Could It Really Be 40 Years?

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

That’s not a misprint.

Yes, I’ve been part of the communications industry in Chicago for 40 years this month.

I’ll spare the melancholy and pathos about “where did all the time go?” Like everyone on this earth, I live and breathe 24 hours each day, arguably some days spent more productively than others.

So where did it all begin?

city-news-bureauIf memory serves me correctly, on one day in late February of 1977 I reported to the City News Bureau of Chicago for my first day as a reporter. The job meant covering homicides, assaults, thefts, fires and other bad stuff taking place in the city back then. Unfortunately, lots of bad stuff continues to happen here.

It was my first job after graduating from Illinois State University with a degree in English and minor in Journalism. I wanted to be a reporter — and now I was a reporter!

Couldn't find an image from 1977, so this one, taken last year, will have to suffice.

Couldn’t find an image from 1977, so this one, taken last year, will have to suffice.

My first day, I recall, was spent with a more seasoned journalist at the old 18th District Chicago Police Department station on West Chicago Avenue, where we followed up on pending investigations. We also did some reporting related to the aftermath of the horrible CTA elevated train wreck that took place February 4 of that year; 11 people were killed.

In the 14,600 days (give or take a few) since my introduction to the real world I’ve held a few other positions; well, actually quite a few other positions.

I left journalism in the early 1980s to pursue an in-house communications position with a community college, my first exposure to the public relations arena. Although I consider myself a newsman at heart and relished those opportunities to cover a breaking story, my path for the remainder of my professional career has centered on public relations.

And that’s where it will stay.

But perhaps not for another 40 years.

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Just What Constitutes a “Cheap” Story These Days?

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Just about every profession has its jargon — words or phrases unique to those in that industry.

Determining that a news story was "cheap" exemplifies the jargon used in the news business.

Determining that a news story was “cheap” exemplifies the jargon used in the news business.

That certainly was the case when I worked many years ago as a reporter, writer and editor at the City News Bureau of Chicago, the long-gone, unquestionably legendary local wire service.

I recall directives from the city desk editor to “sub out” (write a concluding story based on updated information) a news event that happened earlier.  Or, the desk would order me to write “two books” (a reference to the stationery we used to type out copy — a main sheet followed by three sheets of paper with carbon paper in between) on proceedings that took place that day at Criminal Courts.

And, there was the decision to label a story as being “cheap,” or meaning it didn’t have a lot of sustaining news value.

Fires, burglaries, robberies, accidents and yes, even homicides, could be “cheap” and then “cheaped out,” or not worthy of more reporting and distribution of a subsequent story over the wire.

These days, some stories that would have been considered “cheap” in the late 1970s have dominated the news, and for good reason.

I’m referring to those related to the number of maddeningly persistent and seemingly uncontrollable shootings that have taken place in Chicago these past few years.

Perhaps things would be a lot better if this was the only type of gun available?

Perhaps things would be a lot better if this was the only type of gun available?

I couldn’t find statistics from the years I covered police, fire and courts for City News, but this Chicago Tribune web page graphically illustrates the sad truth about the numbers of people shot here in 2015 and so far this year.

Grim, isn’t it? Nearly 3,000 people shot last year and more than 300 shot during the first six weeks of 2016.

One recent shooting, one that may have been “cheaped out” years ago hopefully will galvanize Chicago — its people, its elected officials, its police — to work collectively to halt the shootings plaguing the city.

Last week, a 16-year-old girl on her way to school was shot in the leg, the victim of a horrific morning exchange of gun play near her home in West Humboldt Park.  Fortunately, she survived, but of course, she’ll have to live with the physical and emotional scars forever.

My friend Juan operated a store at this location until he was shot and killed there one fall evening.

My friend Juan operated a store at this location until he was shot and killed there one fall evening.

My friend Juan was not so fortunate.  Juan (I’ll keep his last name confidential) operated a small convenience store across from our home. He worked 16 hours a day, every day, until one Sunday evening in October of 2007 when someone shot and killed Juan inside the store.

