Tuesday, December 16, 2014

De Pere Journal  R.I.P.

An old friend died this year--a very aged old friend. The De Pere Journal's last edition rolled off the press back in February, ending a 143-year run as the community newspaper for the Wisconsin city near Green Bay.

Traditionally, current and some former employees hold a wake when a newspaper folds, as many papers have in the past few years. The mourners gather to guzzle a lot of  liquid refreshment and tell tales of their adventures large and small in and out of the newsroom.

But traditions change with the times. Now when an old friend dies, we are more likely to participate in a "celebration of life" than a wake.  Because I wasn't aware of the paper's death until a few days ago, I missed any opportunity for old-style mourning. So I'll shed a few tears in my martini and say my farewell here with a celebration, including a bit of history and a retelling of one of my favorite holiday stories.

The newspaper started in 1871 as the De Pere News. After several consolidations and name changes, it was the De Pere Journal-Democrat in 1957 when Paul and Marie Creviere hired me as city editor. They interviewed me in Madison shortly before I graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in journalism.

Paul was the general manager of Journal Publishing. Marie carried the title of managing editor of the newspaper. She had been serving as editor in all areas. When I arrived, she continued to handle society news and correspondence from several reporters who gathered news in small rural communities near De Pere. I wrote general news and sports stories, did most of the photography, and wrote a personal column and all editorials.

Paul and Marie were Republicans, as I was at the time. Paul's dad, John A. Creviere, was a dedicated Democrat. Thus the newspaper was the Journal-Democrat while John was in control. After he died, Paul and Marie waited a respectful several years and then dropped the "Democrat" from the title.

Some records show John as editor from 1944 to 1964, but when I signed on the elder Creviere was the publisher, but did almost no writing or editing. At age 75, he still came to work in the office six days a week (regular office hours included Saturday mornings).  Every Thursday morning, John and I and Vivian Dahnke, John's daughter who was a linotype operator, started our day at about 6 a.m.  I phoned the police and sheriff departments to gather any overnight news. Vivian set type for whatever I produced. John donned a printer's apron, inserted the new type, and locked up the page forms to be ready for the press run not later than 8 a.m.

That operation may have been unique among weekly newspapers. We did it because we were attempting the impossible task of competing with a daily paper, the Green Bay Press-Gazette. De Pere is only about five miles from Green Bay, so almost all our readers also were Press-Gazette subscribers. The Press-Gazette maintained a full-time correspondent in De Pere, who obviously could "scoop" us with important local stories. For the more routine items, the Press-Gazette ran a De Pere special section on Thursdays. The Press-Gazette was an afternoon paper.

We tried our best to beat the competing daily one time a week. Paul, Marie, and I worked late Wednesday nights to get as much news processed as we could. Then John, I, and Vivian did our early Thursday stint so we could publish as a morning paper, available several hours before the Press-Gazette came out. It was tough going. We were defeated most of the time. But we did score firsts with some minor stories, and beat the Press-Gazette once with a major story during my time.

Our big scoop was due to good fortune, not reporting enterprise. Three convicts had escaped from the prison between Green Bay and De Pere.  They were at large for several days and caused a lot of serious concerns because of reports they were seen in a residential area. The Press-Gazette ran a story about the situation every day.

I made my routine visit to the De Pere police department on a Wednesday afternoon. While I was checking the blotter, the officer on duty was listening to the radio. "Hey, I've got a good story for you," he said. "They just caught those escaped prisoners."

I got the address, and headed for the scene.  Luckily, our camera was in my car from a previous job. When I arrived, a crowd had gathered in front of a home. The three cons were handcuffed to posts on the porch, and the Brown County sheriff  was standing beside them. I raised the camera as high as I could to improvise a shot over the spectators just before the detainees were taken away.

Our film processor, Gus Aschert, provided emergency service and worked a little darkroom magic to bring out the best in my "thin" negative. Paul Creviere and I drove 17 miles with a print to Seymour, where the publisher of that community's weekly paper made photo engravings for us. He stayed late to process our print, and we drove back to De Pere in the dark to remake our front page.

We came out bright and early on Thursday morning with a big headline and the photo announcing the capture of the desperados. Somehow, the Press-Gazette reporters missed the story. The P-G came out in the afternoon with a routine article saying the convicts remained at large!

Press-Gazette reporter Jerry Van Ryzen started his career as a Journal-Democrat editor and remained a friend of the Crevieres. He dropped into our office on Friday afternoon sporting a big grin. "We had a staff meeting this morning," he said. "The managing editor threw a copy of your paper on the table and yelled 'Scooped by a god-damn weekly!'"

The main headline of the last issue of the De Pere Journal on Feb. 27, 2014 read, "That's All We Wrote." During my tenure, my weekly column was titled "The Last Word," and at Paul Creviere's suggestion it ran as the final item on the last page of each edition. I'll make my last words in celebration of the Journal's life a story that has appeared on this blog in holiday seasons past.

                                                         ** * * * * * * * *

Ho, Ho, Ho. . . .No, No, No

It has been hard to escape Santa since merchants succeeded in advancing the holiday season to start right around Thanksgiving time. You now can visit a Santa just about everywhere serious shopping is happening, rent one for the kids’ party, or be one after you buy an outfit complete with beard for $39.95.

