Paul Zimbrakos influenced and trained countless young reporters at Chicago’s City News Bureau during more than four decades as an editor at the now-shuttered 24-7 wire service.

“Paul was like a one-man master’s degree in journalism. He trained generations of journalists in the city, taking some of the greenest reporters ever and turning them into fair, thorough, enterprising reporters who loved and cherished the business as much as Paul did,” said New York Times Deputy National Editor Monica Davey, who worked for City News in the late 1980s.

“Every morning, he would greet us at the office door with an envelope of assignments to pursue out around the city that day, and right along with those envelopes came the sort of advice that many of us use in our work lives to this day,” Davey said.

Zimbrakos, 86, died of complications from high blood pressure and kidney failure on May 31 at Loyola University Medical Center, said his daughter, Marianthe Zimbrakos Zervas. He had been a longtime River Forest resident.

Zimbrakos was born in his family’s home on Flournoy Street in the Taylor Street neighborhood, the son of parents who had immigrated to the U.S. from the Greek island of Crete in 1920. He attended Austin High School, one of just two in Chicago that taught Greek at that time.

Zimbrakos originally had hoped to be a boxer, but he ultimately attended Roosevelt University before a stint in the Army, his brother George said. He returned to Roosevelt for his bachelor’s degree, and while at Roosevelt, he began working as a copy boy for the Chicago Daily News.

In 1958, Zimbrakos joined City News Bureau, which six of Chicago’s newspapers had formed in 1890 as a cooperative news agency aimed at covering all manner of hard news in the city, from crime, fires and court cases to the deaths reported to the medical examiner’s office. For decades, City News’ work was essential to the city’s many daily newspapers and its radio and TV stations.

As an editor, Zimbrakos took young reporters and “made us better in so many ways,” said former Tribune foreign correspondent and national editor Storer H. “Bob” Rowley, who worked for Zimbrakos from 1976 until 1979.

“He insisted that we write with clarity, he taught us how to report, and he insisted that we go back and get information if we didn’t get it the first time,” Rowley said. “More than that, he had integrity and a sense of mission that you don’t always see in editors today. He was tough, but you also really wanted his praise.”

When reporters got things right, Zimbrakos would offer an “attaboy” or an “attagirl.”

“That made my day,” Rowley said. “It meant that you’d written that story well, reported it well and done City News proud.”

Davey remembered Zimbrakos as “somehow … both incredibly tough and remarkably patient, all at once.”

“He would rightly fuss at you if you hadn’t shown the good sense or guts to get complete, specific answers to key questions on any given story,” she said. “But then when you called back in — for the third or fourth or fifth time, finally delivering something that came close to being the full story — Paul would offer a cheery, sincere word of encouragement and urge you to warm up and ‘get yourself a sandwich.’”

Another City News Bureau alumnus, Abdon M. Pallasch, later a Sun-Times reporter and now director of communications for the state comptroller’s office, said Zimbrakos was “old-school — a real gentleman.”

“He had the perfect even-tempered demeanor to serve as scoutmaster over a chaotic newsroom of dozens of fresh recruits thrown out into the big city to find stories. His job was to make us more afraid of calling into the office without the full story than of going back to that police sergeant with one more question — so get the full story the first time,” Pallasch said. “And when you screwed up, he’d gently, or less gently, take you aside and explain to you that ‘we all have rough days. Now go back and get that story.’ Paul had heard all the excuses.”

In 1998, the Tribune and the Sun-Times announced that City News Bureau would close the following year, as the newsroom was no longer financially viable amid changing business trends.

“I really feel sorry for the young people who won’t get to come here,” Zimbrakos told the Tribune in October 1998. “I think there’s still a place for a training ground for reporters in this business.”

However, in 1999, the Tribune resurrected City News Bureau as New City News Service and then simply City News Service. Zimbrakos continued as the editor.

Seven years later, the Tribune shut down City News Service, in part because the paper didn’t want to give competitors an edge in coverage by sharing the service’s meticulously kept Daybook — a schedule of the day’s news conferences, court hearings and other newsworthy events. As a result, all of the wire service’s staffers, including Zimbrakos, were laid off.

Zimbrakos taught journalism classes at Loyola University until about four years ago, his daughter said.

Zimbrakos’ wife, Eleni, died in 2005. In addition to his daughter, Zimbrakos is survived by two sons, Vasily and Kostas; four grandsons; and a brother, George.

A visitation is set for 4 to 9 p.m. on Sunday, June 5, at Colonial Wojciechowski Funeral Home, 8025 W. Golf Road in Niles. A funeral service will take place at 10 a.m. Monday, June 6, at St. Haralambos Greek Orthodox Church, 7373 Caldwell Ave. in Niles.

Goldsborough is a freelance reporter.

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