By Josephine Varnier
“Our whole family are newspaper people,” Russ Pulliam said at the conference celebrating the 100th anniversary of the organization his grandfather founded. The Sigma Delta Chi Foundation board member said he’s “knee deep in this story” of his family’s history with SPJ, and he tries to compare the times.
Newspapers may have been more fun back then because writers could write more self-indulgently, he said.
But journalism is like teaching school. You do it for the love of the profession, not to make a lot of money, he added.
“One reason Sigma Delta Chi was formed in 1909 was my grandfather thought journalists didn’t get enough respect … they wanted to elevate the profession more,” Russ Pulliam said.
Eugene C. Pulliam, along with nine other students from DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., created the journalistic fraternity that later became the Society of Professional Journalists. He eventually owned 46 newspapers, and generations of Pulliams who grew up with his legacy are now carrying it on.
His son Eugene S. Pulliam was publisher of The Indianapolis Star and The Indianapolis News until he died in 1999. Russ Pulliam writes a weekly political and social issues column for the Star. Russ Pulliam’s sister, Myrta Pulliam, is director of special projects at the Star and is a co-founder of the Investigative Reporters and Editors.
The old-time news of the day was always part of family conversation.
“I used to ask my grandfather, ‘What about William Jennings Bryan?’ and he’d say he interviewed him … but that (Bryan) didn’t trust journalists,” Russ Pulliam said.
In order to gain the three-time Democratic presidential nominee’s trust, Eugene C. Pulliam would show him all of the quotes he wrote down during their interviews so Bryan could check them.
“My grandfather helped me a lot that way about history,” Russ Pulliam said, noting that he would write his grandfather letters asking about other journalists of his time.
Now Russ Pulliam’s daughter, Sarah, who has become a journalist, does the same to him. She says she always asks about all the “old guys” in journalism.
Sarah Pulliam, 23, is the online editor for Christianity Today magazine in Illinois.
Growing up surrounded by newspapers and magazines stacked on the kitchen counter, Sarah Pulliam got excited about reporting after writing for The Wheaton Record at Wheaton College. She felt the newsroom was the most informed place on campus, with the brightest and most dedicated students.
But she said her family was a big influence.
“My dad is incredible … he can do so many things at once,” Sarah Pulliam said as she remembered times when Russ Pulliam would come to her brother’s sports games and write his column while sitting in the bleachers.
Sarah Pulliam helped her dad create a Facebook page “before older people were on it,” Russ Pulliam said.
Sarah Pulliam said she would love to be able to talk to her grandfather, Eugene S. Pulliam, about how technology is changing the face of the business.
Russ Pulliam’s son, Daniel, 28, also worked in journalism for three years after graduating from Butler University. He is now attending law school.
“I always wondered why we always talked about politics but never got involved,” Daniel Pulliam said. “It’s because journalists serve the public, and they didn’t want to be biased and choose one side over the other. Over the last 100 years you see journalism has become more independent.”
The latest generation of Pulliam writers is as passionate about the craft as the generations that preceded them.
“People always ask me, ‘If you prick your finger, does black ink come out?’” Sarah Pulliam said.