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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

McKeeport (Pa) Daily News Closes After 131 Years

December 31, 2015

The McKeesport (Pa) Daily News will close its doors today after 131 years of publishing. I had the great experience of working as a news reporter at the paper for five of those years.

The life of a news reporter is exciting. You get to know everyone in town and they know you. Every day is different, really different, and no two news stories are the same.

I began working at The Daily News right out of college. Serving the Mon Yough Valley, the newspaper was influential and highly regarded by business and political leaders throughout Allegheny County. We used manual typewriters (I taught myself to type and still use just two fingers as many in the newsroom did) and stories were "cut and pasted" on 8X11 sheets of newsprint (after editing) and sent to Linotype machines to be set in "hot metal" as we called it.

In those five years, I had my share of interesting and exciting assignments, front page by-lines, and great interviews. These included scores of fires, murders, plane crashes, automobile wrecks and accidents as well as politics and sporting events of all kinds. I covered many "beats", including the Steel Valley, (Munhall, West Homestead, and Homestead), Norwin, and the city of Clairton.

My assignments varied from interviewing actors Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep on the set of The Deer Hunter, the 1978 Academy Award winning Movie of the Year, to covering Friday night high school football.

I had the opportunity to interview famed defense attorney F. Lee Bailey while covering a local murder trial, and presidential candidates Jimmy Carter and Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson during the 1976 presidential primaries.

I chatted freely with Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., son of the former President, and mixed with a variety of other local stars and starlets, too numerous to mention. Mostly, it was covering local council and school board meetings, community events, and church announcements. But I wrote everyday, dozens of stories, and it taught me how to put words on paper that meant something.

My favorite assignment however remains the reporting of a Friday night high school football game between western Pennsylvania rivals Ringgold High and South Allegheny High School. Ringgold featured a little known quarterback named Joe Montana.

I still recall my lead paragraph. It went something like this: “Ringgold quarterback Joe Montana, who threw more passes than a sailor on weekend leave, led Ringgold to a convincing victory over South Allegheny." He was every bit as good then, as he later became.

All I have and all I've accomplished is the result of those 5 years as a reporter at The Daily News. Print reporters are the 'real deal' in reporting. Not to be mean, but television news reporting is often shallow (most print reporters will tell you that TV reporting isn't 'reporting' at all). Print reporters are able to transfer their skills to any kind of work or career path. However, put a television reporter in a print news room, and honestly, they’d be lost.

To me, a reporter was akin to being in a rock band. There’s a tremendous sense of comradeship in a newsroom, and it adds to a cozy feeling of family and friendship. Writing a news story is an act of performing and it takes everyone at the paper working together for it to be good.

Despite the meager compensation, we were often the beneficiary of complimentary tickets or dinners from people in the community. This practice helped connect with opinion leaders, but could color or influence the reporting. For good reason, this practice does not exist today, although much of the news is still "colored" for other reasons, often political. The Daily News had a strict "style" manual that had to be adhered by reporters.

Old time reporters had little journalism training. Many in our newsroom did not have a college degree but they knew how to gather facts quickly and present them in a logical way that was easily understood by readers.

These days, reporters and editors tend to live in “bubble” and the newsroom is often closed off to the public for security reasons. The result is too many reporters rely official government spokespersons for information and do not do the leg work to cultivate independent news sources. Television reporters are famous for this.

The result is a sanitized version of the daily news with journalists waiting for official government sources to tell them what's going on. That's why most news stories sound the same.

Editors at The Daily News saw it differently; they encouraged reporters to develop independent sources, or to put it another way, a 'nose for news'. The Daily News Publisher, the late Thomas D. Mansfield, once told me, “Robbie, once a reporter, always a reporter.”

He was right, and if I could rewind it and do it all again, I would.

Thank you to The Daily News, the paper gave me a life I otherwise wouldn’t have had.