Life Inside the Newark Evening News as Recalled by William Gordon

by Nat Bodian


In my 35th Old Newark recollection of September 18, 2002, I wrote a long overdue and appropriate remembrance and obituary of "The Once Great Newark Evening News1."

The Newark Evening News, which dominated the New Jersey newspaper publishing scene before its demise on August 31, 1972, was considered the New York Times of New Jersey.

At the end of 2003, a former veteran Newark News reporter, William Gordon, who worked in the Newark News Market Street building for a dozen years, retired from a resumed newspaper career with the Star-Ledger, and, with his retirement, wrote a retrospective of his long journalistic career. It appeared in the Star-Ledger on January 2, 2004.

Gordon Recalls Newark News

In that retrospective he included a close-up and insider's look at his life inside the walls of that hallowed downtown Newark landmark building, after he was transferred there from the paper's storefront bureau in Belmar.

Within a week of his transfer to Newark from Belmar, Gordon recalled, "I was sitting at the rewrite bank of the boisterous newsroom in Newark, wearing headphones and pounding the keys of a 20-year old Remington upright with a crooked spacebar."

News Rewrite Desk

At the time of Gordon's transfer to the News rewrite desk, the Newark News was unique among New Jersey papers who required reporters at the scene of a breaking story to dictate their story in finished form to the rewrite desk, consisting of six writers, who would prepare it for publication.

Gordon recalls that his job at the rewrite desk was a pressurecooker job. As the News published four editions daily, with deadlines often only minutes away, Gordon recalled: "You cobbled together stories from raw data phoned in by reporters at the scene and whatever wire service copy was available.

"An editor would hover over you to snatch 'takes' from your typewriter as you banged them out, leaving you to guess about continuity."

Promotion to General Assignment

Gordon apparently did well enough at his rewrite stint to win an upgrade to general assignment.

"General assignment had its pressures, too," Gordon recalled, as he told of being ordered to Newark Airport to interview ex-President Harry Truman.

Gordon found the ex-President already on a plane readied for takeoff. But, he said, he boarded the plane, barged sweatily down the plane's aisle until he found Truman, got his story and departed.

50s/60s Work Environment

The working environment at the News in the 1950s and 1960s, according to Gordon, was a noisy disorderly place, always seeming to be in tumult.

"Typewriters were ancient and often minus important functions. Once during a ribbon shortage, we were told to make do by inserting carbon paper between sheets of newsprint and time blind.

"Newsroom furniture was old and battered. I had seen archival photographs of the late 19th century New York Herald Tribune that appear not one whit different from what I recall at the Newark News city room in the 1960s, except for the shape of the telephone."

In spite of the antiquated environment, Gordon recalled fondly that the "no-nonsense workplace workplace produced in the end crisp eye-appealing editions of the news of the day with nary a sign of the toil and seeming confusion that went into their making."

News as a Colorful Place

Gordon recalls the Newark News as a colorful place to work. He cites "an editor, just back from a three-martini lunch might be seen doing a war dance on the top of his desk. Photographers in their ninth floor aerie used a basket on a rope to lower photos to the Market Street sidewalk for pickup by a runner from the engraving company down the street.

"Pay call," said Gordon, "was a blast on a police whistle, followed by a rush to line up at the paymaster's table2 ... For some reason, pay envelopes always contained $2 bills which marked the bearer as a News employee wherever he preferred them in the city.

Newsroom Security

"Security," said Gordon, "Was lax. Anyone could and did wander into the newsroom ... One night, upset by the migration of strangers up from Market Street, a young editor angrily ordered an unshaven cigar-smoking man to leave the building. The man, who was departing anyway, obliged. He was Willie Ratner3, the News veteran sportswriter.

Summing Up His News Experience

In summing up his Newark News experience, Gordon wrote in his Star-Ledger recollection, "My memory of the city room at the old Newark Evening News was one of drab surroundings in which the hue and cry of reporters and editors pierced the din raised by teletype machines, ancient typewriters, and telephones and "joining the chorus were fire bells, and a blaring police radio.

"If it all wasn't exactly like 'The Front Page', it was pretty close. It was the kind of old-fashioned newspaper setting that a guy like Jimmy Breslin enjoyed working in, where Breslin once crowed 'you could throw your cigar butt on the floor and nobody'd complain'."


Email this memory to a friend.
Enter recipient's e-mail: