Monday, April 29, 2013

WTF, How'd that happen? (My headline portfolio)

   Oops. On the left hand side of this blog you'll see a link that says "My Headline Portfolio." It's been there for more than a year now. The portfolio, such as it is, is ensconced in an album on my Facebook page, and when I checked the link today for the first time since whenever, I discovered it goes not to my headline album but to my general status page, and who knows where it goes since I altered my facebook settings so that only my friends can see my photos.
   So ... without further ado, now that I know how to ado it, following is a collection of headlines I wrote at the New York Daily News and in my early days at the Bergen Record:

Saturday, April 27, 2013

OMG, there's more of this?

Although he wasn't the legendary Bigfoot, Gil Spencer was
the second best legendary editor I worked under.

See earlier posts:
   In 1984 Gil Spencer came to the Daily News as editor, with Jim Willse as his managing editor. Spencer had that old-time newspaper aura about him, and was probably second only to Paul Sann among the editors I've worked under, although I only had one face-to-face encounter with him and when he came to the Bergen Record to give a talk many years later he didn't remember who I was. C'est la vie.
   As for that encounter, I was working in the features department under a department head named Guna Bite, pronounced not like Bite Me, but with an accent aigue over the e, so her name was pronounced Bitee. Guna was of Latvian descent, tall, with relatively short blond hair.
   I can't say precisely why, but Guna had come over from the news copy desk to be head of the features copy desk, which was a promotion, but the job came with a lot of pressure, and after about a year it was more pressure than Guna could bear. So she went to Spencer and asked to be removed from the department head position and he removed her all right; he fired her.
   She was pretty broken up over that, and a couple of days later I knocked on the door of Spencer's office, he said come in, and I asked him if instead of firing her he couldn't simply reassign her to her former position on the news desk. I don't know if I had anything to do with it but that's what happened. I never said anything to anyone about having saved her job.
   A few months later I was approached by one of the managers and asked if I'd like to work on the suburban news copy desk. I said I'd think about it. The next day I was working on the suburban news copy desk. Unbeknownst to me, at the time, there was a young lady on the suburban news copy desk who previously had a reputation as being, well, maybe a little loose is the way to put it, but then she was involved in a serious auto accident and became a diehard feminist. She also either had filed or was about to file a sexual harassment charge against the head of the suburban copy desk, and the solution was to transfer her to the features department which meant sending me to the suburban copy desk, so it already was a fait accomplis when I was asked if I'd consider it.
   Not that I'm complaining. I loved working on the suburban copy desk, and later the main news copy desk.
   I'm going to backtrack a bit now, and begrudgingly admit that I may have been wrong about Spencer's managing editor, Jim Willse, who was hired at about the same time.
   I wrote a previous blog entry about the following incident so I'll keep it short. The Daily News had a company Christmas party shortly after the tandem was hired and of course they attended, or at least Willse was there.
   The News had recently published one of those screaming tabloid headlines about a gay bar called the Mine Shaft which apparently was owned by a city official and was granted tax-free status. The headline went "How the city got shafted," that may not have been the exact wording but the word "shaft" was there.
   Now euphemisms have always been one of my favorite headline writing tools, but the word "shaft" is a euphemism for fucked, no two ways about it, and this was the Daily News, which, although times have changed, at the time considered its quintessential reader to be a housewife in Queens.
   So at the Christmas party I approached Willse and asked him if he didn't think there was something wrong with using "Shafted" in a page one headline, or any other headline for that matter.
   No, he said, he thought that was a very good headline.
   I immediately formed a negative opinion of Willse, who did go on to be the editor of the Newark Star-Ledger and the paper even won a Pulitzer Prize during his tenure. So I may have been wrong about Willse; as for the headline, it nevertheless sucked.
(to be continued)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Editors shmeditors Part 3

