Northeast Times

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.

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