Lawrence S. Connor · 1997
In his 41 years in The Indianapolis Star newsroom, Bo Connor had his fingerprints on about 15,000 issues of the paper, but it was three issues of a summertime neighborhood newspaper when he was 12 that started the ink flowing in his veins.
That paper, called the Hampton Sentinel for its first two issues that summer of 1937 and renamed
The Court Reporter for its last – featured Connor’s first byline, a three-paragraph story about a two-cab, one-car accident he saw happen. His curiosity was strong, his observation skills keen and his news gathering laudable for a 12-year-old. But his news judgment was shaky, by his own admission. The accident, he recalls in his memoir, was “of absolutely no interest to any of our readers in Hampton Court,” a large apartment complex on Meridian Street, a mile and a half north of Monument Circle.
Still, he was hooked. Twelve years later _ after high school at Indianapolis Cathedral, after three years in the Army Air Corps and with a Notre Dame degree in communications arts in hand _ Connor brought that curiosity to The Indianapolis Star. For $42 a week, Connor began to learn the newsroom that, 30 years later, he would have the chance to manage _ and to change. His news judgment would improve dramatically, too.
He started as what was then called a cub reporter (where has that term gone?), working nights and weekends, covering the police beat, “racing around the city from six o’clock until two in the morning covering murders, holdups, traffic accidents and fires.” After about a year, he moved up to the City Hall beat, where he learned to be “doubly accurate” in his reporting because his mother, Agnes Peelle Connor, served on the zoning and park boards.
His reporting work for The Star ended in 1953 when he was promoted to assistant city editor, but Connor’s larger impact on The Star and its readers was just beginning. He was assistant city editor for eight years and news editor for two before taking over as city editor in 1963.
For the next 16 years as city editor, Connor saw The Star win the National Headliners Award for its coverage of the 1963 Fairgrounds Coliseum explosion that killed 74 people who were attending an ice skating show; saw the paper expand its coverage to meet the realities of a growing metropolis; saw the paper win the Pulitzer in 1974 for its reports of police corruption; and saw the paper moderate the influence of its conservative political views on its news coverage when Eugene S. Pulliam took over as publisher for his late father, Eugene C. Pulliam, in 1975.
“Little by little The Star was becoming an outstanding newspaper,” Connor recalls in his memoir, Hampton Court: Growing up Catholic in Indianapolis Between the Wars. “…The paper had evolved over the last few years of Gene Sr.’s life.
The staff was greatly expanded to cover a city that was growing in every direction. We had gone electronic a few years earlier. Typewriter and teletype machines were gone, replaced by computers. Some of the noise was gone but the telephones continued their constant ringing. There was carpeting on the floor and the place even became smoke-free.”
In 1979 Connor’s role at The Star changed twice.
First, when Frank Crane retired as editor of the editorial page, Connor took over _ for three months.
He’d hardly adjusted to that job when long-time managing editor Robert Early resigned. Connor changed offices again, this time as The Star’s new managing editor and with a chance to make his mark on the paper’s news and feature pages.
He did, quickly, expanding the photo and graphic design staffs, bringing in more blacks and women, changing the Women’s department to Lifestyles, creating a business news staff and expanding the sports staff. “Many of the changes at The Star were made to keep up with what was happening in Indianapolis,” Connor writes in his memoir. “The city was in a boom period. Construction downtown and in the suburbs was exploding. The arts were flourishing…. The city attracted professional sports and was luring amateur sports organizations….”
During this time, Connor and his staff also ended an ancient page-one practice at The Star: the double eight-column banner headlines called flags.
“Very often the news simply didn’t warrant large headlines,” he wrote in explaining the change.
In 1990, Connor saw the climate of progress he encouraged and managed pay off in a second Pulitzer _ this one for The Star’s series of stories on medical malpractice in Indiana.
As it turned out that was the topper on Connor’s career at The Star, for 1990 also was the year that on Aug. 31, his 65th birthday, he retired, as he had promised himself he would.
In retirement and now 71, Connor continues to write occasionally for The Star _ book reviews, travel stories and editorial page columns … some about the news business, but many about personal topics, such as the chance he had, at his daughter’s invitation, to step into the delivery room and be present for his grandson’s birth.
Oh, and he also wrote a book. It’s a memoir about him and his family (three brothers, two sisters), set against the backdrop of a strong Catholic upbringing, the Depression and coming of age in the Indianapolis of the 1930s and `40s. The book was published in 1995.
Since retirement, Connor has won honors as the first recipient of the Larry A. Conrad Renaissance Award from the Indianapolis Press Club and Notre Dame Club of Indianapolis’ Award of the Year.
He serves on board of The Criterion, the Indianapolis Archdiocesan newspaper, is a leader of the Indianapolis Press Club Foundation and is on the advisory board for the Sisters of St. Benedict in Beech Grove.
One of his efforts with the Press Club is to help oversee the Thomas R. Keating feature writing contest for Indiana college students, a competition named in honor of the late Star columnist who credited Connor for helping make him a success.
Last summer, Connor had a chance to travel to Cuba with a group of young reporters for Children’s Express; Connor wrote four stories about the Cuba of today for The Star.
In retirement, Connor also has had time to reflect on the news business bug that first bit him in 1937. In a 1992 Personally Speaking column in The Star, he wrote:
“What other jobs give you an inside view of major events as they unfold? Or where else can you come in contact regularly with the movers and shakers in business, government and the arts?
“And in what other business can you get a charge having breakfast in a restaurant and watching other diners reading what you had helped produce the day before?
“… Why would anyone want any other job?”
Obviously, writing and editing the news was the only job for Connor _ ever since that summer on the beat in his beloved Hampton Court.
Connor is married to Patricia Alandt Connor; they have six children and 12 grandchildren.