Another Of My Old Newspaper Homes Is Gone, Gone, Gone
I must confess – a little piece inside me dies every time I see a story about newspapers laying off thousands of employees or newspapers simply folding, locking the doors and selling off the presses.
After all, I spent 37 years of my life working for daily newspapers. That's a long time. You have to love it to stick around that long.
I love the nicknames that newspapers acquire along the way from their employees, their competitors and from their dear readers. The Columbus Dogpatch. The Painesville Smell-a-graph. The Lorain Urinal. The Athens Mess. The Canton Suppository. The Dayton Daily Worker. And my favorite of all, The Omaha World Herald, best known as The Omaha Weird Harold.
Bad things happen – one newspaper I worked for right after getting out of college, the Smell-a-Graph (excuse me, The Telegraph) in Painesville, Ohio, by Lake Erie, 22 miles east of downtown Cleveland, no longer exists. Don't believe anyone who tells you I am responsible for putting it under; it was the first casualty in a bloody war among small town newspapers in Lake County, Ohio.
But now, in Miami County, Ohio, just north of Dayton, something has happened that has blown my mind for good.
The county's two newspapers – The Troy Daily News and The Piqua Daily Call – have had the same owners for several years now, which is bad enough. But recently, the TDN and the Call closed the doors of their offices in their respective cities and merged into one publication called Miami Valley Today.
I worked for The Troy Daily News from August 1977 to October 1982. I was 24 when I started in Troy and 29 when I moved about 75 miles to the south on Interstate 75 to become a reporter at the Cincinnati Enquirer.
It boggles my mind that after countless decades of competition between those two little newspapers, fighting to scoop each other and battling for every subscriber they could find throughout the county, are now one entity, working in the same building.
They chose an old building right across the street from the Miami County Fairgrounds on County Road 25A, part of the old Dixie Highway, about halfway between the two cities – which are separated by only about eight miles of highway.
These two towns – Troy, with about 26,000 residents; and Piqua, with nearly 21,000 – have been eyeing each other warily across those eight miles since early in the 19th century.
There is no love lost between the Trojans and the Piquads.
Two blocks west of the town square in Troy, on W. Main Street, sits one of the most beautiful of Ohio's 88 county courthouses.
It was constructed in 1888 and the tower, not including the copper statue of Lady Justice, is 185 feet tall and can be see from almost everywhere in Troy and beyond.
When I was a reporter at the Troy Daily News, I used to start my work day drinking coffee at the Liars' Table at a bakery across the street from the courthouse.
The "liars" in this case were some of the town's goodest-of-the-good ol' boys – farmers who had been working since dawn and were on their mid-morning break; local lawyers, business owners, and occasionally a county commissioner, or two.
All male, all well-connected, all full of tall tales and little of glimmers of truth that I sometimes could turn into real news stories. It was important to be accepted at the Liars' Table.
Some of the fellows used to tell me that the reason Lady Justice was facing the south is because the builders wanted her to be pointing her butt toward Piqua, eight miles to the north.
I'm not sure if I believe it or not, but there was a decided We're-the-county-seat-and-you're-not attitude directed at Piqua by the people of Troy.
It was a great place to live and work.
I had an apartment on the first floor of a house about a block away from the newspaper office on Mulberry Street, right across the street from a huge grain elevator. I quietly feared that the grain elevator would blow sky-high some day and burn my little house to the ground.
But I kept such fears to myself.
I wasn't paid much at The Troy Daily News; my income increased four-fold from my final Friday at Troy to my first day at the Enquirer.
But it didn't matter a whit. I always had some cash in my pocket. I owed no one a dime, except for a fistful of parking tickets which I confess I never paid. No, they never came after me. And I think 37 years is beyond the statute of limitations for parking tickets.
I spent five happy years; made life-long friends; learned much about being a reporter on practically any subject, from the Miami East School board to the 1980 Democratic presidential convention in New York.
In many ways, it was the best five years of my life.
And I spent it working out of a lovely old building at 224 S. Market Street in downtown Troy. Everybody knew it; it was the newspaper office.
In the middle of my tenure there, then-owner George Kuser, spent a big wad of money to construct a new building attached to the original TDN – a building that would become the new home of the newsroom and an upstairs apartment that George could use for himself, for guests and for parties over the years.
Planned by a California architect, it was a "passive solar envelope" building. What's that, you ask? Well, it is a building that had a space between the walls all around the building that was supposed to help heat and cool the building.
Sun came in through the windows in the winter and, in the summer, cool air stored in tanks below ground was directed around the envelope by fans. The building had no other heating, no air conditioning.
And it turned out to be a disaster.
My old pal, former TDN news editor David Lindeman recently wrote a column about the old building.
His description of the complete and utter failure of the passive solar envelope is classic stuff and exactly how I remember it:
It might have worked in California, but in Ohio, it is cloudy all winter and hot and humid in the summer. I had a pair of fingerless gloves I wore on Saturday nights in the winter because it would often drop to about 50 degrees inside. In the summer, it smelled like a high school boys' locker room. It did get our reporters and photographers out of the building, ostensibly to look for stories, but I think they just all went to a pool.
Eventually, Lindy said, they broke down and installed heating and air conditioning – although that was after I had left for Cincinnati.
In the winter, I had a space heater by my desk. I wasn't going to freeze to death for George Kuser's grand experiment.
The old TDN building was a second home to me.
It had everything I needed – a 7-Eleven store across the street for food and drink, a pool table upstairs in a break room, where I would shoot with the pool sharks we had running our presses.
At my real home on Mulberry Street, I had a little tiny black-and-white TV my parents had given me. I didn't have cable, which was OK, since there wasn't that much on cable TV in those days. But my little rabbit ear antenna couldn't even bring in the Dayton stations clearly.
So, I would hop over to the TDN in the middle of the night. We all had keys to the front door. I let myself in and would head straight for the office of Jim Morris, the paper's top editor. And I would sit there late into the night watching cable TV, my feet propped up on his desk.
I wonder if he was ever curious about the smell of popcorn in his office when he came in in the morning.
Actually, I don't think he cared.
Jim, who sadly passed away earlier this year, was more than an editor to me; he was like a big brother. I was, to say the least, rather undisciplined when I showed up at The Troy Daily News.
Morris turned me into a professional journalist. He had more influence on my career than any other editor I ever had – along with Jim Delaney, my first metro editor at the Enquirer.
Jim Morris could stand there and roll his eyes and I knew that I had gone too far with my antics. Didn't have to say a word.
That office with the big window looking out on to S. Market Street will soon become a shop window of some kind.
The building was sold to a local architect-builder who is going to use the new building for his offices and turn the old building into commercial space.
Home sweet home. I still miss that place.
I do hope this new guy will let me in to look around when I am next in Troy.
And I'm sure he'll have cable TV.