press, working for publications in all regions of the country (nine different dioceses, six at a time in Florida). The regional issues are different, sometimes, from what I first experienced in Chicago. But in many ways, we’re still trying to tell the same story: How does our faith in Jesus Christ affect the way Catholics live, and how do we show the face of Jesus to our readers?”

Tom Sheridan

Tom Sheridan was religion editor at the Chicago Sun-Times when he was recruited to be the editor and general manager of what was then the New World in the summer of 1997. 

New World Publications included “the archdiocesan directory, several ancillary publications and a series of money-losing parish newspapers” in addition to the archdiocesan newspaper, and it was housed in the windowless basement of Mercy Boys Home on West Jackson Boulevard.

During Sheridan’s tenure, the paper would move twice: first to space in Catholic Charities’ St. Vincent Center, 721 N. LaSalle St., and then across the street and down a block to leased space at 640 N. La Salle St. “We were, to paraphrase the old song, ‘the oldest established permanent floating newspaper in Chicago,’” he said.

In the nine years Sheridan led the paper, the paper moved from a weekly to an every-two-weeks publication schedule, and the editorial staff shrank as well, as the organization learned to do more with fewer people.

Some of Sheridan’s best memories include covering the elevation of then-Archbishop Francis George to cardinal, as well as his “pilgrimage of faith” with Orthodox Bishop Iakovos to Istanbul, and to visit with Pope Paul II at the Vatican.

He also recalls receiving calls and letters from Catholics who did not always appreciate that not everyone shared their perspectives.

“There were always more complaints about what the Catholic New World did and what it didn’t do,” he said. “And often the complaints were about both sides of the same thing.”

Topics:

  • 125th anniversary

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