October 26, 2015

By Arthur H. Gunther III


The brotherhood is losing its working members, and that will make orphans of all who depend on information delivery as a public trust. Newspapers are dying, shot by a lessened public appetite for reading anything longer than a Tweet and the high cost of putting out a daily sheet when there isn’t enough advertising. Sad day, and ink-stained wretches might be excused for wanting to seek liquid solace at the high mass of the old Hi-Ho bar in Nyack, N.Y., but it ain’t there any more, either.

Nor is the village newspaper in its old home at 53 Hudson where daily the presses shook foundations. In that simple building, for some 52 years and since 1850 in three other village fortresses of irreverence and truth came fourth an enlightenment of sorts.

Sure, it was a local rag, that old Journal-News, the 1932 merger of the Nyack Evening Journal and the Nyack Daily News, and its always limited and sometimes green staff offered typos and other industry faux pas, but over the decades there were enough truly inspired scribes and photogs and layout people and city editors and composing room guys and pressmen and circulation people that every day, six times a week, attempt was made to give local government news, crime reports, high school and Little League sports results, PTA notices and commentary on the pulse off the veins of the ordinary man, woman and child in the Rockland County community. And the readers bought us, at 10 cents a copy.

Along the way, things got costly and newspaper families could not own the sheets any longer. The big national publishing outfits rescued many a community newspaper, but in the long run made profit and the bottom line the gold standard, not the who, what, when, where, why and how of whatever was happening.

Now the digital world and its immediacy and its thousands of attention-grabbing, distracting screen flashes off smart phones, tablets and computers is making newspaper profit slide. With it goes major information delivery.

The danger in all this is that what passes for news will not be worthy of trust, sitting on innuendo and hearsay without fact checking. Not to say that there haven’t always been axes to grind and editorializing in newspapering, but by and large, accurate news got out. Since any reader any time must always take things with a grain of salt, must always think things through in the God-given brain, the public has been well-served.

Who will watch government in the new age? Who will investigate anything?

High mass at the Hi-Ho was the usual end-of-shift in Nyack, when both the bar and the newspaper were there. Just a short walk up Broadway to the Marsilios, who gave the fraternity more drinks than bought. Celebration was had for putting another daily sheet to bed, sometimes a rough birth. Journal-Newsers weren’t paid that well and weren’t N.Y. Times, but each helped get the news out, and that can be an indescribable feeling. Yeah, public trust, for sure, no matter how flawed.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.



Oct. 19, 2015

By Arthur H. Gunther III


Lost a good friend a few days ago who was also my first boss on a full-time job at the original Journal-News, a daily in Rockland County, N.Y. As with other kind souls who knew better to use sugar than spice, Al Witt was well-placed by the gods.

And not just for me. Aloysius J. Witt was an obvious motivator because he was enthusiastic about life, full of energy, the light in the room, the charmer who was actually genuine and the salesman for just about anything who looked you straight in the eye. This was no three-card-monty man.

Life sometimes places the right people in your flight path, and you then can take off, even soar, and make a safe landing when you have to. As a boss to photographers at the Journal, Al was forgiving of mistakes — just re-tie your laces and get on your feet again. He was also an excellent instructor because he gave you room to learn without over-managing. You grew because he fertilized the soil so well with concern and kindness, not the nit-picking that wilts you.

Personally, he took a chance on a young copy boy who was eager but unrehearsed. He saw a spark, lit the pilot light and, thanks to the gods, the fireplace was engaged for one soul. The  job that was fortunately mine served both worker and master, but Al opened the door.

Al was a photographer and at times chief at the newspaper for some 27 years and was quite good at his craft, particularly in sports. He was elected last year to the Rockland County Sports Hall of fame, the only lensman so named. After retirement, he was a volunteer with the Rockland Interfaith Breakfast program at United Church in Spring Valley, N.Y., for about 20 years.  Giving back was a way of living his very deep Catholic faith. Al was an usher in two parishes.

During World War II, Al, a draftee and, so, “citizen soldier” like most back then, was a tank transport driver who was caught in the hell of the Ardennes Offensive, the Battle of the Bulge. Al never talked about that time except to say he served like others. His modesty was typical but also buddy-like, for the average citizen soldier wanted to do the job and then come home to live an ordinary life. For Al, war was for its time only.

Al’s father was an exacting fellow, a machinist who, the son said demanded precision. But Al saw too many shades of gray, not black and white, and he did not follow his father’s trade.

Instead, he was at various times, a Macy’s Herald Square 34th St. camera salesman, a “tin man” (aluminum salesman), a milk truck driver, a metal stamp company worker and held other jobs. His longest was as a photog, and Al’s ability to make people laugh, to genuinely enjoy people, put his subjects at ease. His fellow lensmen learned technique from Al but, more important, how to relate to the public.

All that would not have been possible if Al did not see the gray shading in life. His allowance for individualism, for the sounds of different drummers, for the varieties in people raised personal acceptance to an awesome level. He was a blessed fellow.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced. 



