These are ten I’ve personally learned from.
- Hugh Macdiarmid, city editor, Dayton Journal Herald: A Princeton alum and former young flash at the Washington Post, he brought his own flair to the Midwest in the mid-’60s. I remember him standing at his desk at the head of the newsroom, a twinkle in his eye and a cigar in his mouth, shirt-sleeves rolled up (a then-trendy striped shirt, not the bland starched white like those folks at the rival Daily News), as he barked out orders to someone at a far-back desk. He went on to prominence at the Detroit Free Press as a political columnist.
- Jim Milliken, his right-hand man: Even handed and patient, he was insistent on detail, clarity, and class. He also seemed to preside at the midnight gathering after work at any of several nearby bars.
- Harry Perrigo, copy desk chief, Binghamton (N.Y.) Press Herald: A veteran of the Journal Herald before moving to Upstate New York, Harry usually had a pipe in his mouth and a cool regard for the headlines being submitted by the copy editors sitting at the horseshoe around him. If they passed, he put them in a small clear-plastic canister and then the vacuum tube that whisked them to the Linotype operators. He was a stickler for the accurate headline, including a host of arcane rules of what was and wasn’t acceptable, and he hated puns. Standards have really slipped since.
- Russ Warman, sports desk chief in Binghamton: His approach was cornier than I would have preferred, but he was a great guy in an otherwise dour workplace. Someone else wore the title of sports editor, but the actual job was essentially all his.
- Doc Bordner, editor, Fostoria (Ohio) Review-Tribune: Retired Army sergeant hunkered down in a small town with a skeleton staff to cover five counties. It was a tough assignment, and he had his nose to the ground. His periodic columns, run on the front page, were always lively and often controversial.
- Steve Kent, managing editor, Yakima (Washington) Herald Republic and then the Dubuque (Iowa) Telegraph: A former Associated Bureau chief, he believed in hiring talent and running with it. He certainly turned Yakima into a sterling newspaper before the company brought in a chief officer who seemed intent on scuttling everything. Coming across a photo of Steve the other day, I’m surprised how young he was – and we looked to him as our older, wiser guide!
- Bob Mellis, executive editor, Warren (Ohio) Tribune Chronicle: Again, I was in a situation where we were in pursuit of quality, and Bob brought with him a solid track record at some big papers. He had been the lifestyles editor at one, and he moved me over into that role and all of his expectations.
- Bernie Hunt, city editor, Warren: A lively sparkplug from northern England, he rode herd on a mostly young crew, often with a humorous twist. He also had a fondness for beer after hours, which added to his following.
- Peter Swanson, Sunday Editor, New Hampshire Sunday News: Quirky, sometimes cranky, he took an aggressive stance toward covering the Granite State in an unconventional way, whenever possible, sometimes even with flashes of brilliance.
- Sherry Wood, night editor, New Hampshire Union Leader: Nobody could rival her for her calm under pressure or the range of skills demanded in the position.
Looking back, let me add that all of them were in high-stress situations.
If we were looking at the top tier nationally, I’d have to name paragons at the New York Herald Tribune in its final years or some of the outstanding pros I called on during my stint at Tribune Media Services.