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.

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An Obituary Leads to Discovery

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

A while back I read an obituary about a Chicago man who had quite an accomplished career, one similar to mine, at least in terms of the path he followed.

The gentleman, who’s name I’ll keep confidential, started in the news business in the mid-1940s making $35 per week.  For comparison, my first job out of college at the City News Bureau paid $100 per week to start; but that was in early 1977.

What's in a name? In a different era it defined a business.

What’s in a name? In a different era it defined a business.

The man later made the switch to public relations because it paid more money, which he needed to support his growing family.  I left journalism because I couldn’t get hired by a Chicago daily, and I was tired of covering school board and town council meetings for a suburban weekly.

One PR/advertising shop he worked at during his distinguished career was the New York-headquartered Albert Frank-Guenther Law, acknowledged as one of the first firms to specialize in financial communications.  The agency was founded in 1872, a few years after titans of advertising James Walter Thompson and Francis Wayland Ayer opened their shops.

Fittingly for this conversation, Albert Frank also was my first agency experience.  My boss, John Graham, and I served banks and bond houses by producing redemption notices called “tombstones.”  I was thrilled to get the opportunity to draft a news release and do some media relations.

Could not find the Albert Frank-Guenther Law logo, so this one will have to do.

Could not find the Albert Frank-Guenther Law logo, so this one will have to do.

In researching this post, I learned that Albert Frank now only exists in the memories of those who worked there and in news archives.  As noted in this New York Times article, a company called Citigate Group, Ltd. bought the firm and a sister agency in 1996 from what apparently what Albert Frank had become — a holding company.

Citigate, or rather Citigate Dewe Rogerson, still exists and apparently is thriving, with offices on three continents.

But the Albert Frank-Guenther Law name is gone.

Many service companies — like public relations and advertising agencies, accounting and law firms, and others — were named after the men and women who founded them.  When the business is sold, the name and in many cases, the history of the company is tossed aside, surfacing now and then in innocuous places like obituaries.

Albert Frank-Guenther Law was in business for 124 years, a remarkable history for any company.  I’m proud to say I played a small role in that history, just like the fellow newsman/PR guy whose obit inspired these thoughts.