A chronicle of the final days
This story appeared in the February 1986 issue of Columbus Monthly.
We got the news . . . a cold pair of notes tacked on the bulletin board last night announcing that negotiation between Scripps Howard, owner of the Citizen-Journal, and a firm named Equity Planning of Cleveland had been “terminated.” It meant the newspaper was going to fold.
It shouldn’t have been a shock. Somehow, I always thought the idea of us being sold was a pipe dream. What in the hell was anyone going to buy? We have no presses, no trucks. We don’t have an advertising staff. There is only a circulation list, some typewriters and a woefully understaffed newsroom. But day after day we heard stories that someone wanted to buy us. Leslie Wexner. Charlotte Curtis of the New York Times. Max Brown of Columbus Monthly. A bunch of Democrats in Cleveland. . . .
The rumors kept us going through the summer. Actually, the last two and a half years have been a nightmare. We lost good reporters and editors who didn’t want to wait around for the end. Cynthia Craft went to the Dallas Times Herald. Rita Rubin to the Dallas Morning News. Judy Rakowsky to the Providence Journal. Steve Luttner to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Jim McCarty to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Now, anyone with half a brain has his résumé out.
We always knew the Joint Operating Agreement we had with the Dispatch would expire someday. Two years ago in June, we finally got a date: Dec. 31, 1985. The Dispatch would not renew the agreement.
Today, the place is like a morgue. Even though Scripps Howard says it’s trying to find another buyer for us, nobody believes it.
I spent the morning covering an Ohio senate committee meeting. What I really was doing was figuring out how I would survive without a paycheck. Mary Anne Sharkey of the Plain Dealer was sitting next to me. She’s married to Joe Dirck, our columnist. Joe is one hell of a guy. Funny. Sensitive. A fine writer. Mary Anne was worried about how the news would hit him.
Boy, did it hit him. When I got back to the office, I found Joe in a state of shock. Normally, he is laughing and joking. Today he just sat there. Then at 2 o’clock, he got up and walked out of the newsroom. And I follow him out.
“You know my problem is I love what I’m doing,” he told me. “I just want to keep writing columns. That’s all I want to do.” I tried to tell him he could keep doing it . . . at another newspaper. That would mean leaving town, he said, “and I don’t want to do that. Mary Anne’s going to be here. And my marriage is more important than any job.”
He wanted to go out and get drunk, but he hadn’t done anything like that in 10 years and he wasn’t going to start now. Well, if I got anywhere near a bar tonight, I’d be gone. I felt bad about Joe. He’s the one columnist in this city who takes on Buck Rinehart when the mayor does something stupid, which, in Buck’s case, is every other day.
When I started back for the office, I ran into city editor Rodger Jones and told him that I wasn’t going to write anything today, in protest. He laughed. “That’s OK,” he said. “I’m leaving at 5.” Rodger never leaves that early. He works like a dog all the time.
Some of the older guys who have been with the paper for years will make a killing on the severance pay and a few of them regard our death as great news. “If one of those guys laughs about this,” I told Rodger, “I’m going to punch him right in the nose.”
Back in the newsroom, reporters were churning out their copy. But we all were conscious of the notes on the bulletin board. Susan Collins was talking about finding an apartment without a lease. Linda Deitch was starting her first day on the job. Becky Teagarden had just turned down a job with the Dallas Times Herald. She insisted she didn’t regret it.
At 5:30 pm, having accomplished zero, I started for the door. Seymour Raiz, our managing editor, was leaving, too, and offered me a ride to my car.
“We’ll go out with a bang,” he told me. “Not a whimper.”
Sorry, Seymour, I thought. You’re wrong. This staff will disintegrate in the next month. People will be jumping ship every day.
The C-J finally reported today it was going down the tubes. Everybody else ran the story before we did. We couldn’t even get our obit first, although we knew about it two days ago. Scripps Howard made us sit on it.
Columnist Larrilyn Edwards and Jeff Wolf, who works in sports, were on Channel 4 last night. They said things looked dim. I heard that our metro editor, Bill Keesee, was mad at Larrilyn for what she said. What was she supposed to say?
