Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Have last 50 years changed anything about industry?

Usually I write whatever happens to be on my mind when I sit down to compose, a la Steve Allen or George Gershwin, but sometimes I am handed an assignment which I feel compelled to honor, being the duty-bound kind of a guy that I tend to be.

The latter is the case today.

I got a letter the other day from Karen Sawitke at the Lake County History Center. She pointed out that the official history of the county was written 50 years ago and published as “Here is Lake County.”

She noted that some things may have changed in the last 50 years, so it might be time for an update.

“We have selected,” she wrote, “a group of people whom we feel represent Lake County at its best (wherever did they get my name?) in education, industry, politics, journalism, religion, agriculture, recreation, health, philanthropy and tourism.”

She said she was interested in getting my thoughts on the growth and/or changes in my field that have affected Lake County over the years, and what I see as the future.

My response was brief, because there is not much that has changed in journalism over the last 50 years.

Reporters still go to council meetings and write stories about them, they cover murders and other criminal acts, they wet their fingers and hold them out the window to write weather stories, they listen to the police radio and find out where the action is, they go to ball games, they cover the latest movies and they review the food at local restaurants.

And when they write their stories, they give them to editors who read them, put headlines on them and find space in the paper to place them.

That’s about it. Things are pretty much the same as they were 50 years ago.

Oh, there have been a few changes. The linotype machines with their hot metal are gone. They were used to set type for the stories. Then they started punching pink tape, about an inch wide, with little holes. The tape ran through the linotype machines and set the type automatically, so machine operators weren’t needed any more.

Somebody decided to quit writing stories on typewriters with carbon copies. The typewriters were too noisy.

Eventually they started writing the stories on computers. I may have the only remaining typewriter in the newsroom. I use it occasionally to type an address on an envelope.

Without typewriters there are no more carbon copies. So reporters can no longer sit around after deadline and compare “dupes” (duplicates), as Jerry Snook and Max Price and I used to do. We averaged 11 stories a day. Nobody writes that many stories in a day any more.

You cannot imagine how quiet that transition made the newsroom. Twenty or so typewriters being used at a time created an incredible din. That was only part of it. There were a dozen or so wire machines all clacking at the same time at a relentless 88 words per minute.

The machines were from the Associated Press, the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, a sports wire, a business wire, a weather wire, and I don’t know how many other wires. They were all clacking at the same time – at 88 words per minute.

Now all that stuff comes in on the computer. Computers are quiet.

All the metal in the back shop that was used to make type was melted down and used over. That necessitated having a re-melt pot, which was hot and smelly and shoved into the corner of the room.

A lot of people in the newsroom smoked cigarettes and cigars 50 years ago. Ed Bell, the city editor, constantly chomped on a cigar. Bill Griffith, who preceded Ed and won the Pall Mall Big Story $500 award when he worked in Youngstown, smoked a pipe. He lit his tobacco with wooden matches and left a trail of burnt matches from the newsroom to the composing room. All those relics of the past are gone.

There were five daily papers you could subscribe to in Lake County. Now the Cleveland Press, the Cleveland News and the Painesville Telegraph are gone.

You can still get The News-Herald home delivered seven days a week, thank goodness, but The Plain Dealer is delivered only four days a week now. The other three days you have to go someplace to find one and pay a dollar for it.

I started out by saying there haven’t been many changes in journalism here in the last 50 years. I will have to re-think that.

I will have a chapter in the History Center’s new book, and I will be getting a free copy. So I can’t wait to see if there is anything new in the other lines of work.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

We should all be so fortunate as the Pallisters

The passing of both Hugh and Gretta Pallister within the short span of only seven months represents the end of an Era – perhaps an Epoch — in Willoughby.

For never, within my memory at least, have two people of such stature and magnitude so dominated everything that was good, decent and worthwhile about the city (and before that the village) that they loved so much and served with such distinction and dedication.

Both lived long, remarkable lives. Hugh was 100 at his passing last September and Gretta was 96 when she left us just last month.

For decade after decade, they were ubiquitous. It was impossible to attend any kind of civic event without seeing both of them.

And they weren’t behind the scenes. They were right out front, leading the parade, as it were, cheerleaders for everything that was worth doing.

Their belief was that if it was worth doing, it was worth doing well.

I considered both Hugh and Gretta good friends, and I thought I knew them pretty well. But I take a back seat to the orators who spoke at both of their services at the Willoughby United Methodist Church.

During those memorable services, I found out how little I really knew about these two wonderful citizens.

And, like so many good people of their ilk, they did it all without pay – unless you consider the nearly three decades Hugh served on City Council as a paying job.

That’s one job people don’t perform for the meager money it pays. They do it for love.

Gretta was born on River Street, where she and Hugh lived for all those years, amid a conclave of friends as close as the paper on the wall.

Let’s see, there were John and Georgia Nelson and Dan and Carol Fishwick and I don’t know who else, but they gave a new definition to “good neighbors.”

Gretta’s obituary in the paper was so eloquent and touching that I firmly believe it was written by Dan Fishwick. For example:

“Born on the first day of spring, 1918, on River Street in Willoughby, Gretta walked in the footsteps of her father, noted photographer and naturalist C.M. Shipman.”

