Springfield Journal Register on 1999 Closing of Springfield, Ill., Bureau

Here's a story by Joe Mahr of the Springfield Journal Register about the closing of the UPI bureau in Springfield, Ill., in August 1999:



United Press International has closed its state Capitol bureau, ending decades when UPI dispatches have regularly carried Springfield datelines.

The move ends a once-intense rivalry between United Press International and The Associated Press for state government news. Until the 1970s, the wire services, commonly referred to by their initials UPI and the AP, had equal footing among the state's media outlets.

"I'm saddened by the loss of competition. That's probably the most important thing," said Dick Adorjan, a UPI bureau chief in the 1960s.

UPI's last Springfield correspondent, Greg Tejeda, received a letter in early August informing him the bureau would close Sept. 4. In fact, it was shut down Aug. 27.

UPI long battled the AP for a place on the pages of Illinois newspapers, with mainly larger papers getting both services. Editors could choose the best wire story covering a subject, enhancing the sense of competition.

But UPI has faced a series of ownership changes and cutbacks in recent years, causing it to lose many customers. When his bureau ceased operations, Tejeda said, the only two Illinois newspapers still served by his wire were the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights and the Chicago Daily Defender, which mainly serves an African-American readership. About 100 radio stations in Illinois also received UPI dispatches.

The UPI Springfield office, in the Statehouse pressroom, was one of seven UPI bureaus to be closed, with 47 positions cut. The company said it wants now to concentrate on providing global news through the Internet. News stories can be read via its Web site at www.upi.com.

"The world does not need another traditional wire service," UPI president Arnaud de Borchgrave said in announcing the change in emphasis.

That wasn't the case in 1907, when E.W. Scripps formed one of UPI's predecessors, United Press. It mimicked the AP by stationing correspondents around the world, but it aimed to make a profit by selling its service to newspapers. That varied from the nonprofit AP, in which member newspapers pooled money to finance the newsgathering. Eventually, most major newspapers took both services.

As early as the 1920s, United Press stationed a correspondent in Springfield. The wire service was one of the founding members of the Illinois Legislative Correspondents Association in 1946, when Statehouse reporters first secured a modern pressroom.

At the time, United Press not only competed with the AP but also another for-profit wire service, International News Service. The rivalry with the AP intensified in 1958, when United Press merged with International News to become UPI.

"That made it a two-way struggle," recalled Raymond Coffey, the bureau chief at the time and now a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. "It was pretty intense at times."

At one point in the 1960s, UPI had the biggest Statehouse bureau, with four writers -- one more than the AP. Plus, unlike the AP, UPI had a Teletype operator in Springfield who could direct stories to different parts of the state.

But UPI -- being for-profit -- was always looking for ways to cut costs. Its employees started calling themselves "the down-holders club," Adorjan recalled.

"You would always get these messages from New York to hold down the costs, so we developed the club," said Adorjan, who left UPI in 1970 and is now the spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

UPI later scaled back its Springfield operation to match the AP's, with three reporters each.

"When it came to competition, we'd do anything to cut each other's throats," said 1970s bureau chief Bob Kieckhefer. "If I could get a story a day ahead of the AP on where a supplemental road (highway) was going to go, I was a hero, because that was front-page news."

In the process, the wire services produced volumes of stories, particularly during the spring legislative session.

"It would not be unusual at all for my bureau to kick out 25 or 30 stories a day during the course of the Legislature," said Kieckhefer, now with Blue Cross/Blue Shield. "It would be nothing for us to work from 8:30 in the morning to 2:30 the next morning. You worked on adrenaline, and we were known to drink a beer or two as well."

But UPI began to fade in the 1970s, particularly when the price of newsprint doubled. Many newspapers, looking to cut costs, dropped their UPI subscriptions and kept AP. That left UPI to concentrate on broadcast news.

The wire service was sold in the 1980s. Many of its assets were spun off, and it continued to lose subscribers. By the late 1990s, it had only Tejeda in its Springfield bureau, while the AP still has three full-time writers based in Springfield.

In his Aug. 6 announcement, de Borchgrave said UPI was selling the rest of its subscriber contracts to the AP, closing seven of the UPI bureaus and shifting many of its employees to Washington, D.C. Tejeda, a Chicago native who has worked for UPI in Springfield for 6 1/2 years, said he chose not to seek a transfer to Washington and instead will look for a journalism job outside UPI. He hopes to stay in Illinois.

"I think something will be lost without this place," he said, noting the reduction in competition for news. Still, Tejeda said, "I have no regrets taking the job here.

"When I took the job with UPI, I knew in the back of my head that this could happen."

But, he said, it gave him the chance to cover an interesting beat, meet interesting people and get great experience.

The Springfield bureau has been a workplace to many people, among them Mary Bohlen, now an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield who helps teach Public Affairs Reporting to graduate students; Tom Laue, external affairs director of the Illinois Housing Development Authority; David Fields, who later was press secretary to then-Gov. Jim Thompson and won $6.7 million in the Illinois Lottery in 1987; Carol Knowles, public affairs office director for the state Department of Natural Resources; and Rick Pearson, political writer for the Chicago Tribune.

The closing of the bureau will leave only one global wire service stationed at the Illinois Capitol. And that leaves some former UPI reporters shaking their heads.

"Without competition, there's not much fun," Coffey said.