Morale is lousy around newsroom, but the initial shock has worn off. I began working on my Saturday column. Sandy Theis was trying to follow up the series she and Nancy McVicar wrote about the Celeste administration’s forcing people to make political contributions to get state contracts. Sandy is good. She won’t have trouble landing a job when we fold.
There are others I don’t know about. George Plagenz, our religion writer, is near retirement. He’s been with us for just over a year so he doesn’t get a whole lot of severance. George was at the Cleveland Press when it died. Our editor, Dick Campbell, brought him down and promised we’d last 16 months. Campbell was right on the mark.
Poor Campbell; I don’t even know if he knows the bad news yet. He’s in the Soviet Union, and when he left here, he thought the newspaper was sold. Just a couple of weeks ago I went in and told him I had been interviewed by another paper. He didn’t try to talk me into staying, but he was convinced we were going to be sold. He was positive. Now I wonder if he knows.
Dirck is returning to normal. His idol, Pete Rose, broke Ty Cobb’s record last night. “That was the high point of my day,” he said with a laugh.
Sometime around 5, Jeff Grabmeier announced he was working on a story about an investigation in Heath involving the “placement of human sperm in the condiments of salad bars in local restaurants.”
More news on the bulletin board. Dick Campbell posted a note asking all staffers to show up in the newsroom at 3 pm. Nobody needed an interpreter to figure out what it was for. Paul Sussman, who covers education, started whistling taps. “I wouldn’t start any long-term projects,” he joked.
We already had one meeting today. At 11 am, 15 of us met with Hannah Jo Rayl, the newspaper guild representative. She spent 30 minutes answering questions about severance and vacation pay and hospitalization. She suggested we form a team to negotiate any outstanding issues with Scripps. We don’t have much bargaining power. What are we going to do if we don’t like the deal? Strike?
A few minutes before 3, Campbell walked into the newsroom. The room was filled. Reporters. Editors. Copy kids. There must have been 50 of us, all worried about our futures, hoping for some miracle and knowing there would be none.
Campbell climbed up on a bench near the bulletin board and spoke in a firm voice. He made a game effort to smile.
“I went to Russia two weeks ago secure in the belief that the paper would be sold and it would be announced Friday, Sept. 6,” he said. “I even sent a post card to Elizabeth [his secretary] congratulating everyone on the sale. When I got back into town, I got Saturday’s paper to find the announcement and it wasn’t there. Then later that night, I saw the story in our Thursday paper and I almost threw up.”
Except for the occasional ringing of a telephone, the newsroom was silent.
Campbell went on. As far as he was concerned, it was over. He said he would not get his hopes up anymore. He said the rumors of our closing Oct. 31 were wrong. We would close Dec. 31. “I know you’re all looking for jobs,” he said. “I hope you succeed. I’ll help any way I can with phone calls and letters.”
We still had to publish a newspaper, he continued. For those willing to stay until the “bitter end,” he held out some hope that we would not be forgotten by Scripps Howard. He said he was “confident” Scripps Howard would make every effort to find jobs for us.
“I do want to ask all of you to continue to be proud professionals,” Campbell said. “This is a good newspaper. I was particularly pleased with the series we just did on the Celeste administration. I hope we can do that type of thing again to show people we are a proud newspaper. I hope it wins the Pulitzer Prize. That would be the finest epitaph this paper could have.”
He stepped down from the bench and people applauded. That was not an easy speech for him to give. He was frank with us, and we appreciated it.
Then the reporters and editors scattered. There is something about the next deadline that snaps us back to the reality of getting out a newspaper. Half an hour after the meeting, the daily editorial meeting began on schedule. I finished a piece on former Cleveland Mayor Dennis Kucinich and his chances of beating Dick Celeste in the primary. I even managed to scream in frustration when the story got cut from 27 inches to 18.
But the truth was hanging over all of us. Our newspaper was going to die. Would we be missed? Would anybody give a damn?
The exodus continues. Sandy Schwartz, our executive sports editor, is leaving to become a news and feature editor with a newspaper in Mesa, Arizona. His wife is getting a good job with a Phoenix TV station and Sandy was able to get a job in the same area. He leaves in three weeks.