By Arthur H Gunther III


The date on this piece tells it all — it is Columbus Day, a national holiday in the good, old US of A, but not for everyone. As I write this shortly after 7:30 a.m. in the Northeast, the storm troops that are the landscapers everyone seems to have are already revving leaf blowers, following 36-inch deck lawnmowers and whacking weeds. No respite for these men, who make little to begin with and so, a “holiday” is another opportunity to put a few dollars in the wallet, however short a time it remains there.

When I was a newspaperman, we published every day of the year, so there were Columbus Days, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and whatever other “holidays” when we stiffs took turns at the helm or wherever we were needed. That was usually OK, once we were able to wrench ourselves from family and get through the work door, for the newsroom, the composing room, the pressroom and circulation all had captive workers for the day, and in that we shared time. Besides, giving birth is what a daily newspaper does, and while I would or could never compare the effort to a woman’s magical trip through pain and delivery, bringing information to print was often exhilarating.

Many work tColumbus Day  and other “holidays” — police, firefighters (paid and volunteer), those in industry and commerce that cannot shut down for a day. And that isn’t just in the US. Many countries in the New World and elsewhere officially celebrate  the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas, Oct. 12, 1492. In the US, Columbus day is a federal holiday, so it becomes part of a three-day weekend as the second Monday in October. This year it just happens to be Oct. 12. The long weekend probably lessens the importance to Americans, though.

There is even controversy within the day since Americans of Italian descent link it to a native son, a reasonable idea, but some others of any ethnic background are offended because, as happened after most exploration in the New World, indigenous peoples were enslaved, abused, pushed off their land and introduced to European disease.

Some communities prefer “Indigenous People’s Day,” honoring Native Americans as an  alternative. South Dakota renamed Columbus Day Native American Day in 1990.

The argument continues that “progress,” the very growth that has provided opportunity for so many others “enslaved” by old societies, lack of opportunity, pogroms, prejudice, etc., would not have been possible without Columbus or Verrazzano or any of the other explorers.

Surely no progress moves forth in this faulted world of ours without grief to someone. But the day is long past due when America must recognize Native Americans and learn from their culture, which respected the ecology and which often offered wisdom and fairness unseen in the “progressive” world. The sin of land-grabbing, the bulldozer push to siub-standard reservations, the deliberate late-1800s attempts to “re-educate” Indians as whites must have atonement.

If karma is a force, some day the debt will be addressed, the wrongs, too, and as part of that, a workman’s holiday called Columbus Day will be recognized for the achievement of all — European, Asian, the Americas and most certainly Native Americans. Until then there will be no holiday for all, whether you have to work on it or not.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com


By Arthur H. Gunther III


There’s a smallish village near me, and, of course, there is one by you, anywhere, that has its charm. You may have to look beyond the new, in this case the paint, restored Victorian and earlier 20th century facades and weekend tourists to find that, unless it is the present look that satisfies most.

In the little village near me, I was on a visit to see 30-year-old photographs from a movie set shot on location there. Woody Allen’s “The Purple Rose of Cairo” was filmed in Piermont, N.Y., and local professional photographer Sally Savage made her own stills of the shooting. Her exhibit at Village Hall was not only fascinating, but the Depression-era look of the movie set reminded older area residents of Piermont back when.

This was a proud industrial town, with paper, cardboard and aluminum can factories on constant, clanking-noise shift, great smokestacks pushing whitish plumes against the moonlight over the Hudson River. The factories employed generations —  one after another — with many Italian and Irish immigrants among them. Their wages paid for simple houses, and in those homes dreams of betterment for children were begun in cookie jars filled with weekly savings.

During both world wars, men of the factories left, and some never returned. In 1944, as the Allies began nearing the D-Day invasion date, some 1.3 million U.S. Army troops from nearby Camp Shanks marched and were transported through Piermont, past the factories and onto the Hudson piers to begin the ocean voyage to their — our world’s — destiny.

A favorite recollection of that time is the soldier who, marching down Piermont Avenue, and unable to tell his  village parents that he was moving out or even that he  was at Camp Shanks, spotted his ma on the porch, she searching every soldier’s face for her son. They found each other in a millisecond, and then the soldier waved as he moved on.

After the war, the factories were re-energized by the post-war American boom. And just as surely, this nation’s later manufacturing decline would see the businesses close and the Village of Piermont fall on times as difficult as the Depression.

Yet the decades would force even more change, and now the factories are gone and in their place expensive housing with river views. The downtown, just 18 miles from New York City, has trendy restaurants and shops, and tourists love the “charm.” Cyclists also come by the hundreds on their way to nearby Nyack and upstate. Thousands will probably arrive once the two new  Tappan Zee bridges open up across the Hudson, with pedestrian and bike paths.

The walk taken in Piermont this past Sunday had me thinking about all the change, the factories, the war times, the great growth of a village, of a nation, of family hopes and achievement. I paid little attention to newer trappings. I had found my charm in the strength of a people who built a community.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com