Main Body

May 19 – 15: The City Desk

Monday, May 9

My one-mile walk to Mr. Bill Tanner’s house at 6:00 a.m. woke me this morning better than any quantity of ink-black coffee at the Cleveland Press could. I rode to the Press offices with Mr. Tanner and his wife, Rusty Tanner, who edits the women’s pages. Mr. Tanner directed me to a seat at the City Desk until assistant to the editor Robert F. (Bob) Yonkers arrived. At the desk I met Tony Tucci, city editor, and Hilbert Black, also an editor on the City Desk, both of whom were perusing the morning’s edition of the Plain Dealer.

Mr. Yonkers walked up to the City Desk at about 7:45 a.m., introduced himself, then introduced me around to a few of the writers in the City section. At 8:00 he said we would attend a short conference of the editors of the various departments. We met in the office of the managing editor, Bob Sullivan, where I made the acquaintance of Tom Boardman, editor-in-chief, Herb Kamm, executive editor, and several of the department editors.

Each of the editors listed what he believed would be the top stories for the day in his department. The editor of national news led off, with a series of headlines that had for the most part taken place over the weekend, and ended with the decriminalization of drunkenness in New Jersey. Each editor followed suit, city news through sports to suburban news and photographs. The national news reporting was obviously a little outdated, while city news would be reported as it took place through the day. Top stories included reports of the severe winds that hit Cleveland on Sunday and pieces suggested by the controversy generated by co-ed gym classes.

I was given a short tour of the City Room and offices by Mr. Yonkers, in the course of which I forgot the names of nearly everyone I met. We chatted with the photography editor about his golf game, greeted high school sports editor Don Friedman at his desk, surrounded by Farrah (Fawcett) posters, and spoke to the financial editor. We then retired to Mr. Yonkers’s (drafty) office for coffee as he looked over some communications directed to him. One was an angry letter from a man who called himself the “worm czar” who demanded 25 copies of an article the Press had recently run about him. Another was a letter and transcript from the League of Women Voters opposing the proposals for offshore oil and gas drilling in Lake Erie on the basis of the risk to drinking water supplies and the poor return probability. Mr. Yonkers then explained that the morning’s plan was to go to the Convention Center and organize the press room for the International Science Fair that would be held at that location through Saturday.

We waited for Bob Love, Public Service Director of the paper, who drove us to the Convention Center, and we walked inside all equally ignorant of what we would have to do. The Science Fair is held annually in different cities, and fair entrants are the winners of local science fair competitions all across the country. The Press is one Cleveland sponsor of the fair, thus Mr. Yonkers got the task of coordinating the many members of the press who would be coming to cover the scientific exploits of their hometown favorites.

The pressroom in the Convention Center stands off quite a ways from the crepe-festooned main exhibition hall, at the dim and remote end of the Center’s main concourse. Hallways lead off in two directions further into the gloom of the bowels of the Center. We got the room into operating condition with the help of Barb Chudzik setting up two typing tables and getting the Xerox machine running. We laid out the information given us by the Fair authorities, including eight tremendous prospectuses describing all student projects in detail, and sat by the door awaiting the arrival of the first brothers of the press.

A few out-of-town press reps arrived, mostly from the midwest states, and they appeared at a loss for anything to write or do, since the projects were just beginning to be set up downstairs. Mr. Yonkers explained to several people that the first press releases would not be available until Thursday, when the first judging was to take place. Several downcast faces turned away at this news, as if a stay in Cleveland was a Stygian torture.

Sitting in the rather forlorn pressroom, I mused on this aspect of journalism. The press is seldom the instigator of an event, except in an indirect sense; instead, the press helps to direct public attention and reaction to events. Thus waiting is an important and undeniable part of journalism — waiting for something to happen.

Tuesday, May 10

Second day much like the first, again as “host” at the International Science and Engineering Fair at the Convention Center. Most of the day, I was office boy in the pressroom with Arlene Flynn, Sara Kelley, and Dennis Lafferty, and of course with Bob Yonkers. Much of the time was spent taking calls for Bob Love or Richard Yuhas (who is coordinator of the entire fair), and chatting with the occasional press people who dropped in.

