Jack Fuller – A Jazzy Newspaperman

In a 2010 book titled “What is Happening to News: The Information Explosion and the Crisis in Journalism,” Mr. Fuller reflected on the huge changes the digital economy has brought about in publishing. “Newspapers have suffered catastrophic economic damage at the hands of the information revolution,” he wrote. “As the financial pressure increased, companies began to lose sight of the societal aspects of what they were doing. Tribune Company was one of these.”

Jack Fuller was a jazzy newspaperman. The writer and journalist who became the editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune passed away on June 21. He was a great newspaperman in the fullest sense of the term. Old school all the way. Excellence.

Jack knew the newsroom from top to bottom. Starting at the bottom, as a copyboy at 16 years old, he climbed to the top of the journalistic and corporate ladder in his Tribune career that spanned more than 40 years.

He worked as a general assignment reporter, Vietnam correspondent, bureau chief, editorial board writer, and editor. He had passion for journalism and he wrote books in addition to articles.

Jack won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 1986.  A year later, he was named executive editor and then vice president and editor. He was a great mentor who knew the city and was involved. He was cool and wise.

Every time I had a conversation with Jack, I learned something. In fact, I learned a lot from Jack Fuller. Jack saw N’DIGO in its early stage and he liked it. As owner and publisher, I was invited to the Tribune’s corporate table to establish a business relationship with them and N’DIGO.

I argued that the Tribune needed diversity. Jack agreed and he became a mentor. We often had long talks about the role, the purpose of a newspaper. What is a newspaper supposed to be for a community was our common question.

Tribune Editor Jack Fuller knew the role of the paper; he knew the power of the story. I learned that from him.

We talked about integrity a lot. We talked about jazz a lot. Jack loved Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Johnny Hartman, my late uncle, was a favorite.

I always took a jazz CD when we met. I was trying to see if he really knew jazz, and he did. He played jazz in his office throughout the day, as do I. We had fabulous conversations on jazz and who was great and why and who our favorites were. We shared jazz stories.

One of the most serious conversations we had was about N’DIGO being an insert in the Tribune or being an independent stand-alone publication. The conversation went for hours as we viewed it from every angle; it was a two-week, daily conversation. This was a very critical point as we were establishing a working relationship.

The example we used for discussion was political endorsements. I pointed out that if Harold Washington was running for Mayor, I would endorse him and write stories about him.

The Tribune did not endorse Harold Washington in his initial bid.   N’DIGO did not exist during Harold’s two election campaigns in 1983 and 1987 – we came into being in 1989 – so the point was moot, but the example was a great one.

N’DIGO Stands Alone

We pondered the endorsement factor for a long time. We concluded that the strength of a paper, the power of a paper, is its editorial and political endorsements.

The thought was that if the Tribune endorsed a candidate, all of its entities should endorse the same. It would be confusing otherwise.

I said we would probably disagree a lot. I was concerned about republican/democratic issues and Black and white issues. We would probably differ a lot, so how would it work?

We concluded that it would be best for N’DIGO to have its own voice, and therefore we chose not to be an insert of the Tribune, but an independent entity. Jack talked about being the leader of the pack. We talked about establishing the pace and what leadership meant and how to burnish it.

These were invaluable conversations around editorial positions and editorial content. I was so grateful that he took the time and had the patience to explore these concepts with me. He was wise and patient and trained my thinking.

Jack Fuller I learned from Jack what independence really meant, and what a voice really meant. We talked about race a lot. Jack knew the city, he knew the players, and he knew how to read social situations. He knew the role of the paper; he knew the power of the story. I learned that from him.

What do you write about and why? The written word is powerful and should always be respected because it is the first blush of history. I was to learn that oh so well.

N’DIGO was the first publication to profile Barack Obama, then a new Illinois state senator. As we made the decision to write about Obama, I thought a lot about conversations with Jack Fuller as we wrote that story and chose the cover pictures.

I had similar thoughts as we wrote about the Obamas for our first edition of Savoy Magazine, which is now defunct. I wanted to talk to them as they were pure and not tainted before they moved to Washington. I saw history in the making and I wanted to capture it.

Jack and I talked about corporate protocols and what constituted good writing and solid opinions. He was the best. He promoted women. He believed in what he believed in and wasn’t afraid to voice it. His intellect was keen.

He shared himself, his knowledge, his perspective, and his wisdom. He mentored a generation of writers and newspaper people. He was as much of a teacher as he was a writer. He was a jazzy newspaperman.

I learned great lessons from Jack Fuller and am blessed to have encountered him.

Hermene Hartman

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