Don’t bury this news­pa­per yet

Public Spirit - - OPINION -

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 A7R 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 ted@ted­tay­lor.com.

Ted Tay­lor

At Large

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