This one is hard to take. I owe the world to Sandy. He hired me in 1978 as a sports writer when most editors would not have touched me. I had zippo newspaper experience. But he was looking for someone who was aggressive, obnoxious and could write, and I qualified on all three counts.
Campbell made Sandy the sports editor when he was 23. The sports pages were a disaster then. A bunch of guys who didn’t care. Sandy changed that. He weeded out the zilches, hired a whole group of reporters, and by 1981, given the limitations of our space, he was performing miracles.
Two more staffers hit the jackpot. Nancy McVicar has an offer to go to the Dayton Daily News. It’s a hell of a deal for her: They’ll let her stay here until we close, which allows her to collect her severance. She’s been here 11 years, so it should be a bundle. The only drawback is that Dayton has two newspapers owned by one company—the Daily News and the Journal Herald. Everybody figures they’ll close the morning Journal Herald, which could put a few reporters out of jobs. Nancy’s worried she could move to Dayton and then get laid off.
Jeff Grabmeier also is leaving. Marilyn Greenwald, who writes for our business pages, told me Grabby had taken a job at Ohio State University in public relations.
“I can’t believe he did that,” I said. “I just told him about a general assignment reporting job with the Toledo Blade. I thought he’d try and go there.”
I hate to see good reporters go into PR. Our old City Hall reporter, Davyd Yost, took a job with Buck Rinehart’s administration. I thought he was silly for doing that. Davyd’s a reporter. Not a flack.
Everywhere I go, people are asking me the same questions. Is it true? What are you going to do? Will you stay to the end? Are you moving from Columbus?
Keesee sent out a memo saying our final deadline would be Dec. 30. He enclosed a form for us, saying the paper wanted to coordinate efforts to find us jobs. It was a nice gesture.
We started seminars today for anybody on our staff who needs help finding a new job. That means everybody in the newsroom. Campbell and Bill Keesee arranged to have a couple of experts in writing résumés and interviewing come in and talk with us.
We have a new bulletin board in the newsroom and Keesee puts up notices of jobs. He also brought in a copier and we can make copies of our clips free of charge. And we now can use the WATS line to make calls to editors across the country.
Our negotiating team settled. Considering how little bargaining power we had, I thought we did OK. We get medical coverage for five months after we fold; everybody will get a minimum of three weeks severance. We have a lot of young reporters who just joined the staff and they can use the money. Scripps Howard promised to set up a service to help us find jobs.
Today was the day for rumors. A friend called around 5 pm to say she heard the Dispatch would announce tomorrow that it would publish a morning—and an afternoon—newspaper beginning Jan. 1. The first part made sense. The Dispatch wants to go morning because that’s where the readers are.
I hung up and looked at Rodger Jones. He was on the phone hearing the same rumor. He asked if I could make a few calls, but I had a City Council election debate to cover. He gave the story to Todd Halvorson.
The newsroom was in an uproar when I returned about 9. The Dispatch had indeed planned an announcement for tomorrow. The new rumor was that it would start a morning paper immediately. Tom Birdsong, our assistant city editor, said he heard the JOA has a clause permitting either party to buy out the final two months.
I thought it was nonsense. The Dispatch has gone out of its way to make sure it won’t be accused of forcing us out of business. It owns WBNS Radio and TV. The last thing it wants is the Justice Department raising any questions. The Dispatch won’t even interview our reporters for any openings.
Rodger came back after talking to some of his sources around town. He had the same rumors. We would die in two days. And Rodger is not the hysterical type. I decided to call someone who would know.
“Look,” I told my friend. “We’ve known each other a long time. I don’t give a damn if you guys announce you’re going morning in January. But I’d like to know if I’m out of a job tomorrow.”
“What you’ve heard is wrong,” he told me. “We’re not going mornings right away. Everything I know indirectly is that the C-J will be in business until Dec. 31. We ain’t going mornings before the end of the year. I guarantee you that.”
Then a friend at the Dispatch told me there was a staff meeting scheduled the next day with Luke Feck, the Dispatch editor. Everyone was expecting an announcement about going mornings. But the date was Jan. 1.
