It's the final edition for The Evening Sun

September 15, 1995|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Sun Staff Writer

The Evening Sun publishes its final editions today, a victim of changing times and failing circulation.

During its 85-year lifetime, the Baltimore paper gained a national reputation for the social and political commentary of its most famous alumnus, H. L. Mencken. It won a pair of Pulitzer Prizes and helped launch the careers of many talented journalists, including biographer and author William Manchester, and broadcasters Jim McKay and Louis R. Rukeyser.

Lively and irreverent in its heyday, The Evening Sun was created by the morning Sun in 1910 to challenge Baltimore's two afternoon papers, the News and the Star. It won editorial independence in 1920, and has outlived its afternoon rivals. It outsold the venerable morning Sun for 41 years -- from 1936 to 1976.

But company executives say an increasingly white-collar regional economy, and greater competition for readers' evening hours, left fewer and fewer with the time or inclination to spend those hours with words on newsprint.

The Evening Sun's paid circulation had fallen to 86,360 in the last audit in March, a loss of 70,000 since 1992, when much of its news operation was merged with the morning paper.

At its peak in 1960, The Evening Sun sold 220,000 copies daily. By 1991, it had slipped to 156,000. The morning Sun's circulation today was about 264,000.

The Evening Sun's farewell edition today will carry an obituary of the paper, its history told in briefs, and recollections of its most colorful characters. News columnists, editorial writers and contributors to the Other Voices page will offer final commentary.

After the last press run this afternoon at the Sun printing plant at Port Covington, Publisher Mary Junck was to present the Page 1 printing plates to the Baltimore City Life Museums. Representatives of Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Maryland Historical Society and the H. L. Mencken House were to receive copies of the final edition.

Redesigned paper

On Monday morning, The Sun will unveil a redesigned and expanded morning paper. The company believes it will have a strong appeal for former Evening Sun readers it hopes to attract.

This "new morning Sun will be better than the old Evening Sun or the old morning Sun," Ms. Junck said.

It will continue to emphasize "strong reporting," she said. The paper will have new typefaces, new page design and better indexing to make the paper easier to use. Sports deadlines will be an hour later, the Maryland Live section will arrive a day earlier, and the Business report no longer will be buried inside the Sports section.

"I think it's going to be a great newspaper," Ms. Junck said.

The Evening Sun is the latest in a growing list of evening dailies that have fallen victim to "evening paper syndrome" -- the migration of readers and advertisers to morning papers. It claimed the Baltimore News American in 1986, and most recently the Evening Bulletin of Providence, R.I., and the Houston Post.

Sun spokesman Michael L. Shultz said The Evening Sun's closing will mean the loss of no more than 36 news and editorial jobs, and 14 in production. Almost all of the handful of people still in jobs exclusive to The Evening Sun have been offered new ones with the morning paper. But the company is seeking to cut its payroll by up to 50 people with a program of buyouts.

About 300 Sun employees left the paper with buyout packages in 1992 when the morning and evening news operations were combined.

Earlier deadlines, city traffic and suburban sprawl made it more and more difficult to publish "today's news today." But until their paper lost its independent newsroom in 1992, Evening Sun staffers continued to scramble for comprehensive same-day stories on events that broke on their deadlines.

But the paper could not overcome changes in the lives of its readers.

"There was a shift in how people used late afternoon and evening hours," said former Sun publisher Reg Murphy.

Television and cable news are only part of it. The blue-collar jobs that got people home by 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. were vanishing. Nine-to-five white-collar jobs leave little time for an evening paper.

Too busy

Wives and mothers today likely have careers. More people have second jobs, or community meetings or Little League after work. Many say they're too rushed.

Longtime readers, however, hung on stubbornly. "I never had seen the intensity of loyalty that you could find among readers for The Evening Sun," said Mr. Murphy, who came to Baltimore from papers in Atlanta and San Francisco.

It was a loyalty attributable in some measure to the paper's long tradition of fine writing and editing. Its best-known practitioner, Henry L. Mencken, was told in 1911 to "write about anything you please, anything at all . . . as long as it remains irresponsible and readable."

He and editor Hamilton Owens in the 1920s and 1930s took on any and all manner of stuffed shirts, scoundrels and sacred cows.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.