To my knowledge, no one has been charged in Juan’s murder; his store was closed years ago.

Back in the 1970s, there were lots of “cheap” shootings and other kinds of crime. I’d like to think we — as a society — would have learned the value of life and the devastation caused by guns during those many years.

How Would My Old Mustang Rate Against the 50th Anniversary Model?

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

A few months after graduating from Illinois State University, I made one of the biggest decisions of my life: The purchase of my first car.

Short on cash — well, more accurately, being a few dollars away from penniless and living with my parents — I fully realized my budget would only allow for the acquisition of a modest vehicle.  Very modest, as a matter of fact, since my weekly salary at the City News Bureau of Chicago (my first real post graduate job) was just $100 per week.

After a few months of commuting solely by public transit, I made the plunge in mid 1977 and purchased a yellow 1967 Ford Mustang from a guy in the old 64BRCH00_smallneighborhood. The price: $200.

It had some rust, the radio didn’t work, the tires were mismatched and it burned oil — lots of oil.  But it was mine, and after a rebuilt starter, some new used tires and an oil change, it ran fairly well, getting me to and from news assignments, visits to ISU and back home for more than a year.  I have no recall as to the number of miles the vehicle had.

Built to be an affordable sports coupe, the Mustang was a phenomenal success, selling more than 400,00 units in its first year.  It had a long, sloping hood, bucket seats, a floor shifter and a pretty spirited V-6 engine; it was  affordable and sexy, even for a poor young reporter.  My old ’67 gave me mobility, and in retrospect let me partake in history in some small way.  I drove it — rust, bad tires and no radio — for around a year, before I sold it to another guy in the old neighborhood for $100.

The 2015 Ford Mustang: Still sleek and sexy after all these years.

The 2015 Ford Mustang: Still sleek and sexy after all these years.

On December 5, Ford debuted the latest version of the so-called “pony” car, which now in its 50th year, can truly be called an American icon.

The new red  model in the picture here certainly has the same lines as my ’67 and still features the galloping mustang logo, still one of the coolest and most recognizable ever for car.

Don’t think my Mustang would be able to keep pace with this modern beauty, which might have the optional 5.0-liter V8, 420 horsepower engine.  Still, if you offered me the keys to one or the other, I probably would pick my old ’67.

There’s something about your first that sticks with you a long time. What was your first car?

My Favorite Christmas Memory, Before There Were Computers

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

This time of year is a great time for lots of things. Most people relish the holidays for the opportunity to visit with family and friends. Others revel in the pageantry. And, of course, there are those who like to give an receive.

Me, I like the opportunity to reflect on the year that unfolded and what made it memorable, different or poignant.

As a student at Illinois State University, I recall attending a presentation by iconic author Truman Capote. This true man of letters was diminutive, as you may know, but a giant when putting words on paper.  Mr. Capote read a delightful Christmas themed short story, “A Christmas Memory,” then answered questions.  I recall he was very, very engaging.  And, I recall he did not have anything pleasant to say about Gore Vidal.

Here’s one Christmas memory that will resonate with me forever.  It took place way back in 1978.  For those unfamiliar with that time in history, there were no computers.  I worked as a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago, a place I’ve blogged about before.

That Christmas I was fortunate enough to have been “promoted” to the day shift after 12 months working overnights, which is not something I would trust on anyone, aside perhaps those celluloid vampires that apparently are well en vogue these days.

Back to the story at hand.  My assignment on Christmas Day 1978 was to visit the Salvation Army facility just west of downtown Chicago to do a feature piece on those who had no place to go for a Christmas meal.  The Salvation Army was their only option.

Here’s what I remember.  The facility, located on Ashland Avenue at Adams Street, was clean, bright and inviting.  I walked into a large room and was greeted by a Salvation Army “officer” type of guy in uniform and a stunning woman who was volunteering that day. I told them the purpose of my visit, and they welcomed me to stay for a meal and speak to those unfortunate souls who had no place else to go.