This is Buddy Martin, the
first of many editors who
would have fired me if
he could.
   It all seems kind of a blur as I approach the age of 64 but some things pop out of the fog.
   Like the time the New York Post moved from its plant on West Street in lower Manhattan to the Journal American Building on the East Side of Manhattan. I had a little difficulty finding the new building, so after disembarking from the Number 6 train at the City Hall station, I hailed a cab and asked the driver if he knew where the Journal American Building was. The Post bought the building because the Journal American went out of business in 1966 (thank you, Wikipedia)  and the building had a better printing press than the Post building on West Street.
   "You mean the American Building," the cabbie said. God bless the quintessential New York cabbie, those, too, have gone the way of the World Journal Herald Telegraph Mirror Tribune Sun.
   It was the American building before it was combined with the Journal.
   I loved that building. I could drive down from the upper West Side, park below the East Side Drive for free in an area that must have been the scene of a dozen crimes in "Law and Order," bodies pulled from the river, burned out cars with bodies in the trunk flush up against a pillar holding up the East Side Drive, today it probably costs $24.95 for the first half hour to park there with a short walk south to the South Street Seaport or east to Chinatown. After I got out of work, say, at three or four in the morning I could walk down to the Fulton Fish Market which was thriving at that hour and buy a five pound box of fillets.
   I left that building a few years later to go to the Daily News, which had its own iconic building with an Art Deco lobby. In the middle of the lobby was a giant globe. One of my fellow copy editors in the sports department of the Daily News, Eddie Coyle, was a recovering alcoholic and currently addicted marathon runner who loved to tell the story of the time he came in to work inebriated, climbed on top of the globe in the middle of the lobby and began singing "I'm sitting on top of the world."
   Not long after I went to the Daily News the company launched an advertising campaign that went "Imagine how much fun it must be to work at the Daily News." Not as much fun, I imagine, as those copy editors putting out the Orange County Register from desks on the beach, as depicted on the covers of a thousand editions of Editor and Publisher, but it was fun for a while. That didn't last long, however.
   Newspapers across the country were thriving except in big cities. There was a death watch going on as the circulation of the Daily News declined and the circulation of the Post under Rupert Murdoch crept upward but the paper still bled cash and people were waiting, speculating, to see which paper would succumb first, while Newsday on Long Island was basking in the demise of the Long Island Press and hovering like a vulture to snap up the market share of the Daily News or the Post, whichever went under first.
   Neither of them did go under, and they even both survived the 78-day newspaper strike of 1978, which occurred in my first year at the Daily News.
   A few years later the Daily News, hoping to hasten, I surmise, the seemingly always  imminent demise of the Post, launched an afternoon edition called Daily News Tonight.
   That led to my second and last encounter with Bill Brink, the editor who interviewed me when I was hired.
   The Daily News Tonight was a disaster -- a high-quality disaster, mind you -- from the day it was launched. They hired a bunch of people and poured money into it, but the circulation wasn't there.
   At some point they hired a new sports editor named Buddy Martin -- I was still in the sports department at the time, and I'm not even sure who he replaced, although it must have been Dick Young -- I just found Young's obituary online, and it said he was sports editor of the Daily News until 1982 when he went to the Post, so that would have been when Buddy Martin was brought in from outside as the sports editor.
   When the Daily News Tonight was launched the News hired a deputy sports editor named John Clendenon. This Clendenon fellow was, well, he must have had some redeeming qualities.
   The Daily News Tonight lasted only a few months if I remember correct. When rumors were flying about its impending demise, with the attendant layoffs, Bill Brink made a tour of the newsroom, giving pep talks from department to department.
   After his pep talk in the sports department, he asked if there were any questions.
   I raised my hand.
   "Why is it that we're no longer allowed to use Chisox or Bosox in headlines?" I asked.
   "I didn't know you couldn't," Brink said.
   "Because those are cliches, and we don't use cliche headlines," chimed in Clendenon, who had outlawed their use. Such cliche headlines, in 120 point type, were practically the trademark of the Daily News back page. CHISOX TOP YANKS, YANKS BELT BOSOX, etc., etc.
   Just as an aside, one of my all-time favorite headlines was written by a crusty elderly sports copy editor named Lester Rose early in my tenure at the Daily News. It went: MILWAUKEE WISCS YANKS. Try writing a headline like that today!
   Ironically, Clendenon was right that Chisox and Bosox were cliches, he was only wrong to outlaw their use.
   The next day, or maybe a day or two after that, Clendenon was fired.
   He wasn't fired because I asked that question, or so I was assured, that was simply the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.
   Unbeknownst to me, when the News was looking for a sports editor to replace Dick Young, it was Clendenon who saw the listing, I imagine in Editor and Publisher, and told his buddy Buddy. In other words, Buddy owed his buddy bigtime, and when Buddy's buddy got canned, ostensibly because I laid that straw on that proverbial camel's back, I was about to discover that Buddy was no buddy of mine.
   It might have been the day after Clendenon was dismissed, it might have been a day and several hours, but I got called into Buddy's office, and he would have fired me were I not protected by the Newspaper Guild. God bless the Newspaper Guild. When he realized he couldn't fire me, he told me I could resign or be transferred to another department. I opted for the latter, and although the circumstances might be described as having been under duress, it was the best career move I ever made, at least in my newspaper career.
   I wound up on the features copy desk, thanks to my job protection under the union contract, and Buddy Martin himself wound up fired a few months later.
(to be continued)


Monday, April 22, 2013

And another one...and another one...

