Main Body

May 16 – 22: C’mon Down!

Tuesday, May 17

Attended the staff meeting with Mr. Yonkers at 8:00 a.m. Among the top stories mentioned were President Carter’s trip to Los Angeles for the United Auto Workers convention, a description of the new tax bill, and a new report on carcinogenic substances which indicates that the equivalent of the saccharin in two cans of pop may be enough to cause cancer. Local news included a report of the obscenity charges against Larry Flynt in Cleveland being dropped. In sports, the Cleveland Indians lost again and Muhammad Ali won a decision after fifteen rounds of a questionable bout against Alfredo Evangelista.

I spent the morning sitting at the City Desk and conversing with Wally Guenther between his wise comments to FBI agent-errant Steve Gladdis (who runs 11 miles to work each day) and members of the Press staff. He explained quite a bit of the operation of the city room to me.

Some of the mystery of how news becomes news was cleared up for me. Wally explained about the wire source United Press International (UPI), an alternative news service for nationally reported stories. The Press employs a wire service editor who screens national news for stories with a Cleveland angle, which is reported to the city editor in due course. As far as news reported by members of the Press staff is concerned, some major stories are written the night before their publication, while moat are written early in the morning of the edition in which they will be published. For city news stories which get coverage in the Plain Dealer, Press writers seek a different approach which will interest even people familiar with the story. Morning news assignments are made at the city desk by Hilbert Black.

Most beat reporters, including the court and police reporters, work hours each day of about 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thus many stories miss the first-edition deadline of 8:20 a.m. Evening stories can get early morning coverage if the reporters write them up at home and call them in to the Press. There is a copy editor working in the city room until midnight each day. Since the final edition copy deadline is 2:30 p.m., there is plenty of time for stories to be printed in the paper the day they occur. A good amount of morning news is called in to the city desk at about 10:00 a.m.

News came in pretty steadily all morning. One interesting call concerned a story that I had just finished reading in the carbon copy. It concerned a house condemnation and wrecking done by the city without the knowledge or consent of the homeowner. Someone from City Hall called the city desk at 8:45 a.m. and revealed that what the owner had said was a complete lie and the house in question had been condemned for over a year. Thus the story was killed. Other notable news this morning was the scheduled beginning of the Ashby Leach trial and the continuation of the Glenville riot trial (concerning alleged misuse of Cleveland: Now! funds). A wounded policeman named Smith was expected to give some interesting testimony during the morning, and the trial was being well covered. Another story was a report of a $10,000 heroin bust on the near West Side. Wally explained that the name of the suspect could not be printed in the paper until he was formally charged. Interesting etiquette.

As the incoming morning reports kept the city desk busy, Wally explained briefly the procedures at the copy desk, at which heads are written and final editing (primarily for space considerations) is done. He described how the news editor decides on article placement in the paper and grades articles A, B, or C accordingly. More than once, he bemoaned the shortage of reporters in the city room (“If something were to break right now, who would we send out?”) with the assent of Tony Tucci and Hilbert Black. He also told some personal anecdotes about a very good rewrite man named McLaughlin, whose desk is immediately behind the city desk, and Al Thompson, now Washington editor, who called in as I sat at the desk.

I left in time to get to my last 1:45 p.m. Calculus class.

Thursday, May 19

This morning Mr. Yonkers stationed me at the suburban desk with suburban editor Reed Hinman and assistant Don Thompson. Five suburban reporters who turned in their projected schedules for the day at about 7:45 a.m. were busy composing and typing articles to meet the first 9:30 a.m. deadline. Many morning suburban stories are phoned in to the suburban desk, while in the afternoon each suburban reporter calls or travels to the city halls and school boards of the suburbs on his or her particular beat, getting stories for the next morning’s earliest editions.

