Die-hard journalist keeps the Harford Post alive

June 27, 1993|By Frank Lynch | Frank Lynch,Staff Writer

You won't find a video-display terminal, a voice mail telephone system, a police scanner squawking or frantic reporters banging out stories at the Harford Post.

Instead, inside the 12-by-14 newsroom, you find a small-town journalistic anachronism.

A manual typewriter sits on a desk. Piles of mail and scraps of paper clutter the desktop so it's impossible to see bare wood. Cigarette butts overflow in an ashtray.

That's how Charles Jones likes it.

He's co-publisher (with his wife), editor, business manager, advertising director and circulation manager for what he proudly notes is Harford County's oldest independently owned newspaper.

This soft-spoken, 62-year-old newspaper veteran of 30 years is proud of what he has accomplished since 1982, when he started the free weekly, based in Bel Air.

"Against the advice of many people both in and out of this business, I decided to start my own paper," Mr. Jones says. "I guess I was just tired of other people controlling my life."

Mr. Jones had worked for the Harford Democrat for 10 years, mostly as an editor, when it closed in the early 1980s, and he decided to start his own paper.

He staked his life savings, $13,500, to start anew.

"Look around you," he says. "This all belongs to me and Jen [his wife, Juliette]. Together we do it all."

Along with serving as co-publisher, Mrs. Jones takes care of the paste-up duties as well as putting the finished product in news racks around the county, while Mr. Jones drives the car.

They deliver 6,500 copies of the paper, whose news columns are filled with carefully edited or rewritten news releases. Among recent topics: the state's expansion into international business, a fire safety expo and a decline in the county unemployment rate.

Mr. Jones points to a table in a corner of the office where stacks of each edition of the Post sit. They form the newspaper's library, he says, and provide tangible evidence that he's a survivor in an increasingly tough industry in which many newspapers have died.

"I've got a fighter's heart," he says. "Had to in order to survive in this business. Made my own breaks and a few mistakes along the way."

His biggest mistake, he says, was quitting a reporting job at the now-defunct Baltimore News American. "Left in a huff over something that now seems so insignificant," he says without elaborating.

From 1965 to 1970, he ran the paper's Harford County bureau. He vividly recalls being in a Harford courtroom for three days in May 1968 for the trial of H. Rap Brown, a civil rights activist who had been charged with arson and inciting a riot in racial disturbances in Cambridge in 1967.

Mr. Jones remembers those days as perhaps the most tense in Harford County history. "Because of the threat of violence, there were sheriff's deputies everywhere," he says. "They were on the roofs of buildings, on every street and patrolling in cars."

The trial never took place because Mr. Brown's attorney, William H. Kuenstler, couldn't produce his client. Tension peaked, however, when

a bomb destroyed a car near Route 1 and Tollgate Road, killing two of Mr. Brown's associates.

"At first, it was thought that Rap Brown was in the car. That later was proven untrue," Mr. Jones says.

Back then, his career was blossoming, and he was earning considerably more than the $70 a week he made at his first newspaper -- the Eastern Beacon, a now-defunct Essex weekly.

A newspaper career was not even among his choices when he left the military, says Mr. Jones, who served in France during a five-year Army stint that ended in 1954.

Returning to civilian life in the mid-1950s, he drifted in and out of several jobs before taking advantage of the GI Bill and entering college. "Never really liked school," he says. "Dropped out at age 14 and went to work to help my mom. Dad had died, and mom lost her defense job when the war [World War II] ended.

"Anyway, I got my high school equivalency while in the service. So it was off to night school."

He attended the University of Baltimore and took every journalism course offered. "Don't know why except I liked to read," he says. "Thought I might like to write."

Around that time, he encountered Tom Hughes, Frank Woodfield, Donald Kirkly and Ralph Reppert -- veteran Baltimore journalists who either taught or lectured in their spare time.

After spending a day on the job with Mr. Hughes, then Sunday editor at the News American, Mr. Jones harbored no more doubts about what he wanted to do for a living.

"Everything about that day was exciting," he recalls. "Phones were ringing off the hook. A bank of Teletype machines were making so much noise that people had to shout to be heard, and the newsroom was filled with smoke from untold cigarettes dangling from the mouths of reporters who were banging away on manual typewriters.

"I saw legendary Baltimore newspapermen such as Eddie Ballard, Jack Kavanaugh and Buck Auld working their magic. I had never seen a newspaper put together from start to finish. I knew right then I wanted to be part of the business."

And part of it he has been. Three decades later, he's still at it.

Sure, some will say his paper is not exactly hard-hitting. But that doesn't bother Mr. Jones.

He offers a bit of advice to young journalists:

"Be humble. Never get hung up on self-importance. Start at the bottom and work your way up. Take every assignment given to you and most of all . . . learn from experience."

Then, after lighting up once more, he adds: "This newspaper will continue to publish as long as I'm physically able to work."

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