Good Night, Hon Thanks for a great 85 years

will you love us in the morning? Circulation faltered, but heart never did The Evening Sun sets as 85

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

Today, The Evening Sun writes its own obituary.

Baltimore's last evening newspaper, which publishes its final editions today, is 85 and a victim of failing circulation.

It was both a child and a casualty of changing times. Born in 1910, the new evening paper was a morning Sun gambit to

snatch readers, advertising and profits from its afternoon rivals, the News and the Star.

This 'paper of the future' took breaking stories flashed across the nation or the ocean by the new telegraph news associations, set them in type and raced fresh editions all day long to Baltimore's eager readers.

It succeeded, and for most of its years gave the city a colorful, irreverent report from a remarkable roster of talented writers and editors, including Henry L. Mencken. It outlived all its afternoon competitors, and even outsold the morning Sun for 41 years - from 1936 to 1976.

The evening paper dies today a victim, in part, of a faster and flashier technology - television. But more lethal were the nation's changing lifestyles, which have left fewer readers with the time or inclination to spend their evenings with words on newsprint.

Nationwide, there are 470 fewer evening newspapers today than in 1946. They still outnumber morning papers 3 to 2, but 26 million more readers now take a morning paper.

The Evening Sun's once-robust paid circulation - which peaked at 220,000 in 1960 - had been slipping for nearly three decades. It fell below the morning Sun's rising sales at 174,000 in 1977. After a 1992 newsroom merger made the two papers' local pages almost indistinguishable, it plunged below 100,000.

Now, newspaper executives say, it makes better business and journalistic sense to focus all the company's resources on a single, vigorous, morning newspaper.

So today The Sun's brass are The Evening Sun's pallbearers. And tomorrow, a city which nine years ago had three daily newspapers will have just one.

On Monday morning, however, The Sun will debut a redesigned and expanded morning paper that combines the resources of both papers. The company believes it will have a strong appeal for its former Evening Sun readers. This 'new morning Sun will be better than the old Evening Sun or the old morning Sun,' said Sun publisher Mary Junck.

It will continue to emphasize 'strong reporting,' she said. There will be more space for coverage of Baltimore and Baltimore County, where 70 percent of Evening Sun readers live. New typefaces, new page design and better indexing will make the paper easier to use. The Entertainment section will arrive earlier, and the Business report will no longer be buried inside the Sports section. Evening Sun readers who subscribe will again get a complete set of stock tables.

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

Today's editions end a remarkable roller-coaster ride for The Evening Sun. Its lifetime spanned all but 15 years of the tumultuous 20th century, from an era of candlestick phones, telegrams and streetcars, to one of computers, jet travel and instant, global communications.

Baltimore's industrial economy boomed and faded in those years, first building, then eroding the prosperity and stability of many communities served by the paper. Downtown development and tourism boomed, and some neighborhoods revived. But many readers left the city anyway for new homes and opportunities in a sprawling suburbia.

Change in newsroom

It was a time of great social change. Maryland's segregation laws fell, and the civil rights movement wrested justice and new opportunities for minorities, women and others. The paper covered it. It also listened.

The Baltimore Sun's publisher today is a woman, as are four of her 11 top executives. Its newsroom - once entirely white and nearly all male, - has moved closer to reflecting the region it covers; it is now 17 percent minority and 35 percent female.

During The Evening Sun's lifetime, the old newspaper world of clacking typewriters and clanking Linotype machines was transformed into one where computers beep and glow at every turn. Crowded, gray pages yielded to big color photographs and more inventive display.

This last edition was set electronically and transmitted to high-speed presses at Port Covington, four miles from the Calvert Street newsroom. Its contents will be archived on computer discs accessible in the future worldwide via the Internet.

The Sun newspapers were industry leaders in the mid-1970s in the switch from hot-metal type to computer-set 'cold type' and offset printing. There were mixed consequences, however, for the paper's commitment to give readers 'today's news today.

' The new systems cut labor costs, but some insist that their complexities - together with urban traffic and suburban sprawl - forced earlier deadlines.

'I don't care what they say, [the old way] was faster. We coulput a newspaper out on the street in half an hour,' said Joe D'Adamo, a makeup editor for 41 years.

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