I was telling our staffers what I heard when Susan Prentice waltzed in. Susan used to head our guild and if anyone ever gives out an award for “most false rumors about the death of the C-J,” she should win it. This time she said she believed we would be gone in the next day or two.
I vouched for my sources to Rodger and we went with a story saying the Dispatch planned to go mornings on Jan. 1.
Not everyone was convinced. As one of our copy editors, Cecil Cubbison, got up to leave, another copy editor, Jack Marks, looked up and said, “Well, Cec, if I never see you again. . . .”
We’re still here.
What the Dispatch did today was hold a press conference to announce that come Jan. 1, it will be the morning Dispatch. Not exactly big news. Everyone knows the reason the Dispatch didn’t renew the JOA is because it wants the morning market. That’s where the circulation is—and the money.
I had come into the office at 10:30 am and Rodger Jones immediately motioned me into Seymour Raiz’s office. Gerri Willis, who covers downtown development, was sitting in a chair in the corner glancing at a piece of copy paper.
Rodger said the Dispatch was going to make some kind of announcement at 11 am at the Hyatt on Capitol Square. He had typed up a list of questions he wanted asked and Gerri was going through them: Why wasn’t the JOA renewed, would ad rates go up, that sort of thing.
“Aren’t these going to sound a little like sour grapes if we ask them?” I asked.
“Those are questions we should get in,” Rodger replied. “The TV folks will probably ask them anyway. Gerri will write the story, but I want you there as well.”
I wasn’t the only one there. It seemed like half of our staff showed up.
Some guy named Angelo D. Juarez, who said he was the director of marketing services for the Dispatch, stood at the lectern. I never heard of the guy before, and neither had the Dispatch reporters I talked to later. He gave a brief history of the JOA, explained how it gave the C-J the morning market and the Dispatch the afternoon. He said the “association worked well for many years.” But times had changed. He said it would be foolhardy for the Dispatch to remain an afternoon newspaper when the real money was in the morning. It didn’t mean, he said, that the C-J had to stop publishing. Scripps Howard had the money and staff to publish its own newspaper in Columbus, he insisted.
Reporters quizzed him for a good half-hour, but Juarez didn’t offer much more.
Election night is the most important night of the year for a political reporter. But I wasn’t allowed to forget the precarious future. As I fumbled through early voting returns at the Board of Elections, a friend walked up.
“Are you resigning before Dec. 14?” he asked.
“Why Dec. 14?”
“Because I hear by Dec. 15, the Dispatch will have filled all its openings,” he said.
I had heard the same thing. A number of Dispatch staffers told me their editors wanted to be at full strength for Jan. 1. Unfortunately for the Citizen-Journal people, that meant the Dispatch would not have any openings the day after we folded. Dick Campbell and Luke Feck are supposed to have a longstanding agreement not to raid each other’s staff. The situation was causing a lot of bitterness.
It was an easy election night. We finished our coverage at a reasonable hour and then most of the staff assembled at the Short North. It’s a tradition on election night. As the bar was closing, I walked around, glass raised, toasting the final election edition of the Columbus Citizen-Journal.
It was 9:45 am. I was getting dressed for work when the phone rang. It was Rodger Jones.
“What are you doing today?” he asked.
“I was going to make a few calls on the story of us folding,” I told him. Rodger had assigned me to write a story that would run Dec. 31 on why the C-J had died. It was to be a major project and I had a telephone interview scheduled for today with a New York newspaper analyst.
“Well, you’re going out of town today,” he said.
“I can’t tell you.”
“Rodger, tell me.”
“I can’t. Not until you get in here.”
Fifteen minutes later I was there, thoroughly annoyed at the cloak-and-dagger attitude of my city editor. Rodger quickly waved me into the conference room. He wore that semi-serious expression on his face which made it impossible to tell if he was joking or not.
First he swore me to secrecy. Then he said I would be going to Bath, Ohio. I was to interview some guy named Nyles V. Reinfeld who was going to buy our newspaper.
Buy our newspaper?
The deal would be announced at 3 pm, Rodger said. He wanted me to interview Reinfeld and write a story for our first edition.
