By Michael Miner

Hock the Herald?

“What is going on with the Daily Herald? Sell rumors of all kinds are swirling around our newsroom. Some people say the paper is about to be sold to the Tribune. Another side says Hollinger. Still others believe an as-yet-unmentioned media chain is interested. But though we may not know who the buyer is, most of us believe the Paddock family is selling…”

Few who hear the rumor pray it’s true, but it does have the ring of irresistible destiny. In these times, rare is the newspaper reporter who doesn’t work for one of the massive chains that sprawl across states and continents; rarer still is the reporter who doesn’t and wishes he did. No one feels safe. Family-owned newspapers like the Herald are going the way of family-owned pharmacies and corner groceries. But while the druggists and grocers are ground to dust underfoot, the papers are swallowed alive.

In the eyes of a voracious conglomerate, the Daily Herald is an especially delectable meal. It’s a thriving daily with a circulation of about 150,000 that reaches a perfect audience–the suburban well-to-do. Even better, the family that owns it might be ready to abandon ship. The above letter was written to me in late summer. The Herald’s future became even more conjectural on October 4, when Robert Y. Paddock, executive vice president and vice chairman of the board of Paddock Publications, died at the age of 82. His sister Margie Flanders had died in 1997, and of the Paddock siblings who controlled the Herald during its ascent to suburban powerhouse, only one now remains: older brother Stuart Paddock Jr., chairman of the company. Stuart Paddock is 84 and requires an electric scooter to move about.

The future of the newspaper that his grandfather Hosea Paddock founded in 1872 preoccupies him. “We have no intention of selling the company,” Stuart Paddock told me this week. “After I’m gone, things are set up so we will continue as a family-owned family business.” That setup is something the family doesn’t wish to discuss, but it must somehow contend with whopping inheritance taxes, plus the reluctance of Stuart Jr., who holds a majority of the Paddock stock, to pass control to his son Stuart III. At one time the heir apparent, who moved from department to department for grooming, Stuart III is at this time too ill to take over.

“One of the things that’s good about a family operation is there’s an overriding commitment,” says Robert Paddock Jr., who’s vice president for administration and now controls his late father’s and late aunt’s shares. “If I get hit by a newspaper truck tomorrow and bite the dust, our family and the executives we’ve hired can carry on our commitment.” He said his uncle has created a trust that guarantees the Herald will go on as a family paper “come hell or high water.”

But don’t blame anyone who doubts it. While little family papers were gobbled up like Ritz crackers, high-profile dailies such as the Fields’ Chicago Sun-Times and the Binghams’ Louisville Courier-Journal fell to the desire of a diffused and indifferent younger generation to get its money out of the family firm and do something original with it.

“Everybody who’s grown up in a family business has those moments when you sort of wonder if this is what you want to do,” says Robert Jr. “When I was younger I served a stint in VISTA, and I did a little bit of resort work and some other things, a little time in the army. I came back and worked my way through school and found the paper very rewarding.”

A motto coined by his great-grandfather still runs each day on the editorial page. “Our aim: To fear God, tell the truth and make money.” Robert Jr. says he’s never tired of the ring of it.

But the woods are full of predators. One-on-one, the Sun-Times can’t compete with the Tribune; but Hollinger, the chain that owns the Sun-Times, has also bought up the Post-Tribune, the Daily Southtown, and the Pioneer Press and Star papers. It lusts for the Daily Herald; Sun-Times editor Nigel Wade openly imagines a “Sun-Herald” that is the region’s biggest, most powerful newspaper. If Hollinger could add the Herald to its ring of iron, it would not only have the Tribune’s attention but have it at two in the morning. Little ever seems to ruffle the Tribune, but it was described to me as so “paranoid” about Hollinger and Paddock’s intentions that it would buy the Herald to bust up that romance.

