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)


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