We should all have a send-off by a biographer so talented.

I can’t begin to recite all of their myriad involvements, but you couldn’t mention the Burroughs Nature Club, the Heart of Willoughby, Gully Brook or anything having to do with nature, conservancy or the great outdoors without thinking of Hugh and Gretta.

It seems as if they took on the identity of everything in which they were involved.

The fact that both lived such long lives and that Gretta outlived Hugh by only half a year tells me that there was a grand design for their lives and that few are so fortunate as to know as much love – for each other and for all their many interests.

I am not certain whether they ever had a disagreement, but I know firsthand of some issues on which they had not only total agreement, but also an ability to persuade others that their view was the correct one.

I need only cite their service on the Distinguished Citizen Committee of the Chamber of Commerce. Its focus has now changed to honor business people only, but for decades the committee consisted of 10 members all of whom were former recipients of the award.

I was chairman of that committee for ages, and I got to hand-pick the committee every year. I always chose Hugh and Gretta, along with Bob Riggin, Terry Coleman, John Tigue, Bill Crosier, Father Francis Curran, Jerry Merhar, Suzanne Jackson and, I believe, John Muranko.

The Pallisters always voted of one mind. One might suspect they had discussed the matter in advance – and at some length.

One year (2005) they came primed to nominate Don and Pat Lewis for the honor. There was another faction equally determined to choose Dan Hart.

The discussion went on and on. I think it carried over into another meeting. They were all fine candidates.
All  I tried to do was moderate the discussion and keep it on track.

In the end, common sense prevailed. We honored both the Lewises and Dan Hart. Hugh and Gretta were happy, everyone else was happy, and one and all considered it a job well done.

I am not good at mind-reading, but I would wager a farthing or two that when Hugh spoke at City Council meetings, somewhere in the background were lurking the thoughts of Gretta.

And why not? Just as with the “distinguished” award, they thought alike.

At a time when retired Municipal Court Judge Larry Allen was city law director, he drafted legislation defining the city’s Historic District. He termed the main drag “Buffalo Road.” Hugh and Gretta were amused – barely. Hugh was on council at the time.

As you well know, the name Buffalo Road never caught on. Perhaps we can thank Hugh and Gretta for that. Larry didn’t mind a bit.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

We can start playing baseball in April, but let’s moving ‘Opening Day’ to July

What I am about to propose is an idea that some might consider off-the-wall, weird or merely out of character from one as reliable, staid and conventional as I.

It has never been brought up before. Perhaps never again will it surface.

You will note that I did not term my idea as radical, or even progressive, because any suggestion of such inclinations in me is totally alien, if not abhorrent

Radical and progressive conduct is much easier to detect in those who are involved in such enterprises as Occupy Wall Street, nitwit protests and certain college insanity, for example, trying to shout down speakers who have an opposing point of view.

I do not approve of such nonsense, and I do not vote with those who do. Radical and progressive I am not.

So take note, Al Franken. You may have pals in the U.S. Senate who think you are sane, but I think you are a jerk. I even got an email the other day from a senator from Ohio (no names included here) who asked me to send a contribution to Al.

I did not, needless to say. (In college, our great KSU journalism prof Bill Taylor taught us that if something is needless to say, don’t say it. So I shouldn’t have said it. And by the way, if you think KSU stands for Kansas State University, you would be wrong.)

But I digress.

I know you are waiting patiently to hear what my unusual idea is. I hope you haven’t been standing on one leg waiting for it.

It is this. For Opening Day in baseball, have it on the Fourth of July.

Why? Because by then the weather is often decent. At the Indians opener this year, the weather was rotten.

It might have been a nice day for a Browns game. And believe me, I have been to many a Browns game played under worse conditions than the Tribe opener.

You expect that in football season. But here is a news bulletin – this is not football season, it is baseball season. And you don’t want to go to a baseball game and freeze.

So let’s open baseball season on July Fourth (but still start playing in April!) when the games are not played before 42,000 people not all of whom are sitting in the comfort of heated loges that have all the amenities of home, including all the food you can eat, all the Diet Pepsi you can drink plus indoor plumbing.

From where I was sitting with my three companions it was a long walk to the nearest facility. I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the more I appreciate the propinquity of the facility.

Our grandstand club seats were fine. And we were able to avail ourselves of all the food and beverage we could handle – free.

I had only three hot dogs and two bags of peanuts, but I stopped counting the hot dogs that ex-police chief, fire chief and Chief Deputy Sheriff Bill Crosier consumed, as well as the hamburgers, onion rings and pop, which some people call soda but which is actually pop.

A soda, if you didn’t know, has a scoop of ice cream in it. The Pepsi had no ice cream in it, so it was not soda, it was pop. I didn’t count the hot dogs devoured by Gary Robinson and Greg Sanders, two top-ranking and highly competent officials of the Lake Health System. But they didn’t appear to be ill or overfed.

A couple of years ago I wrote about the tasty and nourishing food served by the hospital system. I realize that Gary and Greg are not patients, they only work there. But I’ll bet they don’t sit around all day eating hot dogs. They have better things to do.