“Who is this guy?” I wanted to know.
Rodger wanted to know the same thing.
Dick Campbell joined us. Except for the executives at Scripps Howard, we were the only ones to know of the sale. We wanted it kept that way so the Dispatch wouldn’t scoop us on our own story. Campbell did not know a whole lot more about Reinfeld. He said they had had lunch earlier in the week.
Rodger wanted a photographer to accompany me. Trying to get one without telling the photo editor what was happening would be a problem. Finally, Rodger and I made up a story that we had to go to Bucyrus because state Sen. Paul E. Pfeifer was going to make a surprise announcement, and Arlen Pennell was assigned to go with me.
As we drove a press car out of the parking lot, I told Arlen to turn off the two-way radio.
“Are you sure nobody can hear us?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “The radio is unplugged.”
I told him the story.
He had a lot of questions and all I could say was, “I don’t know.” Then he wondered if he would still get his severance pay. Arlen has been at the C-J for a long time and figured to cash in on Dec. 31.
Bath is two and a half hours from Columbus, just outside of Akron. We stopped in Mansfield for lunch and I called Reinfeld’s home to set up an appointment. We agreed to meet in his Bath office at 2 pm. After I hung up, it dawned upon me that I had called him “Mr. Reinhold” during the entire conversation. I must have made a major impression on the guy.
Arlen and I both were taken aback when we saw his office. I didn’t expect the Trump Tower, but I had hoped for a little more than this one-story building: It was the singularly least impressive office I had ever seen. We walked in and a pleasant secretary greeted us. Moments later we were ushered into Reinfeld’s office. He sat behind a desk in the one-window office, which was just large enough to hold two chairs in front of the desk.
Our new publisher didn’t exactly remind me of Charles Foster Kane. He had a pleasant smile and seemed like a nice guy. But he looked as though he would have a tough time competing against Peter Pan, let alone John Walton Wolfe.
We interviewed him for an hour. Yes, he was buying the paper. No, he wouldn’t tell us how much he paid for it. Yes, he had investors. No, he wouldn’t tell us who they were. Yes, he had a place to print the paper. No, he wouldn’t tell us where it was. Yes, the staff would be retained. No, he didn’t know if they would be paid the same. Yes, he was politically conservative. No, he didn’t plan to change the moderate philosophy of the paper.
It all sounded disturbingly vague. I was really troubled when he told us the name of the publishing company would be the American Heartland Publishing Company Inc. It sounded like the name of a health-food cereal.
Reinfeld assured us over and over again, without providing too many details, that he had taken over financially ailing companies before and made them sound.
“Basically our experience has been general management,” Reinfeld said. “It’s been solving problems. And our problem here is to find the right people to head up the organization. In other words, we’re going to build an organization very rapidly.
“You say, ‘What makes you think you can run a newspaper?’ The answer is, ‘I can’t.’ But I can run the management. I can run the business end of it.”
Arlen took some photographs of Reinfeld and we left. Neither one of us was brimming with confidence. We had never heard of a major metropolitan daily being run the way this man was envisioning. Contract out the printing? Contract out the advertising staff? Contract out the circulation staff? The whole thing sounded ludicrous.
But we had a story to file before we could worry about those things. Arlen took the wheel on the way back to Columbus while I transcribed the tape of the interview on the portable Radio Shack computer I brought. By the time we reached the city limits, I had finished the tape.
We entered a newsroom that had been given a second life. Campbell had told the staff about the sale and everybody was excited. When I walked in, Becky Teagarden, now executive sports editor, gave me cheerful hug.
I wrote a lengthy story for the first edition and in the process managed to misspell Reinfeld’s name three different ways.
It was nearly 10 pm when I left the newsroom. Eventually around midnight I caught up with most of the staff at a party at Victory’s on South High Street. Most of them were smiling, celebrating and releasing the tension that had plagued us the past two years.
Two people weren’t celebrating. I was one. Gerri Willis was the other. I walked over to her and said, “You’re not smiling.”
She nodded. “I’m just realistic.”
The job board came down today. For the first time in months, people in the newsroom are talking about 1986 as if it weren’t a disease. It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement.