Reed explained that the suburban page(s) is in all editions of the Press except the final, in which suburban news is replaced by horse-racing odds. There is generally substantial change on the suburban page from one edition to the next on any given date. Morning stories are not reported early enough to be printed in the Metro edition, so the morning’s first edition of the paper has reprints of articles run in late editions of the previous day. By the time the five- and six-star home editions are being printed, there is substantial variety on the suburban pages, since one edition is delivered to the eastern suburbs while the other edition is sent west.

I went with Don Thompson to the composing room to watch the suburban page for the Metro edition being laid out. All articles for the edition were in at 8:30, and the layout deadline was 9:10. A professional layout man put the page together under Don’s direction. The modern layout process is very much the same as the method used for the U.S. News. Each page is laid out individually with computer-printed columns of type. Photographs are reduced and printed as velox prints, which can be laid out on the page just like a column of print and which can be pared down by hand for further size considerations. The layout process is simple, neat, and short. Apparently, though, there is some resentment among the workers that the simplification of the printing process is phasing out many jobs. It appears that that trend will continue as more of the printing equipment is computerized.

Later in the morning, I journeyed downstairs to join the Public Service desk for an hour or two. I was supposed to help Richard Yuhas with the planning and operation of the “C’mon Down” program to take place tomorrow which the Press is sponsoring along with several other major Cleveland institutions. Actually, I found little to do at Public Service other than talk to Cathy, who works in the department full time, answer phone calls (“On what date does Memorial Day fall in 1979?”), and read the day’s paper.

At about 10:30 a.m. a group of elementary school students from Mayfield came in for a tour of the paper, and Cathy was their guide. I tagged along, since it was my first chance to see the entire operation. I was impressed with the printing operation and the presses themselves (as were the sixth graders, I might add) and I conjured the spirit of Randolph Hearst himself as the newsprint sped through the presses. Fifty thousand copies of the paper are printed each hour by those giant rolling machines.

After the tour, Cathy went out to lunch and Sara Kelley replaced her for the interim. Cathy brought back a doggie bag from the Theatrical Restaurant with two tremendous pieces of cheesecake. One of these was my midday meal.

I returned to the suburban desk at 1:15 p.m. with hopes of going out with a suburban beat reporter for the afternoon. It turned out that Sarah Crump could take me on her beat, which included Brecksville, Independence, and other southwest suburbs. I walked with Sarah, who has been with the Press three years, and before that, a year with the Painesville Telegraph, to the 9th Street muny lot, and we headed out to the Brecksville City Hall.

Sarah is an enthusiastic Press writer, and she shared with me some reporter’s philosophy and more general thoughts about journalism. She spoke of going out on the beat every day, whether there is a story to be found or not. She finds it worthwhile just to stop in different places and make friends, make her presence known, so that when a good story does come around, there is always someone she can count on for a good line.

Sarah is happy about being a suburban reporter, because she feels that all the problems and concerns of national and international affairs are mirrored to some extent in the communities she reports on. Even from working on suburban news, one can develop a perspective which applies on all levels of journalism. On another note, Sarah feels that it is worthwhile for a journalist to start out as she did, working on a small paper with a limited circulation.

She is familiar with the operation of all aspects of newspaper production, a background she cultivated while working for the Painesville Telegraph. While she can’t assume all the duties at the Press that she was able to gain experience in at the Telegraph, she can better fulfill her obligations in the suburban department when she has a sense of the role of each department in the overall composition and integrity of the newspaper. One need not start at the top to become a good journalist, but one must have an awareness of the operation of the paper that goes beyond the concerns of one’s own department.

Sarah and I drove to Brecksville, our destination the Brecksville City Hall. To get there, we drove through several of the other communities on her beat. We stopped at the rather modern brick building, just down Route 82 from the site on which McDonalds wishes to build a restaurant, at present a very controversial issue in Brecksville. Sarah indicated that we would be going to the office of Vince Amato, the city’s Public Service Director, once we were inside the air-conditioned building. She had called Vince earlier in the day and asked him if there were any new city projects under way that might be newsworthy. Since he told her to come out, she hoped for an opportunity to talk with the Mayor and some other city officials as well.

