Ladies and gentlemen:
I read Michael Miner's story "Pioneer Press Aims at Foot, Fires" in the September 5 issue with a mixture of sorrow, anger, and incredulity. Sorrow that the reading public is losing as sorely needed a journalist of integrity as Virginia Gerst; anger that Pioneer treated the resignation of this 27-year, outstanding editorial staffer in such a shameful, shabby manner; and incredulity at the depths to which this once nationally acclaimed suburban newspaper chain has fallen.
I was a managing editor in Pioneer's North group from 1979 to 1990 for the Evanston Review, Glencoe News, Deerfield Review, and Northbrook Star. During those 12 years I garnered a number of honors, including a Peter Lisagor award, Best Columnist by Suburban Newspapers of America, and several first places for features by Northern Illinois University. Other than the fact that I'm a gifted writer (ahem!), the crucial reason why I won these awards is that the executive level of Pioneer Press during those years did not dictate editorial content. We were allowed to write 'em as we saw 'em. I'm sure some of my stories and most of my columns would have been censored by the current "business uber alles" regime. The only directive to editors and reporters back then was that their work be ethical, true, well researched, and of quality.
The advertising and editorial departments were then separated by a Berlin Wall; we were allowed to tell an advertiser to go scratch (but politely) if pressure were attempted. Political endorsements were decided and written by local staffers after committee interviews. No edicts were handed down from on high. Of course, we bitched to each other and to them (truth!) about president and publisher Dave Simonson and the late, great executive editor Walter Kelly, but believe me, journalistically, Larry Green, Paul Sassone, and Randy Blaser couldn't even sharpen their pencils. And as far as Hollinger, the all-knowing media conglomerate dictator, goes, Pioneer then was owned by Time-Life, later Marshall Field (no small potatoes them), who let Pioneer do its thing with no interference as long as the company continued being a cash cow (which it still is, I'm told).
After talking with a number of my alumni peers, we all agree that we are embarrassed to be once associated with this Pioneer Press, and that Virginia, although she loved her work as we all did, is well out of there with her pride and integrity intact.
As far as the reading public goes vis-a-vis the Pioneer-Gerst incident, to paraphrase John Donne: "Do not send to ask for whom the Pioneer Press bell tolls, it tolls for all of you."