Reinfeld made his first appearance in the newsroom and the staff quickly turned it into a celebration. Sandy Schwartz sent us a huge cake with the words “Long Live the C-J” written across it. Campbell asked Reinfeld to cut the cake first and then we all dug in. We were surrounded by TV cameras and reporters who were trying to interview Reinfeld. They were getting the same vague answers from him that I had on Friday.
The only downer to the afternoon was a note printed to the bulletin board. All C-J employees would need to fill out new applications. The immediate suspicion was that we all would get our jobs back, but at a lower salary. What the hell. A job is a job.
Bad news. I heard that the Akron Beacon Journal was running a story today that our new owner, Nyles V. Reinfeld, had once declared bankruptcy. I called the Beacon reporter who wrote the story and she read parts of it to me. It seems Reinfeld ran into a bit of financial trouble in 1977. He and his wife had to file for bankruptcy because, according to court records, he listed liabilities of $476,000 and assets of $900. Nine hundred dollars? The man who was going to save our paper and keep us in jobs and all those other wonderful things had a lousy $900 in 1977. Oh, brother!
I decided I would bring it up at my interview with Reinfeld’s top associate, Ron Maddox. Everybody on the staff had to be interviewed by Maddox and my appointment was set for 3:30 pm at the Christopher Inn. The thing turned out to be less an interview than an introduction; Maddox was warm, friendly and bubbling with confidence. He said he and Reinfeld wanted to get to know everybody on the staff. Then he wanted to know if I had questions. He seemed like such a nice guy that I didn’t have the nerve to bring up Nyles Reinfeld and the $900. So I asked him what he thought the chances of our succeeding were. He breezily estimated them at between 80 and 90 percent.
I hope he’s better with numbers than Reinfeld.
Tom Mennillo is going to stay with us. He’s our assistant managing editor and he was going to Pittsburgh after Jan. 1. It’s a good sign that he’s staying. Tom is a computer expert and Reinfeld and Campbell want him to buy a new computer system for the C-J. Tom wouldn’t have turned down a sure thing in Pittsburgh unless he had some guarantees from Reinfeld. They must have told him something. He swore they didn’t.
“Is there enough time to put a new system in?” I asked.
“There’s enough time,” he said. “It can be done.”
There are other positive signs. We hired an advertising director, and every day a parade of people who want to sell advertising go in to see him. In addition, Wayne Harer of Coldwell Banker is showing Reinfeld office space downtown.
Even Campbell was caught up in it. In his column last Saturday he referred to Reinfeld as a man in a white hat. I heard he encouraged Larrilyn to turn down a TV job to stay at the new Citizen-Journal because if she left, people would think the new paper had no chance.
It was a typical Sunday evening at the Citizen-Journal. Only a couple of reporters were at work and they appeared thoroughly bored. We were scheduled to run a story I wrote on former Ohio Gov. John J. Gilligan and I came in to see the first edition.
There was a form letter in my mailbox from Rodger Jones saying I had been offered a reporting job with the Citizen-Journal after Jan. 1.
“I don’t expect an easy time after the first of the year, but I think the rewards can be great if we decicate ourselves to good journalism,” Rodger wrote. “One last thing: Please don’t lose your sense of humor.”
I was still going through my mail when Becky Teagarden walked by. She said she heard that Reinfeld was talking about filing a lawsuit against the Dispatch to force them to extend the Joint Operating Agreement. She didn’t have to explain what that meant. Nyles Reinfeld was having trouble putting the deal together and couldn’t open the new Citizen-Journal on Jan. 1. I can’t say I was surprised.
I had to take a week of vacation before the end of the year or lose the time. So I was home watching the Monday night football game. The sound was off because I was on the telephone with Dick Neustadt, a Democratic PR guy. We were talking about my Gilligan story when Channel 6 aired some video showing our newsroom. But without sound, I had no idea what was going on.
“Hey, have you heard anything about us today?” I asked Neustadt.
“Yeah,” he said. “Supposedly one of your investors dropped out today.”
I quickly called the city desk and Tom Birdsong answered.
