The city’s daily paper is closing down, leaving a gaping hole in the local journalism landscape.
By George Denney
Around 1960, my brothers and I had a paper route on Youngstown’s West Side. I remember early Sunday mornings, taking a running jump into that red wagon at Belle Vista Avenue, and flying downhill in the middle of Mahoning, all the way to Steel Street, where twine-tied bundles of The Vindicator were piled high on the sidewalk, left by circulation drivers around four a.m. A thrilling ride before dawn, for sure—wind in face, no traffic, screaming wheels beneath the little wagon, swerving back and forth across the center line and down the hill, storefront windows just a blur.
Pulling that wagon back up the hill was the price we paid. Up five blocks, loaded with newspapers, about a hundred and thirty of them, each more than a hundred pages for sure. If we tied the heavy cloth carrier bag strap to the wagon handle, the load seemed to lighten. We didn’t understand the physics then. We just knew it was easier that way.
Our route started on Mahoning Avenue near Lakeview, down South Maryland and Belle Vista. Done by 7:30, with the sun rising over downtown, we headed home to get ready for church. On weekdays, the newspaper was more manageable to fold, and we threw the papers in flipping fashion from the sidewalk, over front lawns and up to the front porches, where they (most times) fell like guided missiles between the banisters and doors. And we had to dig for pennies for an extra when a wayward paper landed on a roof.
Many years later, after losing my job in a steel mill shutdown (a trend across the nation at the time), I earned a degree at Youngstown State University, became a newspaper reporter, and, eventually, was hired by the same company whose product I had delivered at the age of twelve. I was older than many of my colleagues, even the editors, but I gained knowledge and an understanding of news gathering that remains part of my identity.
Last week, The Vindicator announced that it would be shutting its doors on August 31, after one hundred and fifty years of service to the community. Having been fortunate enough to spend time working in that newsroom, I am reading with a full range of emotions about the end of this newspaper. One hundred fifty years of publication! Think about it: When the paper began as a weekly, the nation celebrated the first Transcontinental Railroad; the Civil War had ended just four years earlier.
To understand what this means to those of us in Youngstown, you ought to know that The Vindicator has been the Source of Record for the Mahoning Valley and its quarter of a million people for a very long time. During its tenure, The Vindicator has brought to light—each and every day—award-winning stories, hard news, features about our citizens (the good ones and the bad), our city’s wonderful successes and its tough times, hundreds of thousands of obituaries, birth records, court records, and opinions. The paper has survived labor strikes, steel mill closings, lawsuits, hell and high water to bring news about our community, state and nation to our doorsteps—and, in recent years, our computers and cell phones.
I feel for General Manager Mark Brown, who appeared beaten, aged beyond his years, as he spoke about the paper losing money twenty of the last twenty-two years, the result of declining ad revenue and circulation loss. I watched him and thought of his mother, Mrs. Betty Brown Jagnow, the paper’s publisher, and what lowering the flag must mean to them and their family—and to all the hard working people at 107 Vindicator Square.
This former reporter salutes you, Mr. Mark Brown and Mrs. Betty Brown Jagnow, with respect for your dedication and perseverance. I wish you both the best. I also salute the Vindicator newsroom staff, the reporters, photographers and editors, and the advertising sales people, the production staff, and press workers, circulation, and carriers—all the folks who for years put everything they had into their work to write, refine and edit, and bring “The People’s Paper” to life and into the community.
A newspaper is not only a business, but also an important public service. Like many other newsrooms across our nation, this one in Youngstown delivers accurate and timely information through well-crafted stories. The Vindicator as a newsprint medium will not be replaced.The era of a physical plant in Youngstown, rolling out more than a hundred pages in a Sunday edition, to one hundred and fifty thousand homes, is long gone. I am as certain of this as I am that my brothers and I will never struggle again to pull that wagon up the hill.
Today, the news is delivered expeditiously to our computers and phones, and I hope it continues in the Mahoning Valley. Youngstown needs a daily news organization that will produce a digital product with professional journalists who are educated to do the job right. We need to know what happens at the board meetings, to know about police activity, council meetings, court proceedings, trustee gatherings and all types of government action that, absent in-depth reporting by a free press, will occur out of the public eye. Feature stories, photographs and news about our neighborhoods will become few and far between without a daily outlet, digital or otherwise.
I left the paper twenty years ago for a job in a different public service, but my experience at the Vindicator made me a better person and gave me a deep sense of respect and appreciation for the business of gathering the news. I am honored to have been employed by this newspaper in my hometown. I am honored to have worked with the best people in journalism. As we bid farewell to Youngstown’s only daily newspaper, let’s look forward to our city becoming a leader in presenting the news daily and digitally. We have the talent and the energy to get it going, and—I think anybody who knows anything about Youngstown will agree—we’re in a community that knows how to adjust to change. ■
George Denney was a steelworker until the mills closed in 1980. He was a reporter for nearly twenty years at the Warren Tribune Chronicle and then the Youngstown Vindicator, winning awards for his writing. He later served as court administrator in Youngstown. In retirement, he writes essays and short stories. He and his wife, Arlene, have a son and two grandchildren.
Cover image of the old Vindicator building in Youngstown, Ohio. The building was sold to the Youngstown Business Incubator, and the Vindicator currently publishes out of the building across the street. Photo by George Denney.
Belt Magazine is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. To support more independent writing and journalism made by and for the Rust Belt and greater Midwest, make a donation to Belt Magazine, or become a member starting at just $5 a month.