Don’t bury this newspaper yet
The parent company of this newspaper, Journal Register Co., has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Needless to say, that’s not good news. But it’s also what’s going on all over the nation. It’s complicated and has to do with the lagging economy as well as people’s dependence on the instant gratification of the electronic media for their information. Does it mean this paper is dead? I sure hope not and perhaps the day is not over. I cannot conceive of this community without a local newspaper.
I first joined Montgomery Publishing Co. fresh out of college in the 1960s. I was offered a teaching job in York Pa., for A75 a week and a staff writer job at the newspapers for A100. I had two little kids, guess which one I took?
I could always write a little. A local paper called The Easton Road Guide (eventually gobbled up by The Glenside News) ran my first published piece when I was 7. It was a poem about Christopher Columbus.
My first few months on the job were spent learning the business at “The Fort.” That’s what the headquarters of Montgomery is known as.
Fred D. Behringer was the major domo (like Mike Morsch today) and he taught me everything I know about newspapers. Also joining the newspapers at the same time was a fellow Cheltenham High grad Joanie Leibman. A beautiful girl and a more talented writer never lived – and she died much too young. I still remember her smile.
The sports editor was a guy named Jack Smith. His column was named “Rolling Along,” mostly because he was confined to a wheelchair. That little inconvenience never bothered the hulking Mr. Smith and he played basketball, golf and liked the women (much to the chagrin of his then wife). Like I would later, Jack left journalism for a gig in education in upstate New York.
Before six months were up I was named news editor, and later managing editor – of The Willow Grove Guide and Hatboro Public Spirit.
Unlike today, where all the offices are at The Fort, I had two offices, one in Willow Grove, one in Hatboro. Each office had an assistant editor in place – Emily Stober in Willow Grove, Ann Pollock in Hatboro. I split my time between the two offices and my weekly editorial meetings at The Fort.
We had something special going on there in those days. William E. “Bill” Strasburg was the owner/publisher and he offered all the support each of his editors needed to get the job done. OK, so the company didn’t pay very well and most of the talent left for greener pastures over time (the late great Phil Jasner and Mike Missanelli come to mind), but it was like getting a doctorate in the news media. We wrote hard-hitting editorials, covered all the meetings, did investigative reporting, and, in fact, this very column (then called “Off the Cuff”) ran for the four years I was with the newspapers the first time around.
The editors were all professionals. Wally Gordon became the Times Chronicle editor during my watch, but before that, he wrote freelance articles for me at the Guide. Other editors including the multi-talented PR guru of today Bill Hall, Fred Groshens (his father was a judge), author Bruce Henderson, Harry Stringer, Dot Drake (Mrs. Ambler, she ran the Gazette, owned the town), Joe McMahon and some I’ve probably forgotten.
We were never above creating the news either. Smith and I formed something called “The Suburban Sports Club” and honored scholastic athletes from the area at weekly luncheons (like the Philly sportswriters had done for years). We even staged a couple of well-attended banquets – one of them featured a boxing match where some of the braver members each fought a round with Gypsy Joe Harris. Jack also cooked up something called “The Montgomery Bas- ketball Association” and ran a full schedule of local men’s teams at the Willow Grove Naval Air Station gymnasium.
We covered almost all the important high school football and basketball games, in person, and thoroughly. So, on top of my editor job, I was a sportswriter for the papers during those two seasons – as were most other editors and staff writers.
We weren’t afraid of a challenge. When I got the opportunity to have an exclusive interview in a Willow Grove home with George Lincoln Rockwell, the controversial head of the American Nazi Party, I asked Fred what he thought, and he said “do it.” I did and it pissed off some local advertisers – then I submitted a version to Playboy magazine, but instead of running mine, they stole the idea and interviewed him themselves (months after I did it). Soon after their article appeared, he was gunned down. A very scary man.
The papers were huge in those days. Every one of them had large circulations and came in multiple sections. We employed lots of writers, lots of freelancers and photographers. I won a couple of Keystone Press Awards for writing and layout/design.
It was a challenge and you really thought you were doing something for the community. But soon, like so many others before me, I got a job offer for more money and I couldn’t turn it down – sports information director at Drexel, which also took me back into academe, where I was to spend the bulk of my career.
But I have always treasured my connections with these papers. I have written this column for three different executive editors – Behringer, Tina Flint and, now, Mike. And even though I was a columnist with a national magazine and for the Philadelphia Daily News for 12 years, this is the column I always liked writing the best.
Hopefully I’ll get to write many more. Don’t bury us yet.
Ted Taylor can be reached at email@example.com.