The woman said she was new to Chicago and wanted to do something positive for those in need. As someone who spent every previous Christmas with family, I admired this lady for her generosity.

I spent the next hour speaking with a red-faced man named John and a native American named Fabian Bennet, who later took a turn at a piano in the room and impressed me with his ability to play ragtime music from memory.  And, I stood in line, took a paper plate and plastic utensils and enjoyed turkey, dressing and vegetables.  I recall the food was pretty good.

Normally, I would be having Christmas dinner with my family.  This year, I dined with what used to be called “bums.”  That Christmas Day, in that brightly lit room, everyone had dignity. Everyone was part of an informal family. No one was a bum.

It was a very cold Christmas Day that year, and the desk sent me to cover a fire nearby before I could write the Salvation Army piece. Fortunately, no one was injured in the blaze, and I had the good fortune of spending some time in a mobile unit sent by the Red Cross, a place where firemen — and cold reporters — could get some warmth. I called in details of the fire from a pay phone, giving a rewrite guy the information he needed to file the story before it went over the wire.

Back at the City News office at 188 West Randolph Street, I filed my story.  I recall the lead was something like this: “They filtered into the West Side facility cold, hungry and a bit disillusioned about Christmas. They left warm, well fed and with a gift under their arm.  They were the poor and downtrodden of Chicago who spent Christmas at the Salvation Army.”

My editor applauded my work, and I was pretty proud of it.  I wrote it on a manual typewriter, which is what we used back then before there were computers.  The memories of that Christmas Day in 1979 spent with those who had a lot less than me were conveyed into one of the best stories I ever filed.

If you have a Christmas memory to share, please do so.  If not, have a Merry Christmas from the PRDude.

My “Other” First Time

Two posts ago, I recounted a pivotal, make that breakthrough, occurrence in my life:  My debut experience earning money to communicate through writing.  (For the record, I got one hundred bucks from a veteran’s group for drafting an essay on something to do with attending college.  It’s a stretch, I know, but technically it’s accurate.)

Now, I’m going to chronicle my “other” first time:  My first “real” communications-related job after graduating college.  There’s a lesson here, one that especially holds true today — to me and lots of others in public relations and just about every other industry.  I’ll even provide a link to a post from a nationally-known public relations leader that puts it all into perspective.

But I digress.

After graduating from Illinois State University during the very cold winter of 1976-1977, I was stymied as to what to do.  I knew what I wanted to do: Become a reporter here in my native Chicago.   After all, I wrote columns and covered student government for the ISU student newspaper, the Vidette.  I was convinced I had the right stuff to be a reporter.  Chicago still had three daily newspapers at the time, the leading wire services maintained bureaus here and community newspapers were probably at their strongest.

There had to be a slot for me somewhere.  Attempts to break in with the dailies and community press proved futile, although I did secure an interview with the Associated Press, thanks to a referral from a guy who once worked there as a copy boy.  (Talk about a position that went the way of the horse and buggy! When did newspapers and wires stop using copy boys?)

Despondent, I scanned the help wanted ads for something — anything — related to communicating through words on paper.  I found an opportunity with one of the largest, best-know, most prestigious media companies in the world — Time-Life!  But, no, I was not given a staff editorial position with one of the magazines.  Didn’t even make it to the copy boy level.   I landed a part-time job making out-bound calls for Time-Life Libraries selling books like “Foilage Houseplants.”   To my credit, I sold two books.

However, an opportunity surfaced — thanks to a referral from the guy who was my scoutmaster.  He referred me to a man who staffed a small financial advertising agency office on LaSalle Street, our financial district.   That man could not hire me, but he reached out to a friend in the advertising department at the Chicago Tribune for advice.  The Trib guy recommended the City News Bureau of Chicago, the renowned local wire service.  I never heard of it, but I learned they hired kids with little to no journalism experience, worked you hard and paid $100 a week.

