JOURNALISM

Thin Credentials

You’re not a journalist!” she accused after reading my September 23, 1989 E&P Shoptalk At Thirty:  “Scrutinizing press coverage of an issue in Vermont,” a copy of which I had given her.  Grinding out a couple of stories each day for the Rutland Herald, she thought that “journalist” only applies to a staff reporter like herself.
 
Did Adrian even know what E&P was? 
 
The old cast of characters populating the 35th floor of 575 Lexington Ave, New York, N.Y. 10022 — some drab like Teubener, the semi-literate retired military man turned publisher; some flamboyant, like ad salesman Charles Muldaur spinning out a stream of semi-believable tales; Donald “I don’t have a noble bone in my body” Parvin;  and the gaggle of editors down the end of the hallway — are gone. Founded in 1901, “The Bible of the Newspaper Industry,” Editor & Publisher was family-owned from 1912 until 1999 when — in decline  along with the industry it served — E&P  was sold by its owner, Robert U. Brown.
 
Its office was moved — apparently to the broom closet of a West Coast corporate entity — and before long the venerable weekly ceased publication. 
 
In 2019, ownership of E&P was bought by its third owner since Brown, and was revived online.  Shop Talk always started on the last page with the jump page earlier in the book. Newspaper convention is that “30” means, “The End.” David Astor, then editor of the popular Syndicates column (what fun… David was the comic-strip expert) told me that many subscribers, upon receiving the new issue, immediately open to the last page.  These days —  online —  it is no longer “Shop Talk At Thirty,” just Shoptalk
1956 was an important year: My wife was born, Israel and Egypt went to war, and Budapest erupted against Russian occupation. I was unaware of the first event, but my friends and I tried to get near a radio for news updates at the top of each hour. I was 11. I have read that what interests a child at that age foreshadows a lifetime interest, and from then on I did become a news junky. How amazing that a birth, unbeknown to me in 1956, would start a chain of events resulting in my unofficial journalism apprenticeship at the hub of newspapering! 
 

 I met Donna at a mid-week forum run by WBAI In the Spirit Radio host, Lex Hixon. On the day of our first date, she had just interviewed for a job in the Ad Department at E&P. After she began work there, I would often show up at 5 to meet her. When a seagull told me to quit my job as a laborer [a story for another time] Donna asked Don’t-have-a-noble-bone-in-my-body Parvin if he could use me. “That guy always looks like he’s been working under a car,” replied Parvin. “Tell him to clean up and come in for an interview in a three-piece suit.”    

"That guy always look like he's been working under a car" (that's me, far right)
I started as a typist in the Ad Department, but did such a poor job that Parvin arranged for me to become Assistant Librarian, where I read every article, pamphlet and anything else I could find on press ethics. From conversations with the editors, who would pop in frequently, I gleaned a wealth of knowledge, without doubt more vital than I would have learned from J-School lectures and texts.
 
When I heard of the controversial firing of the Editor of The Amsterdam News after he ran an editorial calling for the defeat of Mayor Koch, I realized that this story had been overlooked by E&P. I asked the Managing Editor if I could cover it. He said yes. It was late Autumn and when I asked the librarian for an extended lunch break, thinking it was for Christmas Shopping, she smiled and agreed. 
 
Normally E&P would cover a “small” story by making telephone calls from the office. I headed straight for Harlem, where I interviewed Wilbert A. Tatum, chairman of the Amsterdam News; John Davis, the fired Editor; and sought comment from people on 125th Street. In my interview following his press conference, Davis said he was fired, “because of my well known opposition to the race-baiting policies of the demagogue who is the mayor of this city.”
 
Later, with his supporters picketing, I told Davis that I do not like to cross a picket line, but I needed to go inside the Amsterdam News building to interview Tatum.  Davis positioned himself so as to leave a path toward the door, and told me that if I walk behind him I would not be crossing the picket line. 
 
Upstairs in the boardroom with the board present, Tatum told me that Davis was laid off because of financial distress following a “devastating”  six month strike, diminished circulation, and lost advertising revenue. Tatum called Davis, “a fine editorial writer,” and said that, “with my knowledge of this Administration I applaud it [the editorial].” 
 
After I left, Tatum called E&P to check on me. That lead to the librarian finding out where I had gone. A few days later I received a letter from her, firing me because my pursuit of a job in the editorial department was distracting me from my work in the library. I figured that was it for me: Now E&P would not run my Amsterdam News piece and I would be washed up there altogether. To my surprise, a couple of weeks after my firing they ran my bylined article — Amsterdam News fires executive editor — at the top of page 19 of the November 19, 1983 issue. 

I learned that you can be a dirty-dog in the library, yet despite getting fired, the editorial department still respects your work. Subsequently, Editor & Publisher ran two Shoptalks of mine as well a 1988 cover story. Those E&P clips opened doors when I pitched freelance articles to local publications.  

Thanks to Donna getting herself fired for getting mouthy with the librarian over my firing, she also got fired, thus allowing us to relocate to Vermont as we were both on unemployment insurance. Locally I did not become known as a writer until after the 1988 story.

After several years of keeping our distance, Brattleboro Reformer Managing Editor, Norman Runnion and I got to know each other when I interviewed him and his ace reporter, Tego (Theresa Maggio). I was gathering information for the July 2, 1988 cover story: “Vt. paper runs unsigned letter on front page).” I think Norm was surprised that I was on assignment from E&P, a disreputable individual like me. I worried whether he would believe me, but in retrospect I realize that he must have called E&P to check. 

Still, Norm could have refused the interview. I am sure he was glad that he did not refuse. My story won him national recognition, including a prestigious Laurel in the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR).

A few weeks after that article ran, feeling somewhat dejected I was sitting at the end of a row of backless, swiveling counter-stools in the old downtown Dunkin’ Donuts. In walks Norman Runnion and sits on the adjacent stool. From that stool, Norman Runnion gave me the highest compliment an editor can give a journalist:

“You got the lead right. You got the story right.”

– 30 –

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