“It’s not as bad as the TV stations are saying,” Birdsong said. “Gerri Willis is working on the story right now.”
Birdsong went through a long and tortured explanation. One of Reinfeld’s investors was talking about dropping out, but he hadn’t made a firm decision yet. Birdsong thought the investor was trying to get a larger say in the running of the Citizen-Journal.
To me it meant the deal was falling apart.
We ran a story this morning in which Reinfeld said it would be “very, very tough” to put out the C-J on Jan. 1. Some of his “investors” were balking.
That’s just dandy.
I went in to pick up my paycheck. Julie Hauserman came over and told me she was joining the Stuart News in Florida in January. It’s a Scripps Howard Paper.
Rodger was at his desk in the center of the newsroom. He had a glum expression on his face and, even more noticeably, he didn’t have the usual “I love my job” button attached to his tie. I reminded him about it and he put it on.
I told him the situation was awful. “At least before this Reinfeld thing we were going to die with dignity. Now we’re going out as the laughingstock of Columbus.”
I was still on vacation so I went out to finish some Christmas shopping and went home. Around 5 pm, a friend called to say Thomas Tripp, a Columbus attorney, was going around town with someone named Barney Jones and introducing Jones as the new publisher of the C-J. This one had a possibility to it. Tripp had entertained the notion of buying the paper during the summer.
I telephoned the city desk and talked to Rodger. He seemed to know something about it.
“Do you think this can be kept quiet until tomorrow at 1 pm?” he asked.
“I doubt it. If my friend knows, others probably have heard it as well.”
I couldn’t stand the suspense. I went to the newsroom and found Rodger and Gerri Willis hunched over a VDT working on the story. I read it over their shoulders. A group of newspaper executives was negotiating with Reinfeld to buy the paper. The key, according to Barney Jones, was to get the Dispatch to extend the JOA. Fat chance, I thought.
What shook me up was reading that the head of the group was John Malone, a newspaper consultant from Chicago. I had interviewed Malone a month ago and at the time he proposed a bizarre plan to save the C-J. He wanted the employees to get second mortgages on their homes and use the money to buy stock in a new company he would form. I remember shaking my head as he explained the scheme to me. I thought it was time to get the padded wagon.
Gerri, Sandy Theis, Jeff Wolf and I went out for a drink. The optimism of just a few weeks ago was gone. We were once again talking about the Citizen-Journal in the past tense.
Sandy said she was going to interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer tomorrow.
The job board was back up again. It meant our top editors had resigned themselves to closing. I stepped into Bill Keesee’s office and found him leafing through a mountain of résumés and clips from reporters wanting jobs at the “new” Citizen-Journal. A month earlier he was trying to find jobs for us at other newspapers. Now everything was in limbo.
“I don’t know if I’m supposed to find jobs for people or find people for jobs,” he said quietly.
Our newest staffer, Karen Doyle, joined us Nov. 25, leaving a paper in Tupelo, Mississippi. “I knew I was taking a chance, but you never think you’re taking that big of a chance,” she said. “I just never thought anybody would buy a paper without having any money.”
Karen isn’t the only one.
I took a late lunch and returned to the newsroom a little after 2. As I passed the bulletin board, I noticed a tiny note pinned on it. It was on Dick Campbell’s stationery. I froze.
“FYI, all hands,” it said. “I have declined Nyles Reinfeld’s offer to let me be the editor of his newspaper. I don’t know just what I will be doing.”
I was shocked. And yet, I shouldn’t have been. Dick is a man of honor and I think he was deeply offended by Reinfeld’s broken promises. He could no longer defend the nonsense that Reinfeld was offering. The Friday before, Dick and Luke Feck appeared at the Columbus Metropolitan Club. I wasn’t there, but several people told me later that Campbell had belittled Reinfeld and poked fun at him. That’s Campbell. He generally says what’s on his mind.
I know he was troubled by Reinfeld’s latest public fiasco. Reinfeld accused the Dispatch of supplying him with “worthless” circulation lists and made it clear he believed the Dispatch was attempting to sabotage his operation. Most of us were embarrassed by his statements.
