City News Bureau Chicago's reporter boot camp

city news bureau

Photo/Image: UNK

Author Kurt Vonnegut, playwright Charles MacArthur, pop artist Claes Oldenburg, consumer activist David Horowitz, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, former Chicago columnist Mike Royko, and editorial cartoonist Herbert Block (Herblock) all have one thing in common. They worked at City News Bureau.

City News Bureau was started by Chicago’s daily news papers in the late 1800s. It was one of the first cooperative news agencies in the United States. The purpose was to cover and contribute citywide breaking news twenty four hours a day and to train new reporters, eventually funneling them into the news paper staffs. At the time, eight publishers put out ten daily Chicago newspapers.


Artist and sculptor Claes Oldenburg reported for City News Bureau. (Photo/Peter V. Bella)

It was a notoriously harsh training ground. Some compared it to Marine Corps boot camp for reporters. Reporters were trained to get the facts accurately, including the spelling of names. One saying that still resonoates with many is,  “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out with two independent sources.”

There is also the story of the reporter who covered the death of an infant. The editor asked,”What color were the dead baby’s eyes?” He was sent back out get the color.

The “Film Call Northside 777” was based on a story of a CNB reporter whose series of articles freed an innocent man from prison. CNB also broke the story of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. But, most of their news gathering was the mundane day to day activities in a large city. There was little, if any sports coverage.

City News Bureau was legendary because of the legends in the news business and other fields of endeavor it produced. CNB folded in 1999. By that time there were only two newspapers left in Chicago, the Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune. The Sun-Times decided to pull out and ended the cooperative partnership. The Tribune started City News Service, hiring Paul Zimbrakos, a 40 year veteran of CNB. In 2005 the Tribune closed City News Service, folding its operations into the paper’s Internet news operations.

The idea for this article came from Chicago Tribune reporter William Lee’s story on Two Gun Pete, the famous or infamous Chicago Police officer, Sylvester Washington. Lee’s biography states he trained at City News Service, the short lived successor to City News Bureau.

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