The day began with the usual editor’s conference at 8:00 a.m. Each editor gave a brief summary of the day’s major stories. Notable were President Carter’s talks in Europe and his essentially defensive stance regarding the Russians, and the abuses cited concerning the sale of concessions by a Mr. Zimmerman at our very own Convention Center. This last created doubts about the ability of the Center to provide for the needs and functions planned for the visiting students. Reporting in the Plain Dealer indicated that at least a ten-day grace period was in the offing, but Press city editor Tony Tucci seemed to doubt the validity of this.

During the course of them morning I picked up a few fun facts about the operation of the Press. I was unaware that the Cleveland Press building is only eighteen years old. The Press is now printed in a manner similar to the University School News, using computer typesetting and photographing the layout sheets. The transition from the old linotype system caused some disturbance among labor when the change came about a year or two ago. I also had not known that the earliest (“Metro”) edition of the Press comes out as early as 10:00 am. Today’s issue came out with a lead column written by Bob Yonkers combining a discussion of teen alcohol abuse with a pitch for the Science Fair. His synthesis of the two was quite good.

I should admit that at this point I feel a bit out of place in the City Room. I don’t feel comfortable walking up to people and engaging them in conversation about their work while they are doing it; I feel that I’m interfering. Thus I haven’t forced myself into exposure to many of the people who work in the city room and have learned practically nothing about their function and style. I’ll be glad when Mr. Yonkers assigns me to someone and I’ll no longer spend my day in Room 205 at the Convention Center.

Thursday, May 12

Spent all day (’til 2:30 p.m.) at the International Science and Engineering Fair, Cleveland Convention Center. I spent the uneventful day doing errands, answering phones, etc. Nothing new to report.

Friday, May 13

On the ride into the office with Mr. and Mrs. Tanner this morning, we talked about the public relations role of city newspapers, which is greater than I would have suspected. The Press‘s interest in the Science Fair, for example, is almost purely promotional. The fair is not given any sophisticated scientific coverage, but it is given extensive feature space as one of the paper’s pet projects. The Press also organizes an Outstanding Student Dinner for Cleveland-area students, and coming soon (on several dates each spring) are Book and Author luncheons under the auspices of the paper. Some public relations functions can even cross the lines of competition between two newspapers. Members of the staffs of the Press and the Plain Dealer cooperate in the Sigma Delta Chi organization which sponsors scholarships for area students. Public relations apparently takes up a sizable part of a limited budget, and Rusty Tanner emphasizes “we used to do more” than the wide variety of programs sponsored now.

I spent about an hour and a half sitting at the city desk this morning, since Mr. Yonkers is attending an editors’ conference today at Mohican State Park (Loudonville, OH). Tony Tucci and Hilbert Black were working at the desk when I joined them. Hilbert was proofreading articles as writers dropped them off at the desk, while Tony was screening photos and doing more extensive editing. He apparently has the greater job of deciding policy at the city desk: which articles should be featured and how they should best be composed. I didn’t attend the editors’ meeting this morning, and remained at the city desk until Wally Guenther joined the other two at about 8:15 a.m. I read carbon copies of the articles being turned in that morning, and Wally gave me a proof of the day’s editorial page to look over. Major coverage was being given to the issue of taxi leasing, particularly the response of drivers of the existing companies. School pairings and the desegregation controversy were big stories, and Tony Tucci hoped that a map of paired schools would be drawn up. Most other city news was coverage of robberies and murders, with new findings about the mystery deaths in Willoughby.

I formulated a list of questions concerning the operation of the City Desk, including:

  • How late is copy accepted for the first edition of the paper?
  • How are the wire services used, and who does rewrite of wire service reports? How is copy emphasis decided–who decides on the lead stories, and is a consistent policy followed?
  • How are news, analysis, and editorial articles differentiated? What are the criteria for each?
  • When and how are assignments made, what considerations guide the assignments?
  • What is the scope of news covered by the city desk? Where does city news end and suburban news begin?
  • What time are the first proofs made up, and by whom are they approved?
  • How many stories are taken from the Plain Dealer and given different coverage? How are decisions made concerning which stories to cover this way?

I should be able to find answers to all these things at the beginning of next week, as I begin an assignment at the city desk for two or three days.

I spent the rest of Friday morning until 12:30 p.m. in my usual capacity at the Convention Center. Many news people came to the press room to pick up press releases, since prize winners in two categories had been announced, but nothing exciting happened that morning.


Share This Book