An Africanized honey bee thinks about who to kill next.
(See earlier post: Another One Bites the Dust)
  Over the next few centuries I imagine a couple of books will be written about Rupert Murdoch, but I doubt that either of them will mention a clipping that was posted on the bulletin board of the sports department of the New York Post in 1977. The clipping was from the San Antonio Express -- I don't imagine it was the original article but probably was a photocopy -- the Express was the first newspaper in America that Murdoch bought, and Murdoch had recently purchased the Post -- the headline from the San Antonio newspaper blared something to the effect, and I forget the exact wording, about killer bees making their way to America from South America.
   Everybody laughed, this is our new boss? I will say it took ten years or so, but since then Africanized honey bees have claimed their fair share of fatalities north of the border. Thwap! Whew, that was close. I don't know if that sucker was africanized or not, but I didn't want to find out.
   Killer bees aside, I witnessed another what now is probably considered at best a minuscule moment of Murdoch history when one morning in 1978 the "wood" was wheeled through the sports department on its way to the newsroom; "wood" was the term used for front page headlines that were too big to make on a linotype machine so they were engraved in wood, don't ask me, I don't know how the process worked, but this particular wood, in maybe 300 point type, the kind used for Pearl Harbor Bombed or Twin Towers Collapse, announced "Baby Born Without Mother." Wow. This new boss of ours is totally bonkers. Didn't we used to be a newspaper. I'm not quoting exactly, these were just some of the thoughts that were drifting through the sports department. What had happened was that someone had given Murdoch an advance copy of a book about cloning. This was 1978, mind you, maybe even 1977, Dolly the Sheep wasn't even a rung in the ladder of her father's DNA.
   Ironically, while it still hasn't happened and it doesn't justify Murdoch's mangling of journalistic ethics, cloning has come a long way since then.
   Now, back to all the editors and managing editors and executive editors I've worked for over the years. After Paul Sann retired from the New York Post, I have no idea who took his place, since I was blissfully ensconced on the night desk of the sports department and had practically nothing to do with the dayside doings at the Post. I looked it up on the Internet and apparently it was some guy named McKenzie. I'll leave it at that.
   Initially after Murdoch bought the post there was an exodus of talent, including Chuck Slater, I'm not quite sure what his title was but he was probably the night sports editor at the Post since he was my supervisor. After he left, I was awarded the privilege of filling in in the "slot" which was one of the most stressful jobs I've ever tackled; I won't at this point go into the reasons for this. I don't know the exact sequence or the dates, but Ike Gellis retired as the longtime sports editor and was replaced by a Murdoch stooge named Jerry Lisker, actually I kind of liked the guy, and Greg Gallo, the son of the legendary Daily News sports cartoonist Bill Gallo, was brought over from Murdoch's Star to be the assistant sports editor.
   About a year after the initial exodus, when I was training new sports copy editors to back me up in the "slot" and then seeing them promoted ahead of me, I began to wonder what was going on. Then one day Greg Gallo said to me that he wasn't supposed to tell me this, but at a news meeting one morning, Murdoch blew his stack because the sports department missed deadline, and somebody said to him that it was my fault. End of career. That day I called Chuck Slater and asked him if there were any openings at the Daily News. I don't know whether it was a week or two weeks later, but I left the Post and went to work on the sports copy desk at the Daily News.
   This time, however, I did have to go through the application and interview process.
   The person I interviewed with was Bill Brink. I looked him up online the other day and found his obituary from a few years ago and it noted that he was in the Army Air Corps in Italy during World War II. I was like damn, I wish I'd known that, but at the time I wasn't nearly as interested in the history of World War II as I since have become.
   The one thing I remember from the interview is that I told Brink that I loved writing headlines, and that I always admired the headline in the Daily News that said "Ford to City: Drop Dead."
   "I wrote that," he said.
   Damn, I thought, I really wasn't trying to butter the guy up, I had no idea. Anyway, I got the job.

