Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Closing the circle on a 43-year career

It was on Sept. 14, 1970, a Monday, that I walked into the Freeman building for the first time. We were at the foot of Broadway then. It was 43 years, 50 pounds and a lifetime of memorable experiences ago.

It will be on Aug. 2, 2013, a Friday, that I will exit the Freeman building for the last time. We’re on Hurley Avenue now.

Oh, the stories I could tell.

I’ve given considerable thought to what I might say in this “farewell “ blog. (Actually, “farewell” is not quite accurate, since the title of “publisher emeritus” will always be with me. And I do expect to maintain this blog as the spirit moves me.)

To be sure, when I began my career as the third person in a three-person sports department – learning the ropes and the Kingston area phone book by typing (on a typewriter) bowling scores – I hardly expected to be working at the Freeman for three years, much less 43.

But a variety of personal and professional developments – from marriage to fulfilling a local National Guard hitch to a pair of job promotions in the sports department – altered the road map. It also didn’t hurt that this New York City native came to like living “in the country.” After a while, the original goal of becoming a big-time sports columnist didn’t seem so important anymore.
So here I am, having been a sport writer, sports editor, editor, general manager and, for 25 years, publisher of the Freeman, before becoming publisher emeritus a year ago, to round out my career.
It’s been a roller coaster of a ride, as you might imagine. How could being a journalist in this community be anything but? I’ll save some of those aforementioned stories for another time … or for my book … or maybe I’ll just keep them to myself.

Instead, I’ll take on the foolish job of mentioning Freeman people who were particularly memorable, influential and important to me. This newspaper enjoyed extraordinary success during most of the years when I was publisher. It’s not false modesty, however, to admit the obvious: I didn’t do it alone.

No doubt I’ll forget someone’s name, so I apologize in advance.

Here goes:

Legendary sports editor Charlie Tiano hired me in 1970. I worked for and with him for six years until succeeding him when he retired. I learned more about the newspaper business and this area from him than anyone else. He was responsible for giving me a start in this business and I’m eternally grateful.

Dick Treat was my first publisher. Ralph Ingersoll II, Tom Geyer and Jim Plugh followed. Bob Saehloff preceded me as general manager. Plugh convinced me to take the editor’s job, even though I’d turned it down earlier. Then he promoted me to succeed him as publisher in 1987.

Editors Peter Barrecchia, Tom Geyer, Chazy Dowaliby and Rob Borsellino helped prepare me to move into their chair in 1983.

In the newsroom, where I spent 13 of my formative years, I won’t soon forget people with whom I worked like Tony Adamis, Sam Daleo, Jeremy Schiffres, Matt Spireng, Jed Horne, Hugh Reynolds, Ed Palladino, Mort Laffin, Steve Kane, Bruce Goldberg, Tobie Geertsema, Rekha Basu, Irwin Thomas, Paul Burton, Brian Hollander, Ron Rosner, Dorothy Narel, Joan Saehloff, Tom Wakeman, Edwina Henderson, Betsy Sandberg, Jean Dolan, Mary Chris Kuhr, Emily Spoljaric, Wade Burkhardt, Bonnie Langston, Sid Leavitt , Rick Remsnyder, Mikhail Horowitz, Cynthia Werthamer, David Grice, Mike Stribl, Pat Courtney, Rose Morris, Carol Schaff, Alan Carey, Bob Haines, Dan Chidester, Bill Madden, Pat Doxsey, Modele Clarke, Sheila Isenberg, Craig Gilbert, Neal Allen and Kent Allen, among many others (plus a couple of decades worth of reporters, photographers and editors who arrived after I inherited the front office).

I learned plenty from advertising people like Jack Martin, Bud Walker, Barbara Norton, John Greklek, Mike Matranga, Greg Appel, Tim Tergeoglou, Jon Powers (a former reporter), Harold Johnson, Carol Stahl, Penny Ducker and Cindy Jones.

First-rate production people Bill Studt, David Hyatt, Peter Chadik, Michele Sisco-Martin and Len Bovee made sure the computers worked, the newspaper was printed and the building was maintained.
Dan Jagunic, Tom Amato and David Fogden were a few of the guys in charge of getting the newspaper delivered, but only after supervisors like Vince Crantz, Walt Daw and Lee Hazleton led teams that packaged it in the mailroom.

Financial gurus Bob McClintock, Tony Sakellariou, Tom Cincotta and Bob Wachter did the heavy lifting on budgets and other money matters. Brenda Crantz and Crystal Subeh put the “human” in human resources.