Santas weren’t nearly so ubiquitous in 1957, but they did make plenty of appearances and I was among those on duty. No chimneys were involved in my appearance. It was a bigger deal than that. I arrived on Broadway Avenue in De Pere, Wisconsin, in a giant motorized sleigh pulled by plastic reindeer, courtesy of the  Chamber of Commerce.

In a discussion of how we at the  De Pere Journal-Democrat were going to participate in Santa’s annual visit, a burning question was who would play the rotund one since publisher John Creviere was getting a bit old for the job. As the youngest, chubbiest, and most naive person around, I was volunteered.

This Santa looks authentic, but for the real photo of a youthful Geezer charming kids in 1957 you now must visit the newspaper archives of the  De Pere Historical Society or the Wisconsin State Historical Society where the Journal-Democrat rests.

The elder Creviere’s lengthy resume included work with amateur acting groups. He had a professional makeup kit and knew how to use it. He made 21-year-old me into a truly authentic-looking Claus, complete with rosy cheeks and a beard the little ones couldn’t pull off.

The children of De Pere certainly believed I was the real thing. Santa and a couple of helpers handed out 2,000 popcorn balls during the event. It was a very long day.

A photo, taken by Paul Creviere, of one handout to a cute little tyke appeared on the front page of our paper that week. That was pretty easy to pull off, since John owned the printing press, Paul was the general manager, and I was the editor.

It was the only time a photo of me ever graced the front page of a newspaper, and I couldn’t even identify myself in the caption!

Santa was totally pooped after passing out all the goodies and muttering nice things to the multitude of kiddies. When John started removing my greasepaint after handing me a shot of brandy, he asked how I was feeling about the whole thing. I was feeling like I never wanted to play Santa again.

                                                        * * * * * * * * * *

I never again had the opportunity to play Santa, but I really would have done it in a heartbeat just to see the expressions of awe and joy on the little ones’ faces.

Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!                                                   


Celia said...

Sad to see yet another paper gone. Thanks for the good story.

Tom Sightings said...

Obviously, you were a great Santa . . . and an even better reporter! Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Kay said...

Oh my gosh! That's you? You're a perfect Santa. What a terrific photo!

Marc Leavitt said...

Unfortunately, the age of the newspaper as we knew it, has passed into history; the industry just isn't ready to admit it.

I started as a reporter back in 1966, just after coming back to the States from Europe after three years in the service.

I was lucky. We still had copy boys, teletypes, linotypes, blue pencil editing, and afternoon newspapers.

When I left the business in 1988, the linotypes were gone, afternoon papers were dead, and reporters were starting to act like corporate nine to fivers.

Sic transit, gloria.


Dick Klade said...

Kay, this Santa scene is a stock photo, but I looked much like it. The real photo of me in red is in newspaper archives.

PiedType said...

I'd almost forgotten there were afternoon papers. Now it's a wonder there are any papers at all. And yet, amazingly, there was a story here recently about the Rocky Mountain News possibly being resurrected to compete once again with the Denver Post. I'll believe it when I see it.

My first few years after graduation from the U of Okla. (1965) were spent in the ad department of the Norman Transcript. It was a small paper but a great opportunity to see firsthand, every day, how a paper gets put together. News and advertising upstairs, typesetting and presses downstairs. I even got to "stop the presses!" once because of some grievous advertising error. I never got over my fascination with the actual production process -- from the typewritten copy to typesetting to the presses and the bindery. I was in absolute awe the day I watched the Daily Oklahoman's presses roll, felt the wind and rumble, heard the roar. (I can only imagine the NYT pressroom.)

Today's computer jockeys have no idea what they missed.

Dick Klade said...

Yes, Pied, I think there's truth about printer's ink getting in one's blood. When the old flatbed press started up at my hometown paper, the floor shook. The pressman stationed to make sure paper was feeding properly loudly sang "The Wabash Cannonball" throughout most of the run. I'll never forget that.

Incidentally, I have a page number and date slug from the last issue of the New York Times printed with hot type. I was there on a tour the next day and they gave out souvenirs.

Little Bug said...

Even though I've heard these stories before, I enjoyed them once again.

They were well written. Good job.

Anonymous said...

I always wondered who Santa was. Now I think I know.

Dick Klade said...

Ho, ho, ho.

Anonymous said...

I wish you would spend some time discussing the pros and cons regarding cutting trees in burned over areas in CA and other places.

I read today (Washington Post) that environmentalists are working with the Forestry Service to resume "scientific forestry' in some places. That's what my dad did after he left the FS.

joared said...

Enjoyed your stories! I feel really lucky as we have a local paper still publishing in our little multi-university town. The son who was newspapering on the east coast came home when his father could no longer write. Son took over and has remained after father died. He had to decrease issues from bi-weekly to weekly, added an online shorter version after some experimentation.

Readership based on observed comments is vibrant but I don't know the numbers. Major city issues here as we pursue taking over the corporate for-profit water rights from an unwilling-to-sell national company, so a topic all residents care about.

Certainly the amt. of advt appears to be significantly reduced in real estate ads, for sale items. job opportunities I note.

Just as I posted for 2015 with intent to blog more in future, I'm having significant 'puter problems. So, time will tell if they resolve. Unable to post on some blogs.

joared said...

FWIW last yr was able to locate info thru UW Research re UW relative -- was respected popular Law Prof there most of his academic profess. life -- tragic ending.