(to be continued)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Another one bites the dust

   I arrived at work yesterday to find my managing editor outside having a cigarette. As I opened the door to enter the building's relatively small lobby -- somewhat proportionally re the size of the paper to the grand Art Deco lobby of the New York Daily News where I used to work -- he asked me if I'd heard the news, as if I even know how to open my company email from my home computer, heck, I've only been there two and a half years.
   No, I said. What news? I assumed immediately that the Turk -- as Norm Miller, a sportswriter at the Daily News many moons ago used to refer to the ax that fell on professional football squads at certain points in the pre-season; I imagine today the Turk would proverbially chop off Norm's proverbial head if he used that expression in a story since one doesn't want to give the impression anymore that Turkish people go around chopping off people's heads, that's not very politically correct, now, is it? Maybe the Taliban is visiting NFL training rooms these days. At any rate, just about the only news in the newsroom these days, other than another delay in going live with the new bells-and-whistles rich web site, is that somebody has been fired.
   "Jack's no longer here," the managing editor said. Jack K-----, the person to whom he referred, was the executive editor, which makes three executive editors who've come and gone since I was hired that seemingly short time ago. Well, not exactly come and gone, two came and three went, since the first one was within weeks of retiring when I was hired.
   There was a great deal of speculation in the newsroom yesterday but nothing concrete. I suppose if the publisher were listening, he would have picked up what Homeland Security calls a great deal of chatter. He did call a couple of my colleagues into his office to ask them what the mood of the newsroom was. He didn't call me in, but I'd have readily given him my opinion, which was that the executive editor was a nice guy, everybody liked him, but that he never quite got the chance to assert his authority. He tried a little too hard to be perceived as a "good guy" and to plug some of the newsroom's many holes; for instance he took cell phone pictures of the Christmas tree lighting ceremony across the street last year when no photographer was available, never mind that they were blurry and really lousy quality; he rewrote press releases and edited stories, but didn't edit them nearly as well as a copy editor might have edited them, if all the copy editors weren't so overworked and stressed out. And he loved to write weather stories.
   All of this got me to thinking about all the managing and executive editors -- mind you, I never quite understood the difference between the two, although I suppose in some table of organization there is one -- I've seen visited by the so-called Turk in the 46 or so years since I first sharpened two or three dozen No. 2 pencils a night, made coffee in an urn with flies on the bottom and was sent to buy cigarettes for Pete Hamill (two packs of Camels).
   There have been a lot, but none ever came close to the standard set by my first managing (executive?) editor, Paul Sann, whom I never had a conversation with -- he didn't interview me because I started at age 17 as a part-time copyboy on the midnight to 8 a.m. shift -- and I certainly wasn't recruited, but Paul Sann circled a headline on a galley proof and sent it to the sports editor, Ike Gellis, with the note "good headline," or maybe it was just "good head," or maybe even simply "good," and it was like somebody slapped a ball and chain to my ankle and wrapped the ball a few times around the base of the copy desk. Not that that was a bad thing, there were times in my alleged career that I loved being a copy editor, but the fact is that copy editors are the Rodney Dangerfields of the newspaper industry.
   In one of my earliest blog posts -- so early that it was in a roll your own iteration of the blog sprouting from one of my web sites and isn't included in this blog, so here's a link -- Aaron's early attempt at blogging -- I gave more of a description of the circumstances surrounding that circled headline, and I spoke of the friction between Sann and the Post's new owner, circa 1978, Rupert Murdoch, and I had a couple of the facts wrong, which I can thank Sann's son Howard for correcting. I didn't know it then, but I've worked under some good and some poor excuses for managing and executive editors but Sann set a standard that's been approached but never equaled.

(Wow, am I so old that I can remember when "more" was at the bottom of a page of copy? Excuse me while I catapult myself into the 21st century...)
(to be continued)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Ripped From the Headlines

Elian Gonzalez is taken from his protectors so he can be returned to Cuba.

