Geezer Verdicts Ombudsman

ERNEST F. IMHOFF

November 22, 1992|By ERNEST F. IMHOFF | ERNEST F. IMHOFF,Ernest Imhoff is readers' representative for The Baltimore Sun.

One Geezer for Bush yells: "Tell me something good about Clinton." The gleeful answer from across the big table: "He's younger than anyone in this room."

"I want a light beer," another Geezer tells the waiter. "Not a dark beer."

Geezer No. 3 says, "Tell me something good about Bush." The shouted answer: "He fishes."

"No, I want the tuna without the mayo," insists another Geezer.

Former columnist Edgar Jones tries to take control. He jokes about the hard-hitting Sun editorial after Truman beat the Sun-backed Dewey in 1948. After the biggest upset of the century, "We wrote about the Arctic ice cap, how the water might rise three feet on the Eastern Shore."

The story brings peals of laughter from the 60- and 70-year-olds and The Dean, 94-year-old John Ward. These are the zany Geezers, some 20 retired Sun and Evening Sun news people who shade their truths and lies skillfully over a weekly lunch, let agitators like Jim Bready take polls on anything that moves and trade gossip about their successors inside the nearby Calvert Red Brick.

While they have seen millions of ancient words empty into the ether, they live for today. "To hell with the good old days," one says. They have mixed feelings about the current Sun and Evening Sun but they're united in their affection for Sun employees, Sun tradition, Sun spirit.

"We enjoy ourselves," says Grace Darin, the meticulous copy editor whose mind probably still has all the streets in Baltimore as neatly in place as her commas and periods once were in stories. "We're miscellaneous. Once in awhile a sports writer even joins us."

Being old-fashioned newspaper people, the Geezers are a nouns and verbs group that would rather tell a good story than tell a good editorial. But occasionally they slip into the hyperbolic adjectives and adverbs of the current news generation and admit the Sunpapers are still worth reading and, of course, criticizing: "It's a shame about what's happened to The Evening Sun" and "The obits are getting better."

Here is a sampling of Geezer verdicts:

Harold Williams, former Sunday editor, 41-year veteran: "Election coverage Wednesday after the election was probably the best in many a year. Congratulations! [But] I don't care for static design, especially new colored boxes and elongated blue dirigibles at the top of pages -- what a waste of space. . . . Inconsequential stories on Page 1."

Edgar Jones: "Page 2 news briefs good, should be more. . . . Biz pages good . . . [but] local news is so meager that it makes local TV invaluable. Large colored pictures on the front page are of no value, make it look as though staff ran out of news. The Evening Sun has excellent op-ed page and columnists, otherwise there is no reason to read it."

L John Ward, business editor, 56-year-vet: "Prints every day."

Albert Sehlstedt Jr., science/space reporter, still part-time obituary writer: "Brighter front page, in makeup and with good interesting stories not necessarily hard news . . . [but] terrible grammar and obvious ignorance of the geography of the Baltimore metro area. . . . As Casey Stengel said, 'You can look it up.' "

James Bready, editorial writer, still local authors columnist, 40-year vet: "Sunburst community news section (if it works) is a sign of vitality. There are good columnists and critics throughout and Tim Warren's author profiles, good high school, college sports [and 12 other items] . . . but I don't like the straining for wisecrack headlines, lousy promotion of the papers, disappearance of 'Baltimore' from Page 1A, preoccupation in features with gross, stupid pop culture fads [and 12 other items]."

John Plunkett, Sun assistant managing editor, 43-year vet: "Local news space is increasing; if Baltimore city and county get their own sections this should be a big improvement. One recent advance was introduction of an ombudsman . . . [but] I don't like some of the type styles in headlines and some other graphic changes. Most problems will be resolved when a new press comes and kinks in community news sections and staffing are ironed out."

Clement Vitek, librarian: "Print is generally clearer, a more open makeup, good writers like Rich O'Mara's erudition and sense of humor and Carl Schoettler covering Europe, injecting some humor into serious areas. Of course, I think all newspaper people take themselves too seriously. The world got along before they arrived."

The Geezers were out of step with readers on one point. None mentioned what readers have burned my ears about for three months: the "terrible" new, combined, hard-to-read stock tables, which editors say they will fix and make more useful soon.

7+ Maybe the Geezers don't own much stock.

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