At one point, Josh Willingham of Minnesota came up to bat and Greg and I recalled that the Indians once coveted him when he played somewhere else.

We couldn’t remember where that other team was. But Greg has one of those all-knowing phones that I wrote about last week.

“Greg,” I said, “why don’t you whisper into your phone ‘Where did Josh Willingham used to play?’”

Quick as a wink the phone replied that he played for the Washington Nationals and a few other teams.

Amazing! Absolutely amazing!!

How would you like to be a school teacher and have some kid in the back of the room with one of those phones, asking it questions about solid geometry or frog anatomy?

I’d tell the kid’s mother, that’s what I would do.

Well, we stayed at the game until we started to turn blue, then we left along with about 41,000 other fans and headed home.

When I got there, the lady of the house was watching the game in the comfort of our living room. I joined her. Now, that’s the way to watch a ball game.

She hadn’t prepared any hot dogs or peanuts, and I didn’t want to cheat her out of a repast. So I took her up to the Manhattan Deli.

They have better food than Progressive Field. They only thing is, it isn’t free. Oh well, that’s America. But if all the food in the country were free, we’d all be going to Giovanni’s every night, and there isn’t room for all of us.

Editor's note: The headline on this column was edited April 16, 2014 to read We can, not can't, start playing baseball in April...

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Knowledge of trivia no match for a know-it-all phone

Sometimes, when we are making idle chatter, the lady of the house and I talk about building on an addition so we can store all the stuff we save.

The conversation, of course, is not totally serious. But to be sure, we are both prolific savers.

I give her much credit. She is constantly going through boxes and throwing stuff away. Some of it I beg her to save, like the magazine with a picture of her hitting a tennis ball on the cover. But she says she was much younger then. And I say, “so what?”

Unlike her, I have a terrible time throwing away keepsakes. I wonder if the Historical Society has any interest of a pile of programs from meetings going back to 1950?

I found on my desktop the other day a souvenir I will never give up. It is a ticket stub from an Indians game played against the New York Yankees on April 8, 1993. There is a big picture of the beloved Chief Wahoo on it.

Why is it so special? It was the game in which second baseman Carlos Baerga became the first player in baseball history to hit a home run both right-handed and left-handed in the same inning!

I understand the feat has since been duplicated twice. I guess that would make it triplicated.

The stub is autographed by Carlos because I gave it to Jim Ingraham, our N-H guy who covers the Tribe, and he had  him sign it for me.

(I remember the occasion very well. It was at that game that Fred Skok, the late, great judge of Lake County Probate Court, asked me where I got the loafers I was wearing. I told him Sharon, Pa. He asked me why I got them there. I told him Pennsylvania doesn’t charge sales tax on clothing. On the spot, Fred made me an honorary Slovenian. But I digress.)

A couple weeks ago, Bobby DiBiasio, the vice president and public relations guy for the Indians, was the speaker at Rotary. I told him about having that ticket stub commemorating Baerga’s amazing feat.

I thought it was not only a rare, but also somewhat obscure accomplishment – truly arcane, as in known only to a few.

Bobby D has an amazing storehouse of baseball trivia lodged in his brain.

He shot right back with: “Who were the two pitchers who threw those home run balls?”

I didn’t recall. “No idea,” I replied.

He recited their names. Both were Steve somebody-or-other. Boy, I’ll tell ya.

Which brings up another point about trivia. If you are a worldly person, I am sure you know there are cell phones which you can talk to. Right. You can ask them questions and get answers. Amazing!

We were having dinner the other evening with Bryan and Sandy Flanigan and he asked me if there was an Irish-American Club around here. I said there was one in Euclid.

He had a know-it-all phone. He asked it, “What is the address of the East Side Irish-American Club?” In a split second, the phone gave him the address on Lake Shore Boulevard.

Example No. 2: I was sitting next to Steve Byron one night last week at a Rotary past presidents meeting.

He had one of those phones that are smarter than most people.

I told him to ask the phone who the pitchers were who threw those home run balls. The phone replied with the names of both guys named Steve.

“OK,” I told him, “ask your phone who finished Paul Revere’s Ride?”

The reply was almost instantaneous. And it is a very long story.

Apparently along the way, Paul Revere was captured, a second rider, William Dawes, fell off his horse but got away, and a third rider, Samuel Prescott, completed the ride.
Steve’s phone knew all that.

I’ll tell you, modern technology scares the wits out of me. The fact that there are now phones that know everything is not only frightening, it is also bizarre and weird.

The possibilities may be unlimited, but there are some things that I don’t want to know!

I already know pi to 20 places. But Bryan’s and Steve’s phones probably know it to a million places. Who cares?

But if they get phones that can predict the future, then I want to have one. I’d like to know who is going to play quarterback for the Browns next year, what is the score of the next Super Bowl, and the hardest question of all – how deep is the ocean and how high is the sky?

I think the answer is, nobody knows, so people just write songs about it.

That’s the key: If  you don’t know something, you make up an answer, as all great speakers do, or you write a song about it.