Val Press (1928-2002)...

A Tribute

Curator's note: Val Press (who died on September 11th, 2002) was one of the great legends of Chicago broadcasting. In addition to the text below, you can watch a video in which Val reflects on her 52 year career at Channel 5. The curator thanks Danice Kern for providing the text below and for her help in producing the video.

Born and raised in Chicago, Val Press attended Horace Mann Grade School, South Shore High School and graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. An Urban Fellow at the University of Chicago, Val authored a report entitled Hyde Park-Kenwood: A Case Study in Urban Renewal, a document that is still used by researchers and scholars today.

In 2001, Val observed her 50th anniversary at NBC and in television news. As a field producer for the Huntley-Brinkley Report and for WMAQ-TV in Chicago, she worked side-by-side with some of the most legendary journalists television has ever produced: John Chancellor, Fred Briggs, John Palmer, Floyd Kalber and Len O’Connor.

From the Civil Rights movement in the deep South to the West side riots in Chicago, from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to the slaying of Dr. Martin Luther King, Val has covered the seminal events of our times.

She was tear-gassed on South Michigan Avenue when police and protestors clashed at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. She was in the courtroom for the trials of Clay Shaw, the Chicago Seven and Richard Speck. When an American airliner crashed at O’Hare in 1979, she worked the story and when jets slammed into the Twin Towers on September 11th, she was still working the story.

When it came time for Val to unpack her suitcase and come home from the road, she settled down on the Assignment Desk at Channel 5. For almost three decades, she ran crews, chased reporters and stared down producers from behind her bank of phones, radios and mics. For the past several years, she has also produced City Desk with Dick Kay.

An astute political observer, Val was on the job the day Richard J. Daley was elected mayor and the day he died in office. During her watch, a Bilandic, a Byrne, a Washington, a Sawyer and another Daley would occupy the fifth floor of City Hall.

Val and television news came of age together. Back before the digital newsroom, there was film. Editors used glue and cameras were bigger than today’s portable satellite packs. Wire machines and typewriters clattered. The newsroom hummed with urgency – rushing tape to the airport, racing to City Hall, running to another story. There were deadlines. There was a sense of importance. And there was Val, as irrepressible as the NBC peacock, often inscrutable, sometimes skeptical, always curious – her impeccable nose for news sniffing out stories, improbable plots and political intrigues for the last half century.

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