This is the 15th in a series of articles about recipients of the NSNC’s annual Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award.
By Dave Astor
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
When Clarence Page became a Chicago Tribune columnist in 1984, he recalled welcoming the challenge of “reaching the coveted place every journalist wants to be – attached to the refrigerator doors of readers.”
Page mentioned that memory while accepting the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award at our Philadelphia conference in 2007. (Today, does fridge-worthiness mean readers scotch-tape their smartphones – with a column on screen – to that kitchen appliance?)
The 1989 Pulitzer Prize winner added, “I was itching to give my opinions,” noting that columnists have an opportunity “to make sense out of the news” (quoting Ellen Goodman) and “explain things” (quoting the late Mike Royko).
And Page, now 69, said he loved the challenge of trying to come up with a great column when a big story broke.
Finally, he praised the man for whom the lifetime honor is named. “I have the highest regard for Ernie Pyle,” said Page. “He was an ordinary guy who had a gift and used it to bring the war home.” That war being World War II, during which Pyle died from an enemy bullet in 1945.
The Ohio-born, Ohio University-educated Page joined the Tribune in 1969, telling the NSNC audience he was hired by the large newspaper (at such a young age) partly because it was trying to diversify an almost-all-white newsroom.
“Some were concerned I might be a little ‘militant’ for the Tribune,” Page said with a laugh, noting that his look back then included long hair, a walrus mustache, a goatee, a dashiki, and jeans. But the paper took him on, and Page compromised by buying a more traditional suit.
After a stint in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, Page returned to the Tribune in 1971. His beats included police reporting, rewrite, religion, and neighborhood news – along with freelance assignments as a rock music critic.
In 1976, Page became a foreign correspondent in Africa and later an assistant city editor and investigative reporter before leaving the paper to spend two years as a TV documentary producer, reporter, and planning editor.
When returning to the Tribune in 1984, he became not only a columnist but a member of the newspaper’s editorial board – while continuing to make guest appearances on various TV news programs.
Page’s column entered syndication in 1987, and appeared in about 150 newspapers at its peak. The columnist has also done freelance writing for various newspapers and magazines, and authored two books.
Dave Astor writes the “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for The Montclair (N.J.) Times, blogs at DaveAstorOnLiterature.com, and is the author of the memoirComic (and Column) Confessional.