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The Boston Herald Traveler, 1825-1972

By Paul J. Corkery

(The Herald Traveler will print its last issue on June 18. The author of this obituary, a former Crimson editor, spent a year there as a reporter.)

"HUB SCORNS APRIL, LAUDS MAY" was a headline that a copy editor attached to a weather story I wrote once during the year, two years ago, that I worked for the Boston Herald Traveler. It is a real headline; an example of the Herald at its most Herald-like. It was quite a newspaper.

I first got to know the Herald well in 1969 when it offered me a reporter's job. The offer came like magic--through a telegram in my mailbox--and it was attractive. From the words of the Publisher's Assistant who made the offer, it sounded as if the stodgy, old, provincial Herald was about to make a run for real success.

On the appointed day I showed up at the Herald Traveler plant in the South End and was introduced to the Shop Steward of the American Newspaper Guild and to the City Editor. Then I was given directions to the men's room and to the copy paper cabinet, advice on how to use a telephone headset and was placed at an old green desk not far from the tables, phonebooks, radios, tvs, and telephones called the City Desk. It was very quiet in there that Sunday afternoon. I was putting all my new toys away and was wondering to whom I was supposed to give my daily Story Suggestions when an editor ambled over to my desk. He stopped in front of the desk, plunged his fists in his pockets and rolled on the balls of his feet, while talking, thus:

"Okay, Hahvhud, the last Hahvuhd kid in here didn't know where Dawchester is. He's not heah anymooh. Now, do you know where Dawchester is?"

I said I did. He asked me for directions to Carney Hospital. I gave them to him.

"Okay," he said, and he became confidential and friendly. The heavy Dorchester accent gave way to something more cosmopolitan.

"See what you can learn," he said, "about this shooting in the--Tavern on Columbia Road. Apparently a kid from Roslindale was murdered when some guy came in off the street and opened fire in the bar last night. It sounds like a freak shooting. Interview the family. Do you know Harry? Harry'll take pictures. He's waiting for you. Here are the clips."

WITH THAT he put a batch of clippings from the Sunday dailies and the wire services on my desk. They told of a shooting which had occured late Saturday night in a crowded neighborhood tavern. The clippings said police knew of no motive. They named the dead man and identified him as a 21-year-old, unmarried, white male, who was also the third of seven children, a utility worker, and a former resident of the neighborhood. He had, according to the clips, come to the tavern with a friend and was sitting apparently peacefully at the bar when an unknown man entered through the front door, stopped, and opened fire. The assailant, the clips said, then fled into the darkened street. It was interesting--but the Publisher's Assistant who hired me told me I was being hired to cover administrative agencies, community groups, and the welfare crisis. Well, it didn't really matter much at the moment because a photographer, chewing on a Garcia y Vega American Market Grenadier and with a necklace of Nikons, was pacing around the desk.

We went out to interview the family, and the not very congenial story grew through the course of the afternoon. The interview itself was over quickly but the radio in the newscar kept burbling new accidents and other death scenes for us to visit. There was a death car on the Southeast Expressway; there was another shooting in the South End; there was a drowning in Dedham. When I got back to the Desk some three hours later there was another batch of clippings on my typewriter. A small sheet of copy paper with "fatals round-up" written on it held all the sheets together. The City Editor came over to explain how I should write the fatals round-up. It was very busy then, with only an hour to go till edition time. The horseshoe copy desk was packed with copy editors and the twenty or so other desks were each in use with reporters gabbing on the phone, pecking at the typewriters, or sneaking off to the coffeepot in the mailers' room down by the presses. The City Editor never finished explaining. I wanted also to give him my ideas for a set of stories on the welfare department and on B.R.A. renewal plans for the North End. But it was still busy an hour later and I didn't get a chance to talk to him. Instead they put me to work on a set of obituaries. Then when these were finished, they put me to work rewriting wire copy about an air crash near Macchu Picchu, Peru. When that was finished, almost everyone had gone home or had gone out for lunch at the China Pearl or J.J. Foley's.

AFTER ABOUT two weeks it became apparent that the Publisher's Office had said nothing to the city desk about what it had said to each of the dozen or so reporters it had hired in the hiring binge I was a part of. The Publisher's Office had spoken to us in terms of admirable new developments in the Herald Traveler's news that we would be undertaking in an effort to revitalize the paper. The editors, however, had asked only for additional hands to help the badly understaffed city staff. There wasn't too much communication between the Publisher's Office and the news editors and reporters. In fact the front office seemed relatively uninterested in the newspaper. Other things--all sorts of other things--were on the minds of the front office folks and they told the news staff whatever they thought would keep them happy on the rare occasions news people got into the front office. It was remarkably irresponsible management.

The news editorial staff, however, tried valiantly and gallantly to put out a good, good newspaper. The ideas they had were sound and the Herald's editors were remarkably free of the illusions and delusions about their profession which mark some of their colleagues. "Good newspapering" was the goal and that meant an accurate, entertaining, well laid-out edition written for its readers--not for other newspapermen or for the reporters' sources. Charlie Ball, the imaginative City Editor, once tried to have the comma keys removed from the office typewriters when a tendency appeared among reporters to describe through strings of adjectives rather than through verbs.

Bob Kierstead '50, the executive city editor, was disappointed when reporters came back without "quotes, color, detail, and incident." Without those items, the 5 basic points of the story--Who, What, Where, When, and How--were useless. Bill McCarthy, who managed the news operation, was fond of pointing out to his more heady reporters that "this is a newspaper story you're writing, not a thesis." A long six-part series I wrote once on defects in Boston's tax collection apparatus had a lead on it that probably would have turned James Q. Wilson's head. McCarthy said it turned his stomach. He went into a long speech about writing for the man who reads the paper. It was not unlike the speech Jimmy Breslin (another Herald Traveler alumnus) gave to the A.J. Leibling Counter-Convention of reporters in New York a few weeks ago.

Though they never would have admitted it (but perhaps they should have, while there was still time), the Herald's editors and reporters tried hard to help their readers feel they were part of a community, not atomized bits. That's why the Herald loved to run long stories about the previous week's weather--it was something everyone shared and reacted to. "There's more to newspapering," Ralph Long, the news and makeup editor, once told me, "than reporting controversies between politicians". There are worse things a newspaper could do that to encourage a city's metaxu.

NOW that the Record-American is taking over the Herald's plant at 300 Harrison Avenue, I suppose they'll ask the city government to change the names of the streets--Herald Street and Traveler Street--that abut the plant. I hope they do not erase these two tiny monuments to failure, and if they do I hope someone will say for us all. "HUB SCORNS NAME CHANGE, LAUDS FOND MEMORY."

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