Ever since I entered the abbey at Saint Anselm College, I've tried to keep up with news from home by checking in periodically with The North Adams Transcript. Even though life now is filled with parish concerns as a Catholic pastor, monastery business as a monk and college issues as an English and communication professor, the ink somehow got into my blood. Once an editor, always an editor, so checking in on my old newspaper, where some of my happiest memories and most enduring friendships were made, has become habit.
That's why news that the Transcript will close with Saturday's issue, the Jan. 18 edition, is deeply troubling. After more than 170 years, what John R. Briggs began on Sept. 7, 1843, and what generations of Transcript owners, reporters, photographers and editors, as well as all the rest of the staff, brought to the people of Northern Berkshire and Southern Vermont, will come to an end. My hope is that our colleagues, once fierce competitors and often friends, at The Berkshire Eagle will give the same attention to the news and issues in and around North Adams that The Transcript did masterfully for decades. I notice that I'm still using "our," not "their." Old habits are hard to change.
The challenges confronting contemporary journalism in a globalized, technologized and digitized world, are enormous -- and the Berkshires are not immune. I hope the synergy between The Transcript and The Eagle will prove successful in giving new life to the news product. None of us involved in journalism -- I teach journalism at Saint Anselm -- is unaware of how declines in advertising revenue and circulation dollars have eroded the depth and range of news coverage.
Having said that, my purpose here is simply to celebrate the greatness The Transcript manifested so long and so well. At its best, a newspaper is not an add-on, a decoration or a frill in a community. It serves its readers and their communities as a collective memory, a forum for ideas, a record of events, a voice for leadership, a mosaic of personalities and characters and a spotlight turned on the dark corners of political, economic and civic life. To be sure, we made mistakes, sometimes whoppers. But we corrected them and tried again. Without question, The Transcript made a difference for the good in the life of North Adams and all northern Berkshire across generations. I remember, for example, discovering that The T, as we sometimes called the paper, spoke out about the dangers of the Nazis and their threat to the Jews back in 1933, long before many U.S. publications noticed. Maybe someday an enterprising doctoral student will write a definitive history of our paper -- and prove my argument beyond any doubt.
Dissertations and opinion pieces, alas, struggle to capture the rollicking stories, touching encounters and thrilling achievements those habitués of newsrooms remember all their lives. Such texts cannot quite make it all come to life the way it shines in the memory and in the stories once told at Armstrong's, or the Legion or Nick's Bar and Grille. Folks might wonder why a guy who managed to get himself fired twice, once for a day in 1980, then for real in 1986, remembers his newspaper with such affection. That's something of a mystery, I suppose, but it's tied up with ownership changes, management philosophy and human frailty. Fact is, I already loved the paper when Sr. Raymond Francis, S.S.J., in eighth grade history at old Saint Joseph School asked us what we wanted to be in life.
We had all manner of answers in that class -- which would become the Class of 1971 -- but I remember proudly saying I wanted to grow up and become editor of The Transcript! And, amazingly, that's what happened. I don't remember everything we did, but my noggin still has a lot space marked "Transcript Lore & History."
I peered into the basement windows on Bank Street to watch the old press clatter, clank and whirr. I remember the day our Goss Urbanite was disassembled and sent packing by new owners. Later, I was disappointed to learn The Transcript would be printed in Pittsfield. I remember the clatter of the Associated Press teletype machine, especially the summer Nixon resigned. And I can still see Art Dumas busy keeping our new computerized system running smoothly, and Tony Abuisi and Phil Ouimet gathering long strips of galleys to make up pages before computerized "pagination" took over.
I remember Jim and Bob Hardman, who poured so much of their life's work into building up their newspaper -- and their community, as the new Transcript building on American Legion Drive indicated. I was schooled on the excellence of managing editor Phil Lee, even though he'd retired before I started as a summer intern after my first year in college. I worked summers and winter vacations. I did weddings, funerals and births and obits. I listened to sports editor Tommy McShane warn me about the flood of stats from the guy who called in results from Green Mountain, the dog track in Pownal, Vt.
Liz Brewer taught me the importance of precision and concision, and once made me cut a Thanksgiving feature in half by standing on a chair to show the length of its "takes," the pages we used to paste together. Randy Trabold would make me ride around with him on photo expeditions -- and I learned the importance of human relations from a master. Maynard Leahey underlined the importance of clear, elegant expression, Betty Eagar hammered into me the importance of detail, and Lew Cuyler, Jimmy Walsh and a host of colleagues helped me see connections, ask probing questions, dig for answers and take a stand. I started in the newsroom with Pete Gosselin, whose determination and skill led him to become national economic affairs writer for The Los Angeles Times, after which he worked for Washington think tanks and the then U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner.
I was pushed out of a blood-splattered hotel room, and went searching for bodies in murder cases. I sent reporters to tramp around in the mountains when planes went down. I photographed Princess Grace, interviewed the empress of Iran and shot the breeze with Richard "John-Boy Walton" Thomas. We broke big stories, such as Sprague Electric's departure from North Adams and Mass MoCA's debut. We explored big issues, such as who calls the shots in education, when controversy erupted over Richard Wright's 1940 novel "Native Son," and what communities should do in the face of teenage suicide. We raced against deadlines, and we even won some significant press awards.
My own staff, when I was editor, was second to none, and those who recall the work and character of Nick Noyes, Ron Mills, Caroline Burch, Peter MacGillivray, Jim Therrien, Glenn Drohan and all the others know their value. It was this group that welcomed Danny Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter brutally slain in 2002 in the wake of 9/11. Before Danny became a news story himself, he was our enthusiastic, good-humored and gifted colleague and friend. It remains a great privilege to have been his first editor.
When the flag of The North Adams Transcript is retired, my hometown and the Northern Berkshires will have lost something significant, historic and even precious. In 1611-12, the great English poet John Donne wrote "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning." It's a poem about death, departure and lost love, but a couple of its lines are pertinent for us who bid farewell to The Transcript with a tear in the eye and pride in our heart. "So let us melt, and make no noise, / No tear-floods, nor sigh tempests move," writes Donne, because "we by a love so much refined / That ourselves know not what it is." Donne's lovers are consoled and strengthened to know that all that once was expands into something new, full of possibility. "Though I must go, endure not yet / A breach, but an expansion, / Like gold to airy thinness beat."
No denial of loss, only gratitude for what once was -- and conviction that the good will find its way into something new. That was Donne's faith, and on this day, it is mine too.
Father Jerome, known as Joe Day to friends in Northern Berkshire, is a Benedictine priest teaching English at Saint Anselm College and serving as pastor of Saint Raphael Parish, Manchester, NH. He began as an editor at The North Adams Transcript in 1980, and was managing editor from 1983-1986.