50 YEARS—FREE TO SPEAK WITHOUT RESTRICTION

February 12th, 2018

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As we travel 2018, I personally observe a benchmark of 50 years of writing as an independent journalist, staff-less and un-beholden to any one employer or institution. Free!

Yes, it has been a long ride. It’s been a difficult one in many respects.

But nobody made me do it. It was my choice.

More or less, I’m happy with the results.

It’s not easy to explain its significance. In the passage and experiences of 50 years it would be hard to put a value on it, even for me. I hope it has given voice often enough to hidden truths to have been worth the effort.

How did it happen? How did the years—and decades—pass, often to silence or hostility in response to these efforts? I rarely had a large audience. Indeed, it wasn’t aimed at one.

It started April 5, 1968. I can mark the date. That was the day after the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. I made my decision to quit my job and start a newsletter that became known as Point Of Viəw. It started mid-1968, a time of disorder. Who came up with the simple name I don’t remember.

April 5 also happened to be my 35th birthday.

This change for me, however, had been brewing much, much longer than that.

Maybe it really started in my hometown Bridgeport, Connecticut.

I had just returned to the city after escaping its sports department to work at a small town newspaper in Haverhill, Mass. Ironically, owned by the leading right-winger of newspapers of that time: William Loeb. I remember writing a letter to the editor attacking the ultra-conservative John Birch Society. It was printed. My editor, a college friend, realized what I had done. Oh, please don’t do that again! Editor Dave Beaton’s worried warning against writing lest Loeb of the Manchester Union of New Hampshire and owner of the Haverhill newspaper recognize my name as one of his own employees?

I soon left, however, for the job as assistant to the editor of the Bridgeport Sunday Post. It would be the first time a newspaper rehired me. Not the last, however. The Plain Dealer also did.

It was back in Bridgeport that my naive eyes were opened. The 1960 Census Bureau data had become available. So in 1963 I began to examine my home town, directed by the Census data of poverty and bad housing.

I walked the worst areas of the city where poverty and deprivation were most pronounced, according to the census statistics. The stories irked Mayor Sam Tedesco, particularly when children were burned to death in tenements exposed by the stories. One particular tragedy took the lives of five children—ages seven, six, four, three and two. The housing had been listed in my reports as dangerous.

Another, on a small dead-end street called Walter Court, long cited by me and even the city as dangerous, fire took two more lives of children at number 13.

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Then there was this photo of a small child standing next to an open space heater—a seven inches wide and 11 inches deep stark photo. It revealed a small attic living quarters. It was a shocking photo, made more so by the clear image of a bare ceiling without even plaster to withhold the cold. Cardboard and newspapers were stuck up on the ceiling to hold out some of the winter wind. The city health director accused me of pulling a piece of the cardboard from the ceiling. It could be seen hanging in the photo. To make it look worse, he said. How laughable.

Story after story of sadly dangerous and dilapidated housing at high cost (paid by the State of Connecticut’s generous welfare allowance) began to make some nervous, including the NAACP.

Mayor Tedesco, who referred to me as the “needle” actually visited my father, a butcher in a small meat/grocery he owned. Was it a threat? I imagine that he felt an Italian mayor would have some sway over an Italian butcher. I found out about the visit years later when my dad’s brother told me about it. My father never said a word to me. He was that kind of man.

But others did listen to Mayor Tedesco and word came down that I was to write no more of these articles. I therefore went on a personal “strike,” putting other assignments in the bottom drawer of my desk to be ignored.

It was tolerated I imagined because my boss—the Sunday editor—knew this was censorship. We didn’t exchange good morning pleasantries anymore. I should have been fired.

We both were saved from that ending act when I got a call from Leigh Danenberg, owner of the Bridgeport Herald, a Sunday-only newspaper.

Danenberg had been charged as a communist by the legendary right-wing columnist Westbrook Pegler. The Herald, considered somewhat a racy and lefty newspaper covered Fairfield County where many New York City celebrities lived. I remember actress Martha Raye, she of the big mouth, targeted in a hot romance with a state trooper, I believe.

Danenberg had obviously heard of the decision to quiet me. He telephoned and invited me to see him. Do you want to come over here to work? Danenberg asked. Write what you want, he said. I took the job and worked there until I applied to the Plain Dealer in 1965 and was hired.

