John Lyon, longtime managing editor of The Chronicle, poses for a photograph. Lyon left a legacy of positivity surrounding the Northside’s future prospects (Photo courtesy John Canning).
Ironically, the collapse of Pittsburgh’s steel industry can be thanked for the creation of The Northside Chronicle.
In 1979, a Northside steel worker named Larry Evans began editing The Mill Hunk Herald, a pro-union publication designed to give former and present steel workers a chance to publish their own thoughts on their deteriorating industry.
The Mill Hunk Herald was a brash and unapologetically pro-labor forum that received praise from such blue-collar luminaries as folksinger Pete Seeger and journalist Studs Terkel.
“It caused a bit of an uproar to the point that when steel started to leave town, radicals like us and other labor leaders were blamed for it,” Evans said.
Despite its popularity, the Herald didn’t make much money and after he was laid off from his steel job, Evans began editing the Bloomfield Garfield Bulletin. The Bulletin led Evans to believe that his own Northside needed a similar forum to take up the issues of organized residents.
The Northside was such a crazy place. Elmer the alcoholic would go up and down East Ohio Street whooping. It was kind of a depressing place. I got ‘The Chronicle’ from The Martian Chronicles, because it was like a colony from Mars,” the ever imaginative Evans said.
So in the winter of 1985, Evans solicited interest from other Northsiders who submitted articles to the first bi-monthly edition — February/March 1985. Northside notables such as Don Walko, Mark Schneider, Jane Sestrie, Nancy Shaeffer, Nick Kyriazi and Dolores Swartworth all contributed to the first 16-page issue.
Evans received a grant from the Community Technical Assistance Center to print that first issue, and he and his former wife Leslie also collected advertisement revenue from a few Northside business owners who wanted to see the paper succeed.
Early issues featured a heavy dose of nostalgia for the Northside’s past, with many pictures of the Allegheny City era. Evans and his wife published the paper from their house at 916 Middle Street, which though demolished and rebuilt, happens to be only a few blocks from the Chronicle’s current offices.
After only a few issues, Evans left for Rutgers University upon receiving a fellowship to study labor relations. The paper might have ended abruptly, if it wasn’t for a committed Chronicle contributor named John Lyon.
An inventory control specialist working for the city, Lyon was a committed Northsider who became active in the Central Northside Neighborhood Council after purchasing a fixer-upper on Armandale Street in the Mexican War Streets’ first Great House Sale.
Like other homeowners, Lyon believed that the paper served the purpose of connecting residents to the active community groups at the forefront of Northside progress.
“He always wanted to write about positive things about the Northside,” remembered Ruth McCarten, who contributed to The Chronicle throughout the 1990s.
“I think it’s funny, it was at the opening of Penn brewery, and it’s funny it’s opening again. That’s where I met him. He would always come and take pictures,” McCarten said.
The newspaper never made much money. Lyon tried to expand the paper by introducing a “North Boro’s” edition in late 1986. But producing the extra issue was too much and it was discontinued in the summer of 1987.
McCarten said that money problems were always an issue for the paper. During the summer of 1986, in fact, the paper ceased printing for three months.
“He’d have to go out and hustle,” McCarten recalled. “He’d hire some people to do ads and pretty much broke even, but he could never get paid for all the hours he worked.”
Beside his dedication to the Allegheny City Society, The Chronicle was his constant hobby for 20 years.
In 2003, with the paper incurring substantial debts, the Northside Community Development Fund, under the leadership of the late Linda Lefever, bought control of the paper and allowed Lyon to use its offices at 922 Middle Street.
Lyon used the Fund’s investment to begin performing layout digitally and printing in color.
Unfortunately, Lyon passed away in late 2005, and The Chronicle was briefly juggled by both Fund personnel and Perry Hilltop resident Janet Gunter, before it was handed off to a young Pitt graduate named Sam Anderson in early 2006.
Anderson did not stay long, however, and it was soon inherited by another Pitt graduate, Dan Richey, who had never been to the Northside prior to his interview. Richey was the first steady editor following Lyon’s death, and he was also the first to write a proper business plan with the intent to make paper self-sustaining.
Richey handled both editing and advertising responsibilities, but realized that he would need a full-time advertising salesperson to even get close to revenue targets.
In early 2008, Richey trained new editor Andy Medici and the Chronicle’s first full-time advertising salesperson, Jen Spicer.
Medici used his time at The Chronicle’s helm to launch the newspaper’s website in early 2009. While The Northside Chronicle continues to print its monthly edition, the website offers the paper a faster avenue to reach Northsiders of today.
Whether online or through print, as it was in 1985, the paper’s goal is still to equip Northsiders with the information necessary to play a vital role in the progress of the area. To that end, The Northside Chronicle seeks to ensure that the Northside’s story continues to be one of success over the next 25 years.