The young and affable Mr. Amato told Sarah about county support of the repairs the city wished to make on Snowville Road. The county would provide funds and workers as long as certain county criteria were met by the project’s completion. In effect, the county would finance the repair work to a significant extent only if the county could establish the guidelines for how the repair would be done. Sarah was interested in this information and took notes continuously. Apparently, the city had no other immediate plans, for Mr. Amato began to muse instead on the bombing death of mobster John Nardi which had taken place the previous day. He played up his knowledge of mob affairs rather dramatically, explaining how he had grown up with many of the influential mob leaders as well as the more expendable petty criminals who served the others. He made some comments about the philosophy and nature of mob activity in Cleveland, attractive now because it is a big union town, and he spoke rather cryptically about another bombing on the same day as Nardi’s killing “that you probably know nothing about,” a bombing which was just a “warning.” He also expressed his opinion that a retaliatory bombing against those who had killed Nardi would take place in the near future, ordered either by “Old Man” Milano or Danny Greene. He really captured the mythos of the underworld with his comments, but while it was interesting, the conversation was of no use to Sarah. She later told me that conversations like that were often helpful to other departments, and she planned to tip off the city editor about a couple of comments that Amato had made “off the record.”

We returned to the downtown area by way of the old Brecksville City Hall, ravaged by fire and now being rebuilt, which Sarah wanted to check out for photo possibilities, and by way of Independence. Sarah told me that she often drove around her beat without any story in mind, just looking for photo and story possibilities. She dropped me off at Public Square and headed to her home town of Lakewood, where she planned to stop at the City Hall before returning to her house.

Friday, May 20

Today was spent with the Public Service department, who I helped with the organization and operation of the first day of the Press-sponsored “C’mon Down” program. This program, a Press promotion, looks to be one of the best attractions the city center area has offered to citizens in quite a while. “C’mon Down” is the brainchild of Press columnist Marge Schuster. Cleveland institutions participating in the program are opening their doors to the public for special tours, or offering certain goods and entertainment options at attractive discounts. This is a way for people to be attracted to the city and enjoy themselves while down here. I must admit that I am very impressed by the caliber of Press promotional projects.

At 9:00 this morning, the Press opened up for public tours. I helped with the ceremonies, assisting Richard Yuhas, Cathy Kassimatis, and Janice Blackburn as they made visitors to the newspaper comfortable. We served visitors coffee and lemonade and a 50-lb. supply of Hough Bakeries butter cookies, then sat them in the lobby to begin self-guided tours of the Press at about 20-minute intervals. Each tour began with a promotional movie about the paper made not long ago. I found the movie to be quite good in giving people a complete picture of the operation of the newspaper and at the same time giving the impression of the informal and friendly atmosphere prevailing at the paper. If the caliber of the Press is sometimes questionable, the intent of the Press staff toward citizens and city should never be misunderstood. The people at the Press are genuinely interested in the city and its quality, and I think this was apparent to all the people who visited us on Friday.

The variety of visitors was wide, and I was glad to see that Janice’s prediction that all the derelicts in the city would be stopping in wasn’t born out. A majority of the 500 or so people who toured the building while I was there were senior citizens, and they were really quite appreciative of all the things the Public Service staff had done to make the tour pleasant. There were several school groups who came for the tour, and quite a few housewives brought their children down for mid-day diversion.

Very few city businessmen stopped in at the paper, which I found a little disappointing. A few derelicts came in for a lunch of Hough Bakery cookies and free coffee, but they all dutifully took the tour. All were impressed with the efficiency of the operation done by the Press, and pleased that they decided to “C’mon Down.” I enjoyed dealing with pleasant people all day and helping to show them that Cleveland after all is not such a dull place. The true service of a city newspaper to its city goes far beyond what is printed in its pages.


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