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September 22, 1966, Vol. XI, No. 49
A Newsman Views The Newest Paper
By Stan Fischler
After a lengthy courtship, the Journal-American, World Telegram and Sun, and Herald-Tribune finally joined their presses in journalistic marriage last April. Out of these newsprint nuptials a child was born last week. The parents named it the World Journal Tribune.
It’s a curious-looking child; well developed around the top yet editorially weak-kneed and somewhat blemished in the area of typeface. It bears a strong resemblance — mostly for the better — to at least one of its parents, the World Telegram and Sun, while betraying features of the others.
“There’s no doubt that it’s a hybrid,” said Melvin Mencher, a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, “and any biologist will tell you that hybrids aren’t as strong and vigorous as the parents. I’m afraid the World Journal Tribune will not go down as a landmark in American journalism.”
Like hundreds of other newspaper pros, Professor Mencher viewed the merger of Hearst, Whitney, and Scripps-Howard interests with the giddy curiosity of a lab researcher experimenting with genes. Would the World Journal Tribune be a totally new entity? Would it be outrageously sensational like the old Journal-American, or would it display the subdued class of the Herald-Tribune?
The most obvious clue hit me between the eyes during a drive to the new paper’s old plant at 125 Barclay Street near Washington Market on opening night. As I cruised along the West Side Highway, approaching the dip to Battery Park, I noticed the 30-foot red neon sign glittering on the roof of the World Journal Tribune building, blatantly proclaiming: “WORLD-TELEGRAM.”
Inside the building the presses were spewing out 900,000 copies of a newspaper that even fooled Irving Katz, a partner in New Look Cleaners on First Avenue, and a man who doesn’t fool easily. “Hey, how do you like the World Telegram?” Irving asked when I brought him a copy of the paper.
I corrected him. “It’s NOT the World-Telegram anymore, Irving. It’s the World Journal Tribune.”
“Listen,” said Irving, “I’m still calling Sandy Koufax’s team the BROOKLYN Dodgers.”
Down at the World Journal Tribune’s plant they didn’t know what to call their new product. At least one reporter mistakenly wrote “World Journal Telegram” under his byline three different times. Alumni of the three folded papers were thrown together in the brightly-lit city room like second cousins at an Italian christening. “Everybody seems clannish and suspicious,” said Mike Pearl, who survived the sinking of the Mirror and Journal-American. “The Tely people think the Journal people think the Tely people are taking over. But it’ll square away — if the paper doesn’t fold. In the meantime, I don’t know who I’m supposed to be taking orders from.” Pearl is a graduate of the Hearst’s turbulent city rooms, the kind that would make the city room of “Front Page” seem like a sanitarium by comparison. “There’s no tempo in this new place,” he said. “I’m used to Eddie Mahar (the bellicose former J-A city editor) yelling all the time. Over here there’s no tension; they’re all nice guys.”
Neat white signs with red lettering — Features, Sports, Entertainment, Schools — directed newcomers like Pearl to their respective departments as if the city room was a super market.
Don Vandergrift, an emigrant from the Journal-American’s South Street factory, sat on a desk underneath a sign, Rewrite Reporters. Don worked in the grimy old J-A city room for so many years the fresh blue and white paint of his new office still inspired awe. “This is a fine place, very impressive,” said Vandergrift. “The only problem is everybody’s still learning everybody else’s name.”
Pearl pulled open his desk and dropped a hunk of copy paper in a drawer. “You can tell by the way the people dress which paper they’re from,” he said. “The Trib people wear Brooks Brothers clothes, Journal people are sporty dressers. When you can’t place a guy as definitely Trib or definitely J-A, you know he’s from the Tely — they’ve got no personality. The J-A people have personality; they’re much louder.”
Mountains of unemptied brown cartons sat atop green filing cabinets around the perimeter of the room. A tall, handsome reporter who resembles the late Jimmy Dean and who once worked for the old Journal, walked past an editor’s desk. The editor crisply tapped his pen on the glass desk-covering. “Young man,” he demanded, “I don’t care which of the three papers you came from…and now it doesn’t make a difference…I want to give you an assignment.”
The young man politely, but firmly, replied. “It does make a difference. Now I’m with the Associated Press.”
A glass partition separates the office of Clay Felker’s imaginative, avant-garde New York Sunday magazine from the rest of the city room. A small white sign with six black Hebrew letters hangs on the glass which faces the city room. Translated they read: “Fuck You.”
…The highly touted Sunday paper proved a disappointment. It had the personality of the Sunday Journal American, partially because of the color comics and pocket size TV guide and partially because of make-up and confusion. Even Clay Felker’s New York Magazine failed to measure up to standards, both as to size and quality. And, of course, the triple schizophrenia prevailed wherever you turned, adding further confusion. William Randolph Hearst, Jr.’s column rubbed shoulders with Art Buchwald. Dick Schaap was face to face with William Buckley, Jr. And staring at them all from across the page were Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, while former World-Telegram by-lines dotted the rest of the paper.
The batting order reminds me of the Boston Red Sox of the late ’40s. They were so top-heavy with talent — Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr, Vern Stevens, Dom DiMaggio, to name a few — seasoned observers would concede the pennant to them before the season started. Yet, they invariably finished second or third.
…New York has a big, fat, new paper that looks like a winner. A landmark in American journalism? Maybe not. But it has the creative New York magazine and it has Breslin, Felker, Schaap, and Buchwald and a few other newspaper guys who aren’t too well-known but have big talent — like Boccardi, Sal Gerage, Stan Bair, Phil Leff, and Harold Harris.
A bum lay-out? Yes. World-Tely – oriented? Yes. Nowhere politically? Yes. But nobody pretended it would be a totally new paper. And, after all, it is being printed on the old World-Tely presses. So my answer to the critics is that they’re being too critical, too premature in their criticism and, in some cases, too sour-grapish.
I know I like the new paper. In fact, I like it enough to want to write for it and return the severance pay the Journal-American gave me when I voluntarily retired last June.
That’s $6,000 worth of liking it.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]