Paul C. Jagnow, longtime Vindicator editor, remembered for journalistic excellence

Staff report


Paul C. Jagnow, longtime managing editor at The Vindicator who helped shape the newspaper’s identity and design, died Wednesday. He was 77.

Jagnow was remembered by those who worked with and for him as an excellent writer and an editor who always demanded the best from his staff.

He began his journalism career working part time in the paper’s sports department, where he did freelance photo assignments, compiled box scores and performed other odd jobs on nights and weekends while a student at Youngstown State University.

He joined The Vindicator full time in June 1960, where he was assigned to the paper’s Warren news bureau. He became a rewrite man assigned to the city desk in 1975. A rewrite man was a reporter who worked in the downtown office taking information reported by others or wire services and crafting that information into stories. He also served as an assistant state editor.

In August 1976, publisher William J. Brown promoted Jagnow to the position of assistant city editor. In April 1981, Jagnow was named the paper’s city editor to succeed Clarence T. “Pete” Sheehan, who died in February of that year. In August 1986, he was named managing editor-news, a position he retained until his retirement in 2006.

He married publisher Betty J.H. Brown in March 1986.

Jagnow served in the Air Force and was a member of Cortland Lodge 529 Free and Accepted Masons and the Mahoning Consistory. He was a life member of the National Rifle Association.

Jagnow was a co-author of “These Hundred Years,” a book that chronicled the triumphs and failures of the men, women and institutions in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys through The Vindicator’s news pages. It was published in 2000.

In 2013, Jagnow’s final Vindicator assignment was to recount his coverage of the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated as part of a 50th anniversary package.

Veteran and retired reporters and editors recalled their experiences working with Jagnow.

Bertram de Souza, editorial page editor who’s worked at The Vindicator since 1979, said: “Paul was a demanding and tough editor, but he also was very supportive of me as a reporter. He was responsible for my being appointed political writer of The Vindicator.”

De Souza added: “Paul also encouraged me to write a Sunday column that was hard-hitting and that focused on the dark side of the Mahoning Valley’s political life. He had this sage advice that has guided me through the years: ‘Writing a no-holds-barred column is like riding a tiger. Once you get on, you can’t get off.’ Paul was right – just as he was about The Vindicator’s important role as the watchdog of government. Paul Jagnow has left an indelible imprint on this newspaper and on my career as a journalist.”

Dennis B. Mangan, a former reporter and editor for the paper from 1971 until his 2013 retirement, said of Jagnow: “He was a writer’s editor: tough, but insightful. He was a stickler on spelling and grammar and constantly encouraged writers to search for just the right word or phrase to make a sentence pop.

“When he was city editor and I was assistant city editor, the city hall reporter filed a story saying that because of some glitch, Youngstown would not have Fourth of July fireworks that year. Paul looked at the story, obviously uncomfortable with its bland first paragraph, and then typed: ‘The Fourth of July in Youngstown this year will be safe, sane and boring.’ That short but scathing sentence was enough to light a fire under somebody, and the city managed to put together a fireworks display on short notice.”

Mangan said of Jagnow: “He went from being a sports stringer to reporting, to editing and mentoring, to managing, to directing coverage of Black Monday, mob wars, the rise and fall of Jim Traficant, the tornado of May 1985 and other stories that changed the Valley. He oversaw two computerizations of the newsroom, the redesign of the paper, the reorganization of the staff and an increased accent on local coverage. He helped form a generation of reporters, many of whom stayed here, while others went on to make their mark in Toledo, Akron, Columbus, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, New York, New Mexico, California and Michigan.”

Robert McFerren, graphic arts director who started at the paper in 1989, said: “Paul loved being a journalist – it was his true passion in life. He was one of our last hard-nosed newspapermen from the golden era of newspapers.”

He continued: “I remember the day after the USS Cole bombing in Yemen in 2000. Jagnow called us into the conference room and read us the riot act for our A1 presentation of this story. He explained how serious this terror attack was and it should never have been underplayed the way we had. He told us terror acts were escalating throughout the world, and this was a brazen act of terror aimed at the U.S., and it was our job as a member of the media to inform our readers of why this event was significant. It was less than a year later we learned how right he was when the attacks on the U.S. happened on Sept. 11.”

“Paul Jagnow believed in me, and gave me my first reporting assignment,” said Ernie Brown Jr., a regional editor who began his career with the paper in 1976.

“He was a tough editor. He was an excellent writer and a staunch defender of a free press. But most of all, he loved The Vindicator and was dedicated to making it the best paper it could be,” Brown said.

Stephen Bolton, who served for years as the paper’s attorney and was a friend of Jagnow’s for more than 40 years, said Jagnow was instrumental in some of the most important open-meetings and open-records lawsuits in the state.

Under Jagnow’s direction, the newspaper successfully filed suits to open Youngstown City Council meetings to the public, open suppression hearings and to obtain public records not provided in a Trumbull County murder case, Bolton said.

Bolton said Jagnow’s “primary interest was as a skeet shooter. He won many, many skeet championships. He was an excellent shot.”

Cynthia Rickard, a regional editor who started at the paper in 1978, said Jagnow was “a consummate newsman and wordsmith – one of the best writers I’ve ever met.”

She said Jagnow was at his best during the May 31, 1985, tornado, that killed several people in Trumbull County and Mercer County in Pennsylvania.

“Toward the end of a 36-hour shift as I stumbled, disheveled, into the newsroom, his first question was, of course, ‘How is it out there?,’ but then his concern turned, for a moment, to whether I’d eaten or slept. That was followed by a command to go home and freshen up before continuing,” Rickard said.

Tom Wills, a regional editor, said, “I had worked two summer internships before being hired full time at The Vindicator in April 1985. I can still hear Paul’s voice on the phone as I answered it in the Sharon Herald’s newsroom: ‘Do ya still wanna work here?’ he asked in his sailorlike tone. Paul was a strong personality, an ace wordsmith and an expert historian, Valley or otherwise.”

Rick Logan, news editor who has been at the paper since 1988, said, “Paul Jagnow was the consummate old-school journalist who refused to accept anything other than maximum journalistic integrity. He was also a meticulous wordsmith, a stickler for getting everything right – down to the most minute details of a superfluous word or an extraneous comma. His mentoring played a large role in my growth as a professional journalist. His skills and talents have left an indelible imprint on the quality of The Vindicator.”

Robert K. Yosay, the newspaper’s chief photographer who’s worked for The Vindicator since 1976, said, “Paul lived and breathed newspapers. It was his passion. