More Gene Bell.From a story that appeared in the San Diego Union Tribune during my brief time there.
U-T president got leg up from predecessor
By Logan Jenkins Jul 14, 2015 at 2:03 PM
After an evening community meeting in Escondido last week, people interested in their regional newspaper were leaving the parking lot. I stole the opportunity to ask Russ Newton, the new president of The San Diego Union-Tribune, if he knew Gene Bell, the U-T's former president under Copley ownership. I figured there was a connection. Like Newton, Bell cut his professional teeth in the massive pressrooms of the Tribune Company, the corporate ancestor of Tribune Publishing, the new owner of the Union-Tribune, . The Bell question seemed to hit Newton like a nostalgic nip of Jack Daniels, an open sesame to a man he clearly owes a lot. Back in 1985, he said, the Chicago Tribune was reeling under a printers strike. Newton and other nonunion pressmen were cashing in. Here's the tale in his own (slightly condensed) words: They were paying us 12 hours a day, seven days a week. But they only worked us three hours a day. We would play dice, cards, poker. Drink coffee. So I got tired of it. I got a rag and a bucket and I started cleaning off a press unit. This guy in a suit and tie walks up. I don't know who he is. "What are you doing?" he says. "I'm cleaning the unit off," I say. "Why are you cleaning it off?" "Because it's dirty." (I'm a young smart-ass guy, you know.) He says, "How come you're out here cleaning the unit and the rest of those guys are playing cards?" "They don't work for me," I say. "Well, how come you're out here?" "You guys are paying me a lot of money. It's dirty so I cleaned it." He says, "One last question. If those guys were working for you, what would they be doing?" "They'd be out here cleaning the (expletive) units. They're dirty." He walks away, and I didn't think anything about it. A couple of days later, they called me into the office and offered me a job as a supervisor with a $10,000 a year raise. They'd move me out from D.C. where I was living. I said sure, why not? Commentary: More Logan Jenkins columns about our region Six months later, we're at an awards banquet they made me go to. I was working nights and didn't want to go. This fellow gets up and I say, "I know that guy. He was talking to me on the press floor." Somebody says, "You don't know who that is? That's Gene Bell, vice president of operations." He'd gone and talked to the pressroom manager and said, "That guy might work out." I tell this story to many people. Be nice to everybody you meet. You never know who you're talking to. In 1992, Bell moved from Chicago to the Union-Tribune, a tea leaf many read as a sign that Helen Copley might be selling the family-owned newspaper chain to the Tribune Company. "We heard that, too," Newton told me in the darkening parking lot. At the Tribune-owned Times-Advocate, where I was working at the time, the speculation ran at a fever pitch. Four years later, however, the Tribune Company sold the Escondido-based daily and left San Diego County to its own media devices. Twenty years later, the Tribune is back, large and in charge. At the Escondido town hall-style meeting, many in the audience seemed wary of a newspaper they believe has had a pro-development agenda over the years. Newton rose to address the question head-on. "The owner of the Union-Tribune today is a newspaper company. We don't favor homeowners. We don't favor developers. Whatever the truth is, we're going to try to get to it. We are a professional newspaper company. We believe in journalism. To make journalism possible, we also believe in profit. We are a newspaper company. That's it. Nothing else." To a crowd that remembers the Tribune Company as the hands-off owner of its dearly departed hometown newspaper, Newton's blunt appraisal of the media's hands-on job seemed to ring an old-school bell.