And where would a publisher be without quality executive administrative assistants like Geraldine Wilson, Debbie Katz, Margret Amato and Joan Beesmer?

Many at the corporate and counsel level s believed in and advised me -- Bill Higginson, Dave Carr, Mike Tannler, Bob Jelenic, Jean Clifton, Mike Murray, John Collins, Jim Hall, David Ross, Michael Rybicki, John Paton, Jeff Bairstow and Tom Wiley.

A newspaper publisher needs other newspaper publishers for advice and commiseration. Among my company colleagues, I spent time schmoozing (a technical term) with Frank Gothie, Mike O’Sullivan, Karen Alvord, Frank McGivern, Ann Campanie, Shelley Meenan, Ed Condra, Kevin Walsh, Bill Murray, Kevin Haezebroeck, Paula Walsh, Matt DeRienzo, Jack Shores, Deb Shaw, Chris Chamberlain, Marc Romanow and Jim Williams.

It was also wonderful working with Diane Kennedy, who heads the New York Newspaper Publishers Association, which I had the honor of chairing in 1997-98.

All of these people and others whose names have slipped my 65-year-old mind – I didn’t even get into citing colleagues from the non-daily publications in Dutchess, Putnam and Columbia counties that I operated for several years while also publishing the Freeman – were tremendous teammates.

The Freeman is in excellent hands under the leadership of Jan Dewey, whom the parent company was smart enough to lure as publisher right around this time last year. It’s no surprise that Jan is a dynamic, insightful and creative publisher, just the right person to inject new ideas and energy as our newspaper reinvents itself in print and, more importantly, continues to blaze a trail in the digital world, the place where our industry’s future resides.

The Freeman has gone from “hot type” to “cold type” to digital publishing during my 43 years. We moved from a historic location on the Strand to a renovated supermarket uptown. We shifted from an afternoon newspaper to a morning newspaper. We expanded from six-days-a-week to seven. We added popular sections like Preview and Doorways (dropping others like Tempo and Channels). We made the product more colorful and, yes, we redesigned it several times. We launched a short-lived Spanish weekly, which I hope the company can revisit once economic conditions are more favorable. We won awards and we became embroiled in controversies, some due to excellent stepping-on-toes journalism, others due to our own missteps. We occasionally tested the patience of readers, most of whom have thankfully remained loyal because they are mindful of the importance of a local daily newspaper. We angered politicians (not necessarily a bad thing) and we frequently took advantage of the bully pulpit of our editorial page to raise the community’s consciousness on a variety of significant issues.

It’s fashionable to predict the death of newspapers, given the decline in paid circulation and print advertising revenue. But I’m confident newspapers aren’t going anywhere, even if print continues to dwindle and maybe even disappear.

Between print and digital, the Freeman now has more readers than at any time in its 142-year history. The digital platform and all it encompasses enables newspapers to do what they’ve never been able to do: offer immediacy and audio and video to complement the printed word. The industry and this newspaper seem to have rediscovered equilibrium and momentum in order to grow in this still young century.

I was diagnosed with leukemia in April 2009. I have been in remission since November 2011. Prognosis is good. But it is a disease that never really goes away. The time is right for me to bow out of the often stressful day-to-day newspaper environment. The corporate team at 21st Century Media (formerly Journal Register Company) has been more than understanding and kind in advance of my departure.

I’m not calling it retirement. There are tweets, blogs, stories and maybe even books to write. Could be I’ll find myself in front of a classroom or behind a radio microphone or both. Maybe my professional experiences will be of interest to others in the industry. I think they call it consulting.

Then again, my golf game needs plenty of attention. More importantly, granddaughter Elizabeth, 8, is in Connecticut and grandson Dylan, seven months, is in California. My sons David (and his wife Jennifer) and Matt (and his wife Jessica) will be seeing more of me.

So will my wife Eileen (like it or not!). We started dating a month after I joined the Freeman and were married just shy of a year before my first anniversary of employment. She’s not prepared to say it’s always been a walk in the park. But we’re going strong after all this time, having weathered child-raising (mostly by her, since I was also married to the job), to being a sounding board as I vented about the latest work-related problem, to my illness. Who can be sure what’s next, other than Eileen and I remaining together and Woodstock being our home?

Yes, it’s been quite a ride these last 43 years at the Freeman. Thanks for joining me for all or parts of it.

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