Bob Greene's 'Late Edition' Love Story

Bob Greene's new book, Late Edition: A Love Story, is a collection of true stories about the first newspaper that ever gave him a job, the Columbus Citizen-Journal in Ohio. Host Scott Simon speaks to the best-selling author and former syndicated columnist about his memoir.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, a singing '60s icon with an old passion for new technology.

But first, tell us about your first story, "Golf Ball Fights Back."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOB GREENE (Author): That's exactly what it was. I was a kid assigned to the emergency runs, and I was supposed to type up those little agate lines for the fire departments. And I heard about a guy - Samuel Self Jr. was his name - who had cut into a golf ball and wanted to see what a liquid center golf ball was made of. Bad idea. It exploded and went into his eye. And I wrote it up, and there it was in the Columbus Citizen Journal, two paragraphs, bottom of the obit page, "Golf Ball Fights Back."

SIMON: Talking to Bob Greene, who's had quite a few stories over the years, of course. He's the best-selling author, former syndicated columnist, and he's written a new memoir about the first newspaper that ever gave him a job - in Columbus, Ohio, the Citizen Journal. And in these times, the book is almost a memoir for newspapers, period, end of sentence, new graph, which seem to be disappearing in bundles. Bob's new book is "Late Edition: A Love Story." He joins us from Chicago.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. GREENE: Oh, thanks so much, Scott.

SIMON: Bring us back to where - you were in high school and were a copy kid. You describe the whole floor of the newsroom as -because of - there were things call typewriters then.

Mr. GREENE: You would think that that was the sound that I would remember the most vividly - all the typewriters banging and the United Press International wire service machines against the wall clattering, and the people shouting, and the language you didn't usually hear in polite company all over the newsroom.

But the sound that sticks with me most is the sound of laughter, because that's what seems to be disappearing. It was a place where a bunch of misfits got together every day. And I can still hear all the laughter in that room from men and women who got up every day, and the first thing they thought was: I get to go down to the paper again today.

SIMON: You began as a summer copy kid changing ribbons on the wire machines, picking up sandwiches, coffee, answering phones ringing off the hook, as they do in the movies. You wouldn't confuse the Columbus Citizen Journal with the Wall Street Journal, would you?

Mr. GREENE: No. We were - it was almost like a scrapbook of the town, and I would know that the Kaneses and the Dormans and the Garricks, every house, they would hear that paper hit the front stoop. It helped define the fact of the community. We were, every day we were coming to their houses. We put the paper out.

SIMON: You were once sent to try and find Dr. Sam Sheppard, weren't you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: The most famous convicted murderer in America, who was sprung through the efforts of F. Lee Bailey, his attorney.

Mr. GREENE: Right. And he was locked up in the Ohio penitentiary in downtown Columbus, Ohio. And the word came one day that he had gotten out. And there was a rumor phoned into the city desk that Sam Sheppard was drinking at a place called Benny Klein's, a sort of hole-in-the-wall steakhouse. And the city editor said to me -because all the staff was out, fanned out across the city trying to cover the real part of the story - go over to Benny Klein's Steakhouse and if Dr. Sam Sheppard's in there...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GREENE: ...could you get him, and could you walk him back to the city room? 'Cause we'd like to get a picture of him in the photo studio

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: You were 16?

Mr. GREENE: Seventeen years old. I can't even walk into a bar, and here I am walking over to Benny Klein's...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GREENE: ...and I'm supposed to say to the most famous murderer in America: Excuse me, could you walk back to the Citizen Journal with me? We'd like to take your picture.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Do me a favor, Dr. Sheppard.

Mr. GREENE: Yeah. Right. Luckily, he wasn't there. And luckily, I didn't get tossed out. But I was thinking, what a great summer.

SIMON: You keep coming back to the point in this book that between the people who ran the presses and drove the delivery trucks and people who worked on the rewrite desk, newspaper reporting - as opposed to blogging - was teamwork, not solitary work.

Mr. GREENE: And that was the joy of it. One day the city editor, a man named Sam Perdue, looked at me sitting there among the other reporters. And he said, What are you working on? And I said, I don't have anything to write. And Sam said, nothing to write? And he motioned me to get up, and he led me over to the window overlooking Broad Street and Third Street. And he said, there are people out there. Nothing to write? There are people out there. And it's a lesson I never forgot.

And of course, when you're surrounded by all those people - it wasn't that big a staff - you just felt every day like, yeah, we're all there for one reason: to somehow go out and find the story of those people and put it in this little scrapbook that's called the Columbus Citizen Journal that we're putting together every day.

SIMON: You wound up working for the Scripps Howard team at the '68 Chicago Convention as an intern by day, then writing about the protests in Grant Park and other places at night. Got into the paper a lot. Do you remember what your father said when...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GREENE: Well, I...

SIMON: ...he came to pick you up at the airport?

Mr. GREENE: I'd been in Chicago at the convention. And here was Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley and Chet Huntley up in their booths, and I was covering this story. And I flew back and my dad picked me up at the airport, and he was driving us back to our house. And at a stoplight, a kid named Steve Poreser(ph), who'd gone to school with me, pulled up to us and looked into the car and said, how was it? And clearly, he'd read my stories from the Democratic convention. And my dad pulls away from the light and he says, well, it looks like you have a pretty good readership in town. And sort of kidding around, I said to him, yeah, I'm a household word. And my father said, so is toilet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GREENE: Which is a good thing, I think, Mr. Simon, for all of us to remember.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Yes.

Mr. GREENE: Household word - so is toilet.

SIMON: I have one more question.

Mr. GREENE: Yes, sir.

SIMON: You say towards the end of the book, people used to - you remind us people used to refer to the newspaper they read every day as my paper. And I must say, and I read a lot of blogs, I read a lot of everything, I don't hear people refer to my blog.

Mr. GREENE: Well, or when you read many newspapers on your computer screen…

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. GREENE: It's a wonderful thing. You can read the greatest newspapers in the world for free. But when you get so many papers on your screen interchangeably, it comes down to what is my paper, really? And is there, is that concept dying also? The concept of hearing that thump on the front stoop and knowing my paper's here. And one of the reasons I tell the story, I feel so lucky to have been part of newspapers 40 years ago, when it still was a game, when there still was all that laughter - before, symbolically if not literally, all around the country in newsrooms, people started turning off the lights.

SIMON: Bob Greene, his new book, "Late Edition: A Love Story." Thanks, Bob.

Mr. GREENE: Thank you, Scott.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.