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The Bad Old Days

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To the editor:

Read the Hot Type column on northwest Indiana [June 7] with interest. Back in 1973, I moved from California to Gary to work on the paper Compass, which grew out of the printers' strike at then-Hammond Times. It lasted for three years and it remains the single most important, fun, and educational experience I've had in journalism (our normal workweek was about 60-70 hours, so we were allowed to drink beer in the newsroom as a perk). One of our reporters, Walt Bogdanich, went on to win a Pulitzer and now is heading an investigative unit at the New York Times.

What made it so much fun was the quality and abundance of corruption in "the Region." From the disappearance of tens of millions of dollars in federal aid under the watch of Mayor Hatcher (then sainted in the national media) to brazen, still-unsolved murders at political rallies (our paper's lawyer), it was an embarrassment of riches and we could take our pick of potential investigations. Unfortunately, we ran out of readers and money. Plus, the citizens of northwest Indiana took corruption as a given (remember when every mayor of Gary was indicted upon leaving office?), and Greeks, Serbs, Poles, and blacks all anticipated the opportunity to have their man in office, so they could "get theirs" as well.

Just as the major Chicago papers have abandoned the labor beat, so, too, have they given up on northwest Indiana. It's a pity. Chicago-based television, even then, took even less interest, and Lake County broadcasters depended on local newspapers for their news. Not only were the politicians corrupt, but they looked corrupt. It was as if Tammany Hall was reincarnated intact, 600 miles west of New York City. Without TV, no one got a look at these crooks and could feel the vibes of true evil.

It's significant, too, that, in the 80s, both local papers abandoned their former homes of Hammond and Gary, in search of outer-county readers. Beyond the obvious commercial considerations, it's safe to say that racism--in its purest corporate form--played a role in their decisions, as the publishers felt that just because their mostly blue-collar workers didn't want to read about crack dealers and issues dealing with Hispanics and blacks, they shouldn't have to. School lunch menus and real estate listings became more important than series on the roots of unfettered crime and the disintegration of the steel industry.

Gary Dretzka

Los Angeles

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