Thanks for the memories, Northeast Times

Over the last couple of weeks, some kind folks have asked what the biggest change has been in my 25 years at the North­east Times, and it gets me think­ing.
Hmmm. I sup­pose it’s that I don’t goof around and raise as much hell as I used to here. And on Sat­urday nights I’m usu­ally snooz­in’ by 10.
That’s when I real­ize they’re ask­ing about tech­no­logy and stuff. Oops … stu­pid me!
May 9 closes a quarter-cen­tury run for me as ed­it­or of the North­east Times, a per­son­ally en­rich­ing and glor­i­ous run that I don’t meas­ure by any­thing I’ve done, but rather by the re­mark­able people — some still in this Tre­vose build­ing, many spread else­where, a few who have left us forever — who have giv­en me a card­board box full of won­der­ful memor­ies to chuck in the back seat.
Ini­tially, I wasn’t moved to do a “farewell column.” Too many good things have spurred the Times’ growth over the years that I won’t ever be able to take cred­it for. But then I figured maybe I should do a farewell column, simply be­cause I fret about the fu­ture of news­pa­pers these days, and per­haps in 2550 when Frank­lin Mills is be­ing knocked down to make way for a re­gion­al gov­ern­ment launch­ing sta­tion that will send colon­ies of North­east Philly res­id­ents to Jupiter, this edi­tion will be un­earthed, and someone will mar­vel that there really was a pa­per called the Times that chron­icled life in the North­east for years and years and years.
To be hon­est, so much of those 25 years … I can only re­call it with a hazi­ness akin to driv­ing up 95 to work on a fog-en­shrouded morn­ing. But I doubt I’ll ever for­get March 1, 1987, the day Lou Chi­menti, the ex­ec­ut­ive ed­it­or of the Smylie fam­ily’s North­east Times, gave me the chance to leave a South Jer­sey news­pa­per — where the ed­it­ors were en­sconced and be­com­ing the fossils that I my­self have be­come — and boss people around in my own news­room.
What a won­der­ful 35th birth­day gift!
The Times was on Frank­ford Av­en­ue in Holmes­burg then, just above Rhawn Street, in a nar­row and crum­bling white stucco build­ing that I figured had to have been built around the time of the Louisi­ana Pur­chase. I just re­mem­ber ar­riv­ing for the job in­ter­view and peer­ing out my car win­dow, un­sure I was at the right place, think­ing, “I hope that’s not it, it looks so … so … con­demned.”
It was the right place.
A week later — my very first day — im­me­di­ately es­tab­lished the tone for why I’ve wanted to be here all these years. I felt good that morn­ing. Figured I’d wowed my new, young staff with my per­son­al­ity and know­ledge shaped by 12 years in the busi­ness, and I was ready to tackle lunch.
Rich Brad­ley was the young man­aging ed­it­or, a tal­en­ted but pain-in-the-butt little ras­cal who wore a stud ear­ring long be­fore guys even had the brass to do that. I think he also in­ven­ted “Let’s Haze the Ed­it­or.”
“Where can I eat that’s fast?” I asked Brad­ley.
“Well, there’s a Roy Ro­gers res­taur­ant. Just go onto Frank­ford Av­en­ue, turn right, and walk two or three blocks … you’ll see it.”
Sev­en blocks later, this Roy Ro­gers still was nowhere in sight. So I kept walk­ing, block after block, think­ing surely it had to be the next one, feel­ing very much like Peter O’Toole in the movie Lawrence of Ar­a­bia as he me­andered across the desert in search of wa­ter, but at least Peter had a camel. And fi­nally there it was, Roy Ro­gers, roughly a mile from the of­fice.
I know that some people may call that trek stu­pid­ity. I prefer to call it op­tim­ism. Either way, as I wiped my glisten­ing fore­head with a nap­kin and bit in­to my Roy’s Double-R Ranch Bur­ger, I took out my small writ­ing pad and pen.
“Note to self: Fire that kid.”
Yes, it was an en­dear­ing place. But it also es­tab­lished a 25-year jour­ney that I will re­mem­ber most for re­mark­able col­leagues in all our de­part­ments — in my news­room, in ad­vert­ising and busi­ness, in pro­duc­tion, in cir­cu­la­tion — who shared the goal of grow­ing a won­der­ful North­east Philly news­pa­per that had been an heir­loom of the Smylie fam­ily for 65 years, un­til they sold it with re­luct­ance in 1999. I wish I could take time to name them all. But I’d be like the guy who wins the Oscar for Best Totally Ob­scure For­eign Film and has 266 people to thank — and then the or­ches­tra mu­sic sud­denly builds to a cres­cendo, his clue to get his butt off the stage.
I will say there’s a little Oscar I’m tak­ing with me. It’s a mini­ature ver­sion of the Times front page em­bed­ded in a glass cube, a Pennsylvania News­pa­per As­so­ci­ation hon­or for hav­ing been se­lec­ted as best statewide weekly in our cir­cu­la­tion cat­egory a few years back. We were for­tu­nate to have won that award twice; I gave the first cube to former own­er Bob Smylie, but I need to keep this one, not as any trophy, but simply as a memory.
I’m grate­ful to all at this pa­per who have en­riched my life. I’m grate­ful for so many young journ­al­ists over the years, so in­to this busi­ness and so eager to learn, be­cause they kept me young too. I’m grate­ful for the loy­al read­ers and ad­vert­isers who’ve be­lieved in the Times. Grate­ful too for North­east Philly, such an amaz­ing cov­er­age area with so many stor­ies to tell. I’m es­pe­cially grate­ful that I could work in jeans.
Of course, there is al­ways un­fin­ished busi­ness. And there are wor­ries, wheth­er it’s the fra­gile fu­ture of news­pa­pers, or a new gen­er­a­tion of journ­al­ists won­der­ing when op­por­tun­ity will knock, or even if the North­east Times can keep fight­ing in this un­pre­dict­able era for news­pa­pers.
I think I’ve done all I can do.
So I’m pleased to of­fer best wishes to Lil­lian Swan­son, a vet­er­an Philly news­wo­man who came on board as ed­it­or this week to help our pub­lish­er, Perry Cor­setti, and own­er Dar­win Oordt keep the pages turn­ing here at the Times.
I do need to ex­press my af­fec­tion for some long­timers who have de­voted huge parts of their lives to this pa­per, and their names are fa­mil­i­ar to many: man­aging ed­it­or Fred Gusoff, re­port­ers Tom War­ing and Bill Kenny, and our com­munity ed­it­or, Joyce Rug­gero.
I just cleaned out a lot of years of stuff but didn’t keep much, only be­cause sen­ti­ment­al­ity has a way of mak­ing the suit­case too heavy. Be­sides, most of it is stored in my head and in my heart.
And as time passes, my friends, that will bring me the best feel­ing of all.
Thanks for mak­ing it hap­pen.

You can reach at

comments powered by Disqus