Columnist Stewart begins 51st year for Nadig News
Analysis and Opinion by Russ Stewart
This is not a farewell column, but there will be one in the not-too-distant future. Consider this a self-authored obituary.
June will mark the beginning of my 51st year as political columnist and analyst, and also Nadig Newspaper’s 83rd year of publication. By my calculation, it’s my 2,550th political article, which means having written 51 per year over 50 years, since 1973. By my calculation, June will mark a word count of over 4,000,000. That’s 2,550 articles at 1,550 words, or a total of 3,952,500 as of right now.
This longevity was not intentional. It just sort of started and never ended. I never aspired to a journalistic career. Writers are notoriously underpaid and by the time an eager reporter hits age 40 he or she better be an editor, executive or columnist with the dailies, a TV talking head, a public relations flak or on some politician’s payroll as a PR flak. Or have married well. Otherwise, you’re not going to be driving a Mercedes.
Fortunately, I never worked for Nadig Newspapers. I just wrote for Nadig. I am a “contributor.” Also quite fortunately, I became a lawyer, so I drove a Corvette.
After graduating from DePaul in 1972 I hooked-on as press secretary with alderman John Hoellen, a Republican who was running for Congress in the open Northwest Side 11th District. Roman Pucinski (D) was vacating the seat to run for U.S. Senator, and Democrats slated Frank Annunzio, the West Side incumbent who was remapped out. Annunzio was sponsored by the “1st Ward Gang,” who were close to “The Outfit.” Alderman Tony Laurino (39th) became Annunzio’s new sponsor and Annunzio re-registered at his daughter’s Sauganash address.
Congressmen have long had a franking privilege, meaning they can send out volumes of postage-free mail on “official business” to their constituents. In June 1972 Annunzio sent out a bundle of congressional newsletters to EVERY household in the 11th District – not his 7th District. As they say: NO CAN DO. Hoellen immediately filed a federal lawsuit alleging abuse of power.
Hoellen and I then shopped the story, making the rounds of the district’s then-mighty community newspapers, including Lerner, Leader, Peacock, Nadig and Northcenter News. We met Glenn Nadig, then the thirtysomething co-publisher of the Press and Reporter. But Hoellen refused to make the franking fraud the centerpiece of his campaign, instead running on “Support the President” (Nixon). Annunzio won 54-46 and served until 1992, when Dan Rostenkowski pushed him out.
Today Nadig is the area’s last-existent print newspaper. The rest of the area’s newspapers folded in the 2000s or earlier or where bought out by the larger dailies and conolsidated. Print media is on the verge. “It’s pathetic,” said Mike Kaage, owner of Kaage’s News-stand in Edison Park concerning circulation of the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times. Note that in the 2023 mayoral race NO candidate spent money on print media. It was all mail, TV, digital and social media.
However, after a half-century in the journalistic business, here are the lessons I’ve learned and can pass along to aspiring writers:
NUMBER ONE: Never over-estimate your own self-importance. It may take hours to write a piece, and you may think it profoundly wise, a must-read and worthy of a Pulitzer. But your work will only get a sliver of a reader’s life, at best 3 to 4 minutes (like my column), and then is forgotten. Or not read at all. Readers have 24/7 lives and your masterpiece is not going to make it better. They rarely look at by-lines. So don’t expect to bask in the glow of any adulation.
Think of TV news reporters: They can spend hours, even days, researching a story, then getting a 20-second sound bite for a 2-minute piece. And then it’s gone forever. At least a written piece on paper lasts until the paper dissolves, or an online piece lasts as long as the webpage server fee is paid. You can access all my columns dating back to 2002 at www.russstewart.com/archives.
NUMBER TWO: Avoid over-exposure. Journalists have a shelf-live. They are a commodity like any other consumer product. They get tiresome. They become out-dated. They flame-out. Consumers always want something new and improved.
I learned early that a writer must pick an area of specialty and stick with it. I obviously picked politics. One of my contemporaries was an avid White Sox fan and he wrote a book in the late 1970s about all the Sox eras and seasons, becoming the unofficial Sox “historian.” He later wrote a White Sox Encyclopedia following the 1983 season and then a book on building the new Sox stadium with taxpayer dollars in addition to other books on a variety of topics.
Longevity as a writer demands consistency, doing what you do every week or day, and not over-hyping yourself. Consistency over time begets credibility. And credibility is predicated on facts, not propaganda. I have always tried to bolster my analysis with facts, such as election data, verified politician stupidity, quotes and events. I write like a lawyer – facts, analysis, opinion. Journalists who do otherwise are propagandists, expecting their ideological vitriol to replace facts. And once a writer makes readers comfortable, becomes credible and trustworthy, approaches the iconic stage, then there is no agitation for anybody new and improved.
NUMBER THREE: Power is ephemeral and mostly a delusion. A writer does not have the power to control events or people. That’s the politicians’ job – to control others so as to keep their own job, and put spin on events so as to make it look like he/she really knows what he/she is doing.
But a writer can write whatever they want, to not pander to the politically correct/incorrect demagogic demographic to which the media platform caters – either Woke/Left or Trump Right. If mocking the opposition, then present some facts to support your position.
And remember this: However great you think your tome is, don’t expect any appreciation. Expect the sound of silence. Jealousy among journalists is epidemic.
NUMBER FOUR: Be entertaining. If readers sense that the writer is having fun writing it, then they’ll have fun reading it. The reason I stuck with Nadig this long is that I can write what I want (within reason) and I can write it how I want. I can be sardonic, satiric, sarcastic, droll, mock my adversaries on the Woke/Left for their hypocrisy and foolishness, call politicians “losers” before they lose, and all kinds of other really fun stuff.
For decades my un-esteemed media colleagues sneered at “that (expletive) Stewart,” rejoicing that nobody else would hire me and that I was doomed to languish in obscurity for that insignificant rag out on the Northwest Side. That was OK. I was a full-time lawyer and didn’t want the dailies’ censorship or pay cut.
NUMBER FIVE: Talk the talk. A writer needs a prodigious vocabulary. Words must surface and flow quickly from your brain. No time to fumble with a thesaurus. And to organize one’s thoughts. And do a lot of reading. The goal of my columns is to make the reader feel I’m talking to them, not lecturing them.
NUMBER SIX: Spend some time as a political operative if you want to be a political writer. That life is mean, short, nasty and brutal. As a manager you’re only as good (and worthy of hire) as your last winning race. Press aides can always find jobs. Blame the manager. From 1972-79 I was a press secretary or campaign manager in 8 races (only one a Democrat in a primary). All lost. It was time to move on.
But I learned a whole lot.
NUMBER SEVEN: Get the info. When I started writers assembled clipping files, scissoring through newspapers to gather information. I have 7 4-drawer filing cabinets stuffed with 50 years of info and data. With the Internet the finding is easy, but to know what to find is not so much. See ya next week.