Before going on I want to talk a bit about the task of putting out Point Of Viəw for 32-1/2 years. It wouldn’t and couldn’t be done today with the internet making such print efforts obsolete.

For the time, 1968-2000, however, it proved effective for its aims.

I used high-grade paper cut 11 by 14 inches because it was the largest sheet to fit a small printing press, thus cheapest to print. It was then folded in half to make a publication of four pages of seven inches deep on each page. It also made it easily Xeroxed thus reached more with free-loaders. You could get a free copy from a copy machine.

(Twice I produced 16-page, double issues—25 years of Cleveland Mayors and 30 Years of Shaming Devils. And in 1974 when I had a heart attack, four PD reporters—Terry Sheridan, Al Wiggins, the late Bob McGruder and the late James Clark—came to the rescue and wrote Point Of Viəw issues.)

This process—so different from a web site—required me to type the words on a sheet of paper and then cut and set it into a mock-up that got reduced to the published size.

This form also required folding (sometimes by hand), having addresses ready for sticking, bundled into proper zip codes and then taken to the U.S. Post Office for mailing. I had to hope it got delivered with adequate shelf time left. It wasn’t just hitting the “send” button and sending as one does today.

A publication also required keeping financial and subscription records, sending renewal reminders and keeping all the paperwork current.

It was often, especially in earlier years, a family project to prepare the newsletter for mailing.

That sets the stage for my second experience of covering a city and finding who rules, why and how.

That would take me to Cleveland, Ohio. In April 1965 I was hired after coming to Cleveland for an interview.

I found here a civic corruption that has kept Cleveland a city of despair with a large impoverished community. If anything, Cleveland—with its great population decline over those years—has become more a city of despair for many.

I hope to describe that experience in CLEVELAND—THE FINALE OF A 50-YEAR JOURNEY enables me to end the 50 year journalistic journey.

By Roldo Bartimole…

Part II: CLEVELAND—THE FINALE OF A 50-YEAR JOURNEY

4 Responses to “50 YEARS—FREE TO SPEAK WITHOUT RESTRICTION”

  1. Jeff Hess says:

    Good morning all,

    For years I have been suggesting Roldo—whom I’ve called Cleveland’s Blogdaddy—to my fellow bloggers as the acme of independent journalism and a role model for all bloggers to follow.

    His career has certainly enjoyed an amazing first 50 years.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

    p.s. You can find archives of Roldo’s journalism on Have Coffee Will Write and at The Cleveland Memory Project.

  2. Michael says:

    Roldo,

    It is sometimes missed that there is beauty in telling the truth with love.

    With love for justice and people who need a decent, fair, shake from the system, sometimes known as ‘the filthy rotten system.’

    There is grace in holding up basic decency and humanity in matters of public purpose.

    We don’t often see that combination of power –beauty, truth, love, prophetic justice.

    But the prophet Isaiah’s words are written in a similar poetic diction and are wonderful to behold.

    So, too Jeremiah’s jeremiads.

    So, too, your unveilings of the violence of Cleveland’s rich and powerful, who are assisted by our political and civic leaders—all seeking their own ends and not the common good.

    You have documented the regular stealing from the public purse, a fundamental betrayal of the polis and one another.

    And you have documented the loss of respect for basic democratic traditions by these failed leaders with your research and analysis.

    And you highlight the alternative: honest speech and the public responsibility of taking care of and providing for those in need, for the real laborers in the city.

    And so, it sears the heart, my heart, to read, and feel, the injustice that is described in these scripts of yours.

    It is beautiful to behold your truth-telling, your clarity of voice, as painful as it is. It brings tears. And a desire/action on my part.

    I am grateful. Eternally. As bold as those words are, as bold as Isaiah’s, 2,500 years ago.

    A great prophetic tradition is taking a hiatus, not ended.

    Because that prophetic tradition is always waiting for the next one to rise.

    I am waiting in patience.

    And in gratitude for what I have heard from you.

    Mike Fiala

    For a similar tribute, but put differently.

  3. Garry Kanter says:

    Kind of amazing that in this painstakingly documented vast wasteland of corruption, lies, and thievery, the WRLC and the Land Bank are purer than the driven snow.
    So many blessings.

  4. You have a fine sense of the senseless Gary.

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