I went into Campbell’s office and congratulated him. He smiled and leaned back in his chair. “I wanted to get out of here with my self-respect,” he said.
Campbell’s resignation inspired a staff insurrection. Sandy Theis was pounding away at her VDT, drafting a letter to Reinfeld. At various times, about a half-dozen of us were in there, offering suggestions on wording.
The letter was blunt. Originally, it was going to run in the paper that night. But Rodger Jones pointed out that most of the staff wouldn’t get a chance to see it. So we waited a day.
Sandy had the letter ready in the morning. It was brutal and to the point. Basically, we told Reinfeld he was lying about his efforts to publish the C-J after Jan. 1, and we urged him to sell the paper to a reputable buyer with the ability to keep it alive.
When it came to me, I glanced at it and scrawled my name. Before long there were so many names we needed a second page. By 4 pm, we had 54 signatures from a staff of 70.
Sandy Theis took it over to the Christopher Inn to hand it personally to Reinfeld. We all waited for word. He was in negotiations with the Tripp-Malone group.
After 5 pm, a large group of us gathered around Rodger’s desk as he talked to Reinfeld on the phone. Then Seymour Raiz, Rodger and Gerri Willis went into Seymour’s office. They decided to run a story about the negotiations and devote just a few paragraphs to the letter. I wish we had printed the entire text.
That wasn’t the only letter I saw that day. Earlier I had been handed a letter signed by Campbell informing me that my services would no longer be required after Dec. 31, 1985. It was a form letter that everyone got.
We were working on our final edition, which was set for Dec. 31. Rodger Jones did much of the planning, but Paul Sussman, now an assistant city editor, was in charge of the edition. I was doing the story on why the Citizen-Journal was closing, and it looked as though it would be longer than War and Peace.
Paul was at my desk explaining what page one would look like: a picture of the skyline of Columbus and a huge 96-point headline saying, “Goodbye, Columbus.”
Scripps bought us extra pages for the final edition.
We finally got through to Nyles Reinfeld today. After ignoring our telephone calls for 10 days, he spoke to Gerri Willis. When Gerri asked him why he was being so uncommunicative, he gave the astounding reply: “Because you always put what I say in the newspaper.”
We got a good laugh over the answer.
We continued to grind out a daily newspaper. A note from Campbell advised us to have our personal effects out of the building by Tuesday and turn in our identification cards to the security guards on the same day.
Most people were not waiting until Tuesday.
Sam Perdue filled up several large cardboard boxes with three decades of his work. He went about it quietly and without attracting attention. But it hit me. Sam is 64 and has been a newspaper man all of his life.
With his work finished, he sat at this desk, smoking a cigarette, his elbows resting on a briefcase.
“This is the first time since I was 16 years old that I didn’t have a job,” he said.
Surprisingly, there were few tears during the day. The mood was almost euphoric. At 2:30 pm, radio, television and print reporters filled the newsroom to record the final workday. We popped bottles of champagne and Julie Hauserman snapped pictures for her personal file. At 3 we assembled in the newsroom for a final staff photo. Former staffers such as Jim McCarty, Judy Rakowsky and Jeff Grabmeier showed up as did columnist Bob Greene, who started his journalistic career with us.
Just after 9 pm, George Ammer, a copy editor who has been a fixture in Columbus journalism, led a group into the bowels of the building where the greasy presses were preparing to print the early edition of our final newspaper. As it rolled toward us, T.C. Brown reached in to get the first copy.
Back upstairs, the newsroom was emptying as most of the staffers went over to Mellman’s Corner for a final party. I stayed to wait for the second edition, which would come off just before midnight.
Finally, the time came for me to leave. Only a few people were still there. There was confetti on the floor, empty champagne bottles on the desks. Tears were forming in the corners of my eyes and I grabbed the elevator down to the lobby. A few seconds later I had to go back. I had left a glove.
Outside the building, a large group of people had gathered. I was taken aback at first, because Third Street normally is deserted at this time of night.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
A man looked at me. “We’re waiting for a piece of history,” he said.
I put on my gloves and went to the party.
Jack Torry was a member of the Citizen-Journal reporting staff for seven years.