   One of the stops on the Yahoo carousel -- that series of news pictures that cross your computer screen, stopping barely long enough to hook you into reading the story before moving on to the next news story, so that you become conditioned to slamming your hand down on the keyboard like a contestant in a game show, but I digress -- there was a news story related in an odd sort of way to one of the main story lines in my new book "The Armored Fist."
   The story was about some drug addled couple who lost their two little boys to the wife's parents in a custody battle, funny the news media should use the word battle because it doesn't sound like much of a fight, the kids were simply taken away and placed with the grandparents instead of foster care. But anyway, this father with a couple of drug related convictions ties up his in-laws, kidnaps his own kids, and flees with his wife and the two little boys via boat to Cuba, which agrees to send the reprobates -- that term applies only to the parents, not the little boys, although they were included in the deal -- back to the United States.
   End of story. Not. I rarely use the word "lunkhead" but I feel obligated to apply it to the alleged journalist who compared this situation to that of little Elian Gonzalez, who survived a disastrous boat trip which claimed the life of his mother and wound up in Miami and in the center of a political firestorm.
   Now Elian's mother was not some drug addled good for nothing, all she wanted was freedom and a better life for herself, I guess she had a boyfriend too, and her son, and she headed toward America on an overcrowded, rickety boat with more leaks than the CIA, while the couple that fled to Cuba with their kids had a decent, uncrowded boat, even if the father didn't have both oars in the water. This the Yahoo correspondent called a "reverse Elian Gonzalez," like it was some kind of football play, although I suppose it does have a bit of legitimacy since purely in terms of the voyage it was like Elian's journey in reverse.
   By now, you are no doubt asking yoursef, what on earth does all this blabbering have to do with Aaron's new book, "The Armored Fist."
   Which brings me to the diary entry of the Rev. Edmund Randolph Laine of Stockbridge, Mass., for April 3, 1945.

   The diary entry begins with a thick black cross, which actually in this case is both a cross and a symbol referring to a footnote. The day begins cool and gray, with some sun in the afternoon. It was Easter Tuesday, and Reverend Laine notes that he is "not feeling too well." The diary entry ends with the footnote, or actually it was simply a late addition, underlined, "Eddie killed this day in action in Germany, at about 12 p.m. our time." I say it was a late addition because in the pre-Twitter era, it would be 13 days before a telegram arrived informing Reverend Laine that Lieutenant Edward L. Forrest was killed.
   When I first attended a reunion of the 712th Tank Battalion, in 1987, Ed Forrest was the only name from my father's stories that I remembered, which is why I took a special interest in his life.
   So wait, what about Cuba and Elian Gonzalez and the drug addled reprobate kidnapper of his own two kids, you might ask.
   For this you have to glance once again at the diary entry, and back up just a smidgin from the late addition. At 11 p.m., Reverend Laine listened to the news on the radio, which included commentary by Fred Vandeventer.
   I'll be damned. Forgive me while I digress again. It never occurred to me to look up Fred Vandeventer, but I just did, and according to imdb, Vandeventer was the "Mutual Broadcasting System radio newsman and columnist who originated the game "Twenty Questions" for radio and, later, television. Based on the "Animal, Vegetable or Mineral" parlor game, it was one of the first shows to transcend radio into the new medium of television, and was extremely popular. He was a "printer's devil" for his high school newspaper ..."
    So that's who Fred Vandeventer was, and that's who Reverend Laine was listening to on the radio at 11 p.m. on April 3, 1945. Now, back to Cuba.
    Right after listening to the news, Reverend Laine notes in his journal, immediately prior to the footnote, that he finished reading "When the French Were Here."
"When the French Were Here" was a book by historian and diplomat Stephen Bonsal about the role of the French in the American Revolution. It was the middle of 1781 and George Washington's proverbial credit cards were maxed out. His troops were like "What MREs again?" and ready to pack it in if they didn't get paid.
   Enter the "Ladies of Havana," who, according to Bonsal, responded to a plea from a French admiral with jewels and furs and cash worth about 1.2 million pounds, which financial analysts might tell you would be worth $28 million today. George Washington was overjoyed, the troops got paid, and the rest is history. American history.
   When Elian Gonzalez was unceremoniously returned to Cuba, the Latino press was all over it. I looked this up years ago when I first started researching the material in Reverend Laine's diary, and I've been unable to find it again, but a columnist in the Miami Herald wrote "...and this is how we pay them [the Ladies of Havana] back."
One of these days I'm going to transcribe more of Reverend Laine's diary, which is filled with cultural references of the day, often shortened due to a lack of space, like "Air mail letter from E. in p.m. mail. Walked around back lawn." Come to think of it, you might say he was born to tweet.

- - -

Priceless. (Well, actually it's $17.69 at amazon)