Between Lombard and South Street sat the five-story News American building. The older side of the building, going on 80 years, faced the harbor, clearly run down and eroded by time. The newer side was made with red bricks, faced Lombard Street, and held the main entrance. The news room was on the fifth floor, a large open area with columns from the roof to the floor. Stacks of yellowing newspapers filled any area that wasn’t being used for work. Reporters and writers hustled around, a cigarette in almost everyone’s hand. This was the floor that held the prestige, and it was here that every day until May 27th, 1986, a newspaper was created.
After a legacy of over 200 years, the Baltimore News American sent out its final edition in 1986 and forever closed its doors. 2012 marks the 26th anniversary of its closing, and marks what can be seen as a milestone in the change in society.
In the 70s and 80s Baltimore was more of a blue collar town. Folks would come home from work and routinely unwind with the afternoon papers. The News-American was a favorite in many households.
“It was a very popular paper in the black and white community,” former News America reporter and columnist Jacques Kelly said. “It was well-edited, it was not a dumbbell paper; it was not carrying an agenda…it engaged the readers every easily in a breezy manner.”
Diane Young has been a resident of Baltimore most of her life, and grew up with the News American as the paper that was always around.
“In middle school and high school, we would always have an assignment in our Social Studies class once a week, to take a current event article from the News American and summarize it,” Young said. “We never used anything but the News American, it was the community paper.”
At this time, Baltimore had three competing newspapers: The Morning Sun, The Evening Sun and The News American. The Sun catered to more of a white collared, liberal crowd, while the News-American was the blue collared conservative paper.
“It was a different Baltimore that it covered than The Sun,” said Edwin Remsberg, former photographer at the paper.
The News American was typically viewed as the working man’ s paper; it catered to the community and focused itself more on what was going on in the city, and things that would appeal their public than on politics.
The News American found its niche by coming out in the mid-afternoon, after the Morning Sun and before the Evening Sun.
While it was a popular paper, it was a paper that always had a cloud over its head, and was always in a fierce competition with the Sun.
“We were the scrappy underdog in the Baltimore newspapers and that made us work harder to compete with the Sun papers,” former reporter Sherri Venemain said.
There was a healthy contention between the News American and the Sun papers
“We were the arch rivals,” said former Morning Sun reporter, David Ettlin. “We didn’t have much respect for the News American. We weren’t convinced of its accuracy.”
The Sun was the newspaper that hired those from tier one school, like Yale and Harvard, to get the best staff as possible. But for the News American, it was their ability to relate to the community that made them unique. Their staff consisted mostly of people who were raised in the Baltimore area and thus it had a very Pro-Baltimore feel.
“It was the paper that hired people fresh out of school, and people who were veterans who had come upon difficult times at some point in their career,” said former News American reporter Michael Olesker. “You had people at the News American who were great characters.”
It was in its history to have fun with the community and stay in tuned. Back when it was the News Post, the environment in the news room was almost the same.
“We were always just fooling around because we knew where the management was,” said former News Post reporter Richard O’Mara. “He was downstairs playing pinball!”
If there is one sentiment shared by majority of those who worked at the News American it was that it was a fun place to work. Michael Olesker, who worked at both the News American and the Sun, has said time and time again “working for the News American was like working for your favorite bar; working for the Sun was like working for the bar association.”
It was a somber Tuesday, when the beloved newspaper sent out its final edition. Its fold changed the city.
“When the paper went out of business it was devastating. They were a conservative paper so they put a lot of things differently on a different perspective than the Sun,” said Young. “There was voice that was lost; the one that spoke for the community.”
The News American is remembered fondly to this day.
“The News American was a very feisty, lively, written paper that had good features, and the best comics,” said Kelly.
Many things have changed since the paper has folded. On this anniversary of the folding of the Baltimore News American, the change that started then has yet to cease, and the future of newspapers and journalism is still evolving.
Journalism’s evolution between now and then
Journalism and society has gone through enormous changes since the time of the Baltimore News American. For future reporters, the opportunities that once were are no longer. Read more about the differences between journalism now and then here
The News American Closes
The Baltimore News American saw its end the day after Memorial Day in 1986. After being on sale for 6 months, the Hearst Corporation saw it no longer could support a failing newspaper. It was the end of a 200 year legacy and the beginning of the end of an era in our society. Read more about why the News American closed here