Monday, December 14, 2009

Final Edition

It’s seems sadly fitting that I learned on the same day that Editor & Publisher was folding and Tom Flannery had died.

Tom was a reporter at the Pocono Record in Stroudsburg, Pa., my first daily newspaper job. E&P is—soon to be “was”—the trade magazine for the newspaper industry, which at the time was being printed at a plant in nearby East Stroudsburg.

I subscribed to E&P for years and I even worked there briefly in the late 90s before going to work for

Like a lot reporters, I always went straight to the want ads when the latest issue of E&P arrived because, like a lot of reporters, I hated my current job with a passion and I had to get the hell out before I went berserk.

I did get around to reading the articles, but the job listings always came first. E&P was my lifeline to the outside world and each issue offered some hope that maybe this week I’d find my dream job.

You had to read the ads carefully, though, because sometimes you’d spot a great job, get all pumped to apply, only to see that the paper was located somewhere south of South Succotash and had a circulation of about 12. I learned to check the locations before reading the rest of the ad.

This was before email applications, back when you had to photocopy your resume and your best clips, type up a letter and some labels, and bring the whole thing down to the Post Office so you could mail it. (God, it sounds like I’m cranking up a Model T.)

When I was living in Waterbury, Conn., I went to the photocopy place so often that I made friends with the staff. They got to know me at the Post Office, too.

I answered an ad in E&P for the Pocono Record in 1988, got the job, and that’s where I met Tom Flannery. Tom was covering Stroudsburg Borough Council and seemed to know everybody in town.

He wasn’t shy by any means and he seemed like one of those wise-cracking reporter characters from old black & white movies. All he needed was one of those old gooseneck telephones.

I was driving along North Seventh Street in Stroudsburg one day when I saw Tom walking over the bridge that spanned I-80. I honked my horn and was a little surprised to see Tom’s face go pale.

I found out later that Tom had written some articles about drug dealers from the Bronx or Brooklyn and when he saw the New York plates on my car, he thought someone was sizing him up for a drive-by.

We only worked together for a short time before Tom got a job at the Intelligencer Journal in Lancaster, Pa.

Before he left, Tom suggested I take over the Stroudsburg Borough beat and, on his very last day, he saw to it that I covered the arrest of a murder suspect. It was a wild night, but I’m glad Tom set that up because it was also an incredible experience.

Get Me Rewrite

After getting the story and writing up the article, I met Tom at a bar near the paper for a farewell drink.

“Give him as many drinks as he wants,” Tom told the bartender.

I saw Tom once or twice after that, talked to him on the phone a few times more and then we lost touch. I later saw him on the show Nightline discussing a story he had done on a defense contractor in Lancaster and his hard work had earned him a Pulitzer nomination.

I eventually got back to New York and somewhere in my career I worked at E&P for a short time before getting the offer from CNN, my first internet reporting job.

I felt badly at leaving E&P so soon after starting, especially after meeting several nice people there, but even the spokeswoman at the Newspaper Association of America told me to take the CNN gig.

“I enjoy working with you,” she said, “but if you don’t take this job at CNN I’ll kill you.”

I left E&P and I let my subscription run out. We all know what’s happening to the newspaper industry, but I was still shocked that the magazine was folding—not going online, not being salvaged in some way, just shutting down and disappearing. It doesn’t seem right.

When I look at what’s happening to newspapers, I think of the movie industry when it shifted from the silent films to talkies. Looking back, it may seem like it was a smooth transition—we just added sound to movies, that’s all.

But it's a lot different when you’re in the middle of a seismic change, when it has an impact on your life. A lot of good people lost their livelihoods when the silent pictures faded away and that is what’s happening to newspapers.

When I heard about E&P, I started thinking about Tom for some reason and decided to do a web search to see what he was up to.

I was stunned to find his obituary. He had died unexpectedly in June 2004, shortly after filing what turned out to be his last story. He was 56 years old.

A newspaper man and a newspaper magazine are both gone now. Time has no mercy on people or industries. That doesn’t seem right, but there’s not much we can do about it.


Brenda from Flatbush said...

Wow, someone else is mourning E&P and flashing back to scanning their job listings! "Ah yes, I remember it well." News of its passing does sound suspiciously like a death knell for an industry. Lovely tribute to a practitioner of the craft and a mentor, and the kind we won't see around much anymore.

Rob K said...

Thanks, Brenda. I was so shocked when I heard the news about E&P...and Tom. And it really does sound like the end of the line.