Daily Mail memories

April 4, 2014 by Brad McElhinny

I took over as editor from here from Nanya Friend, and, believe me, that’s big shoes to fill. Nanya is smart and organized and well-respected and beloved.

Luckily for me, she is also supportive.

Nanya Friend

Nanya Friend

All that to say, my tenure also has coincided with the 100th anniversary of the Daily Mail. Already big shoes and now a big milestone. The current staff and I did not want to let down those who got us here. For our coverage, we relied on the great personal and professional stories of those who put out the paper day after day for 100 years. Wonderful material produces wonderful stories.

One resource that I found handy was an unlikely one — a booklet from a 1998 retiree picnic where current staff and retirees shared stories about their time at the paper. It’s a treasure trove with tales from people like photo legends Chet Hawes and Earl Benton, sports scribes like Don Hager and Dick Hudson and great editors like Charlie Connor. (I was lucky enough to have attended the picnic.)

My predecessor, Nanya, also has some great tales in the booklet. And mostly they’re not tales of the news, which we all love chasing, but instead they’re tales of the other thing we love — the people we work with. (And here’s another takeaway point: Treasure the time you spend with those you enjoy working alongside, even in times of stress. Earl Benton and Robin Toner, both mentioned below, have passed away. Others have moved on with their lives and careers.)

Here’s what Nanya wrote:

The thing I have loved most about my years at the Daily Mail has been the great privilege of working with smart, funny people. I could tell stories about all of them but here are some of my favorites:

Earl Benton — by far the biggest hustler I ever met. He was beating the Gazette on stories when I was cutting teeth. I suspect he still sleeps with a live scanner beside his bed and a full tank of gas in his car. Many of us have Earl Benton stories, but I take special pride in this one:

One the night of the general election in 1980, Earl and I were sent to Moundsville to spend the evening at Arch Moore’s headquarters. Despite the pack of reporters around us, Earl got us into Moore’s private office for an interview and picture after Moore conceded to Jay Rockefeller. All in a day’s work for Benton. But what did I achieve that night?

Earl let me, a female reporter in her 20s, drive to and from Moundsville. We even took my car and he actually fell asleep for a short while on the way home. I was walking on air because world-class photojournalist Earl Benton trusted me enough to get there and back on a big story.

Robin Toner — one of the most aggressive and intelligent reporters I ever worked with. She now works for the New York Times. When she came to the Daily Mail, she was a passionate liberal and had to learn not to let it show in her copy. When Earl and I returned from Moundsville that same election night in 1980, I trudged wearily into the newsroom. It was 2 or 3 a.m., and the newsroom was full of sleepy reporters trying to muster enough energy to pound out their election stories. It had been clear for several hours that Jimmy Carter had lost his bid for re-election.

As I walked by Robin’s desk, she looked up at me, her eyes blazing with fury and spit out a question that was more of an accusation:

“Did YOU vote for Reagan?”

Now that Robin is the mother of twins, I’m sure she’s the picture of neatness. When she was at the Daily Mail, her basement apartment on Charleston’s West Side was a place you entered if you’d had all your shots. One day as we sat in her living area, I glanced across the room and asked her about the small dark lump on the floor. She walked over, looked down and laughed. A mouse had expired, apparently of old age, in the middle of the room.

David Greenfield and Jim Smith — two great guys who have gone on to great things since their Daily Mail days. Dave is publisher of the Canton Repository in Ohio, and Jim is senior vice president of Thomson Newspapers. This incident will let you know how these two operate in a crisis.

I was sitting at a computer right outside Dave’s office, working on a story. I leaned back, hands behind my head, and gazed upward to think. To my horror, I saw a bat hanging from the ceiling tile. I can’t remember how I got all the way across the newsroom, but I know I got there quickly. Dave and Jim frantically screamed instructions as other writers and editors cleared the area.

Finally Dave jumped on a chair, Jim handed him a trashcan and — fwop — the bat was trapped. It hadn’t moved, mind you. It was right there on the ceiling tile, but Dave had it imprisoned. He looked down at us with a goofy expression.

It took several more minutes for someone to figure out how to slide something flat between the ceiling and the trashcan, knock the bat in the can and pitch it out the window.

I’m glad no bats have shown up since Dave and Jim left.

Carolyn Karr Charnock — now the director of Metro Communications but a former Daily Mail reporter. We knew when we hired Carolyn that she had dabbled in stand-up comedy in college, and I distinctly remember warning her about the improper use of humor in a serious news story. Little did I realize how wacky she really was.

One day when I was working part-time, I got a call from Greenfield. He was organizing a retreat for all the editors, and he wanted me to sit on the city desk one Friday and run the show. Everything would be planned in advance so getting the paper out would be no sweat.

And things did go very smoothly. The reporters were quite cooperative, glad to have the editors out of their hair for a day.

As the final edition deadline passed, I noticed Carolyn moving about the newsroom. She was taping things to the floor and setting up strange contraptions.

“What are you doing?” I asked. No answer. And she didn’t stop.

This went on for quite a while. Copy editor Andy Stout began to help her. I kept asking questions, but they weren’t talking. I began to get nervous. The natives were definitely restless, and I was responsible.

Eventually they seemed to be finished. That’s when everybody else got involved. Carolyn and Andy had set up a nine-hole miniature golf course throughout the newsroom. It became clear that the staff, while the bosses were enjoying golf and other amenities at Pipestem, was going to spend the afternoon playing putt-putt.

I gulped. I watched. I finally played. I must say, we had a great time.

Late that afternoon, as I headed for the MacFarland Street door on my way home, I encountered Greenfield and Publisher Terry Horne on their way in. Just back from Pipestem. The putt-putt course was still in place upstairs, and that’s where they were headed.

So what did I do? I heartily welcomed them back and walked back up the stairs with them. As we entered the newsroom, I said something like, “Look here, ha, ha, ha. Why don’t you try it out?”

I jammed golf clubs into their hands. They were too dumbfounded to do anything but play.

 


Brad McElhinny is the editor and publisher of The Charleston Daily Mail.  Brad McElhinny is editor and publisher of The Charleston Daily Mail. I’m a Parkersburg native and a Marshall graduate. I live in Charleston with my wife — we’ll call her “Karen” — my two little girls, an easily excitable terrier, an aging obese cat and, now, a kitten named “Sweetie.” Read more from this author


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