Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The ABJ: Then, now, and later?

The muted  buzz from the third floor of the Beacon Journal is that the absentee Canadian owner could move it to smaller quarters within  a year - or sooner if it can find a buyer for the proudly towered edifice.

"It's like a  mausoleum," a reporter told  me a few days ago, confirming melancholy reports that have drifted out from others of the emptiness of the place that boasts high up on its front page of being "Informing. Engaging. Essential."

Mausoleum is not an exaggeration.   My source ruefully noted that the third floor is now the home of the news operation, advertising and circulation.  The second floor and mezzanine are vacant.  The first floor has only a guard station and a modest public service counter.  The paper is printed out of town.

The new building rose on the site of the razed Music Hall at 44. E. Exchange St. in the summer of 1930 to accommodate the Times-Press .  In 1938, the owner, Scripps-Howard,  sold it  to John S. Knight's publishing company  and there the building  has remained in powerful hands ever since.

When I arrived at the paper from Columbus in 1967 I was swept up by the lively environment of a  big noisy staff, the endless clattering of teletype  machines (news never stops) and the imposing figure of Jack Knight who often circulated in the news room from his corner office.

I had showed up at my desk with my right hand heavily bandaged from a serious cut suffered in a temper tantrum when  I slammed my fist against a jammed garage door.

Knight stopped short in his rounds, walked over to my desk and said:" I'm Jack Knight  What happened to your hand."

When I told him, he replied:  "Better be more csreful the next time," and walked away.

My years at the paper were more than rewarding.  Neither Knight nor  Ben Maidenburg, the feisty conservative editor who hired me after a contentious sit-down lunch, interfered with my political reporting (Ben merely sulked) , even though we came from different points on the political dial.  Working for these bosses, there was always the respectful sense of belonging to a professional operation.

But as the years passed, new store-trained editors arrived from distant sites  with strange ideas of newspaper vibrancy. Much of it came down to tinkered changes,which are now reflected in many mainstream papers .  No longer was it  the workplace of Knight's personal  family but rather an office  where you showed up at your desk, did the best that you could under the circumstances and prepared to move on.

The internal cohesion and driven competitiveness with other papers  broke apart with hiring freezes,  scrimping and catch-as-catch-can reporting.  Good people left, too many to the Plain Dealer - an exodus to the paper up the road that would have been treason in earlier times.   All that will be left of the soaring Knight legacy will vanish when they turn out the lights at 44 E. Exchange and move on, too.

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