The Trib guy made a call, I secured an interview with the managing editor and flat out asked for the job — something my ad agency friend instructed me to do.  Imagine how I felt when I road the elevator down from the seventh floor of the 188 W. Randolph St. tower, knowing I got a job as a reporter.

I’ll save my City News stories — and there are a lot of them — for another day, another post.  The lesson, of course, was that I used my network to break into the news business.  When I thanked the ad guy and asked how I could repay his thoughtfulness, he replied: “Someday you’ll have the opportunity to help someone in the business world.  Repay the favor that way.”

I’ve kept that directive close to heart, and I hope I’ve done enough to help others get that proverbial foot in the door.   Last week, I read a post by Gerard Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA,  the Secretary of the PRSA Board of Directors and CEO of Redphlag, a consulting firm in California.

Mr. Corbett pointed out that especially now, when jobs are scarce, public relations professionals should support each other through referrals and requests for advice and direction.  He states it very well in this blog posted on the PRSA blog site.

Let me conclude with this musical suggestion for any job seeker — whether it’s public relations or another industry — who’s feeling a little beat up.  It’s the gospel chestnut, “Keep on the Sunny Side,” performed by two titans of country music.


My First Time

No, not that first time.  This is a blog about public relations and my quest to get back into the profession on a full-time basis.  I’m sure you could find a lot of commentary to the “that first time” topic many, many other places online.

I’m referring to the first time I ever got paid to communicate.  Here’s what happened.

In the summer of 1973, I learned of an opportunity to receive a $100 grant that would be awarded to a high school graduate who wrote the most compelling essay on some subject relating to higher education.  I honestly don’t recall the exact theme.  I do recall putting a lot of effort into the essay, then typing and retyping it on my trusty Smith Corona manual portable typewriter.  The word count was probably less than 500 words.

The organization granting this (at the time) quite princely sum was a Chicago chapter of the Polish Legion of American Veterans Ladies Auxiliary, of which my Aunt Stella was an officer.  Aunt Stella encouraged me to contribute an essay, as I had aspirations of becoming a journalist.

I could do this.  I was editor of my high school newspaper, the Holy Trinity Gold and Blue, after all!  And, for the first five or so years of my professional career, I was a newsman, including three years with the legendary City News Bureau of Chicago.   (My City News years should be the subject for a future post or posts; there are lots of memories.)

Anyway, my essay won.  I made myself and my family proud, especially Aunt Stella who always encouraged me to read and study; and it was Stella’s ancient manual typewriter that I first typed on.

The Ladies Auxiliary recognized me at an event, at which time I was awarded the $100 check.  I was featured  in an item in the group’s newsletter — my first exposure to personal publicity.

Since then, I’ve been paid quite a few times for communicating. In fact, being a professional communicator has let me live a rewarding, fulfilling and comfortable life.  No mansions or fleet of exotic cars yet. That will happen after Hollywood buys the rights to  my still-under-development novel and gets Damon or DeCaprio to star in the film version.

It’s a privilege and honor to have the skills, resources and drive to compile thoughts and ideas and deliver them in an effective, persuasive way.  And, I remain steadfast in my belief that society today really needs skilled public relations professionals to deliver ideas and invite discourse.

The Public Relations Society of America drives home this contention in the Business Case for Public Relations, its current advocacy campaign:  “Public relations is more vital than ever before, given the explosion of consumer engagement through new and social media, the collapse of reputation and trust in major institutions and the evolving needs and concerns of corporate CEOs.”  Let me augment this statement to include “the evolving needs of every business, organization and government entity.”

Good public relations transcends the so-called C-suite; it’s needed by the line manager, the non-profit professional and local bureaucrat.

I had no concept of public relations when I wrote that winning essay on a manual typewriter a long time ago. A lot certainly has changed — for me and society — since then.  But good written communications had value then, and it has value now.

Do you recall your “first time?”  If so, please feel free to share.  Just keep your thoughts to the subject of this blog, please.