Writing my very first news story that ran in the Messenger Press
By Ray Hanania
The Southwest Messenger Press and publisher Walter H. Lysen gave me my very first opportunity as a professional journalist in 1975 after I had been honorably discharged from military service with the U.S. Air Force.
I was living in Burbank on 84th Street and community residents were being urged by the city to help the Garden Center at 83rd and Austin Avenue by tying up your old newspapers and putting them in a stack by the front curb on garbage days.
Back then, every home would have piles of old newspapers that had been read, re-read and tossed in a pile as the next newspaper was dropped off on the driveway.
The city refuse collectors would come by and pick up the newspaper bundles and recycle them for cash. The money would go to help local disabled families through the Garden Center.
But I noticed that each week an elderly man in a station wagon would drive up and down the streets the night before and in the morning and grab the newspaper bundles.
It bothered me and I went to the Messenger Press newspaper offices and got a chance to meet Lysen, who wrote a weekly column called “All Points Southwest.”
Lysen loved the idea of a story and told me he would pay me 25 cents and inch, plus a photo. That was my very first news story, and the Burbank Police corralled the illegal collection of the newspapers and ticketed the driver.
I remember seeing the story with my byline in the Messenger Press for the very first time. Lysen spoke with me and suggested that I write more and he introduced me to the newspaper’s editor, Mary A. Sinkhorn.
Eventually, the following year the editor of the twice-weekly (Wednesday and Sunday) Southtown Economist newspaper, H. Marlin Landwehr, called me and asked if I would freelance some stories for him. He paid much more.
But I always stayed in touch with Sinkhorn and Lysen, who would sit in a big chair in his newspaper office and scan through a notebook of names and telephone numbers, asking me to interview people.
It’s amazing that in this world of a struggling news media, the Southwest Messenger Press continues until this day to churn out community news in Midlothian, Bremen Township, Oak Lawn, Worth, Palos, Chicago Ridge, Evergreen Park, Mount Greenwood, Scottsdale-Ashburn, Bridgeview, Burbank-Stickney, and Orland Township.
Lysen told me it was important to “get the facts right.” He also often said “make sure to get quotes from people and be accurate.” But the most important thing was to make sure to spell people’s names correctly. “It all starts with the name,” I remember him telling once while we talked in his office.
Of course, my journalism career really took off after those days writing for the Southwest Messenger Press and i began to focus more and more on politics. I was hired by the Southtown in 1978 just before it went Daily. My salary was $150 a week, which was $15 more than a woman reporter who became a good friend who had been there longer, Jodi Mirabelli. She was a great writer and still is, under her married name, Marneris.
I covered education and neighborhood news and then was assigned fulltime to City Hall after the publisher asked if anyone wanted to open a beat for the newspaper there and I was the only one who volunteered to leave the comfort of the Southtown’s offices on 59thth and Harlem Avenue.
About 7 years later, I got hired by the Chicago Sun-Times. But I always had time to talk to Lysen, who was also excited about my career.
Politics, though, can be poisonous and after I left the Sun-Times I did get into a fight with the Messenger Press editors. I don’t remember what it was, but we attacked each other over some politician in our competing columns.
But politics is or should be like a competitive baseball game. You put all the passion into it but once it is over, you set the animus aside and become friends.
I’m proud to occasionally submit something to the Southwest Messenger Press and to see my byline in their newspaper.
There is no better feeling than holding a newspaper and reading a story. It is so much more satisfying than reading news on a computer or a cell phone. The ink would rub off on your fingers, but seeing a story laid-out in a newspaper reflected the care and work that went into getting the story right.
This is a salute to a great newspaper and I am proud to be able to occasionally appear here.
Even more exciting is to see a community newspaper that has dedicated its entire existence to covering community news surviving in today’s difficult economic times.
Thanks Walter and Mary for the opportunity to get into journalism oh so many years ago and for the guidance that they gave me.
(You can read more of Ray Hanania on his website at www.Hanania.com)
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. A political analyst and CEO of Urban Strategies Group, Hanania’s opinion columns on mainstream issues are published in the Southwest News Newspaper Group in the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News, The Reporter Newspapers. His Middle East columns are published in the Arab News. For more information on Ray Hanania visit www.Hanania.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
PS … Follow Ray Hanania on Twitter at Twitter.com/rayhanania.
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