Chicago Sun-Times - The 1980s

The 1980s

On July 17, 1980 the Sun-Times erroneously ran a front-page story proclaiming presidential candidate Ronald Reagan had selected former president Gerald Ford as his running mate. Later that year, the Sun-Times hired syndicated TV columnist Gary Deeb away from the Chicago Tribune. Deeb then left the Sun-Times in the spring of 1983 and moved into television at WLS-TV in September 1983.

In July 1981, prominent Sun-Times investigative reporter Pam Zekman, who had been part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning team with the Tribune in 1976, announced she was leaving the Sun-Times to join WBBM-TV in August 1981 as chief of its new investigative unit. "Salary wasn't a factor," she told the Tribune. "The station showed a commitment to investigative journalism. It was something I wanted to try."

In January 1984, noted Sun-Times business reporter James Warren quit to join the Tribune. He would go on to become the Tribune's Washington bureau chief and later its managing editor for features.

In 1984, Field sold the paper to Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, and the paper's style changed abruptly toward that of its suitemate New York Post. Its front pages tended more to the sensational, apart from concluding the newspaper's editorial shift to a pro-Republican tendency, which started with the Sun-Times' endorsement of Richard Nixon in the 1968 elections, meanwhile the Trib since the mid-1970's geared towards a moderate stance swinging between liberalism and its more classic conservatism, ending the city's clear division between the two newspapers' politics. This shift was made all but official when Mike Royko defected to the Tribune.

Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert later reflected on the incident with much disdain, stating in his blog,

On the first day of Murdoch's ownership, he walked into the newsroom and we all gathered around and he recited the usual blather and rolled up his shirtsleeves and started to lay out a new front page. Well, he was a real newspaperman, give him that. He threw out every meticulous detail of the beautiful design, ordered up big, garish headlines, and gave big play to a story about a North Shore rabbi accused of holding a sex slave.

The story turned out to be fatally flawed, but so what? It sold papers. Well, actually, it didn't sell papers. There were hundreds of cancellations. Soon our precious page 3 was defaced by a daily Wingo girl, a pinup in a bikini promoting a cash giveaway. The Sun-Times, which had been placing above the Tribune in lists of the 10 best U.S. newspapers, never took that great step it was poised for.

Murdoch sold the paper in 1986 (to buy its former sister television station WFLD to launch the Fox network) for $145 million in cash in a leveraged buyout to an investor group led by the paper's publisher, Robert E. Page, and the New York investment firm Adler & Shaykin.

In 1984, Roger Simon, who had been a Sun-Times columnist for a decade, quit to join the Baltimore Sun, where he would work until 1995. Simon quit the paper because of Murdoch's purchase of it. Beginning in October 1984, Simon's columns from Baltimore began appearing in the rival Chicago Tribune.

In December 1986, the Sun-Times hired high-profile gossip columnist Michael Sneed away from the rival Chicago Tribune, where she had been co-authoring the Tribune's own "Inc." gossip column with Kathy O'Malley. On December 3, 1986, O'Malley led off the Tribune's "Inc." column with the heading "The Last to Know Dept." and writing, "Dontcha just hate it when you write a gossip column and people think you know all the news about what's going on and your partner gets a new job and your column still has her name on it on the very same day that her new employer announces that she's going to work for him? Yeah, INC. just hates it when that happens."

In February 1987, the popular syndicated advice column Ask Ann Landers (commonly known as the "Ann Landers" column and written at that point by Eppie Lederer) left the Sun-Times after 31 years to jump to the rival Chicago Tribune, effective March 15, 1987. The move sparked a nationwide hunt for a new advice columnist at the Sun-Times. After more than 12,000 responses from people aged 4 to 85, the paper ultimately hired two: Jeffrey Zaslow, then a 28-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter, and Diane Crowley, a 47-year-old lawyer, teacher and daughter of Ruth Crowley, who had been the original Ann Landers columnist from 1943 until 1955. The Sun-Times fired Crowley in September 1993, and the paper decided not to renew Zaslow's contract in 2001.

By the summer of 1988, Page and Adler & Shaykin managing partner Leonard P. Shaykin had developed a conflict, and in August 1988, Page resigned as publisher and president and sold his interest in the paper to his fellow investors.

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