It isn’t much of a romance, but Hollinger and the Herald have done some business together. The Herald has swapped suburban briefs for city briefs with the Sun-Times, and it has pooled minor-league sports coverage with the Southtown. These deals invite speculation that Hollinger has slipped its foot inside the Paddocks’ door, but Herald publisher Daniel Baumann says not so. “Certainly not from our perspective,” he told me. “Newspapers across the country are developing cooperative efforts. I think that’s a normal part of the way business is being done these days.”

“You know that old saw about ink being in the blood?” says Robert Paddock Jr. “These days, maybe it’s electrons in the blood. As the economy and the medium have changed we don’t just think in terms of a newspaper. We think of it as information and different ways of delivering that. And that’s pretty exciting.

“Not to wax philosophical about religion, but that stuff I was saying about fearing God and telling the truth is journalism. In whatever form. The exciting thing in our business is how to balance idealism, journalism, and the need to put bread on the table.

“Over the years we’ve had a variety of inquiries. I guess we’re one of the few papers that are growing, and that always attracts interest.”

Is there a price you couldn’t say no to?

“No,” he says, “I don’t think so.”

Hitting Ryan Right Between the Elections

The Tribune has had it with Governor Ryan. “Your silence is deafening,” the Tribune’s editorial page told him last Thursday. “The United States attorney just announced new charges in the licenses-for-cash scandal at your old bailiwick, the secretary of state’s office, and all you can do is send out a spokesman to say how angry you are.

“But what about you, Governor? What does this spreading scandal say about the way you managed–or mismanaged–that office? And can the citizens of Illinois rest assured that nothing similar will happen now that you’re in the governor’s office?”

The Tribune accused the governor of “moral blindness” and warned him, “We need answers, Gov. Ryan. From you.”

The scandal is of course about license-facility employees selling commercial licenses to truck drivers in exchange for cash that wound up in Ryan’s political war chest. And among the alleged license purchasers was Ricardo Guzman, whose truck threw a bracket in Wisconsin in 1994, causing the deaths of six children. “Maybe most damning of all is that Ryan’s gubernatorial opponent last year, Glenn Poshard, apparently was right,” the Tribune asserted. “But for the bribe-taking in the secretary of state’s office, Richard Guzman…would not have been on the road.”

It’s damning indeed for a Republican to allow events to vindicate a Democrat. Unfortunately for Poshard, being right a year ago about cash for favors simply made him a premature anticashist. Noting last October that there was no proof Guzman had “illegally obtained a commercial driver’s license,” the Tribune denounced Poshard for “seeking political gain from the deaths of six children.” Later that month the newspaper gave Ryan a ringing endorsement for governor, though it did allow that its enthusiasm was “tempered” by the license scandal.

Now Ryan’s in so much trouble that the only way the Tribune will forgive him is if he runs for reelection.

News Bites

Why one newspaper is never enough. Here, condensed but with nothing significant omitted, is a Sun-Times brief that appeared October 1: “The mother of Baby T [Tina Olison] testified Thursday that she thinks the 3-year-old’s behavior problems stem partly from the way Ald. Edward Burke (14th) and Appellate Judge Anne Burke have been rearing her son in foster care….Olison later acknowledged that Baby T–born with cocaine in his system–loves the Burkes….She said she would like to begin talking with Anne Burke instead of exchanging notes.”

And here, also condensed, is the Tribune take on the same hearing: “Tina Olison, the mother of Baby T, denied Thursday that she refused to cooperate with white social workers assigned to her custody case….

Olison, who is black, reiterated that she was concerned about white social workers’ and therapists’ ability to be sensitive to African-American culture. She was steadfast in her claim, however, that she never refused to work with white therapists and social workers. But Arthur Bishop, Baby T’s caseworker…testified Thursday that ‘[Olison] said she was not going to engage in any form of therapy with a white person.'”

Maybe the reporters covered the hearing in shifts.

The Community Media Workshop of Columbia College has just come out with the expanded ninth edition of Getting on the Air & Into Print, its invaluable media guide. The listings of E-mail and Web-site addresses are 50 percent longer, and there’s more outside advertising, an encouraging sign that the guide’s cost–now $55 to nonprofit groups, $99 to everyone else–is being whipped into submission.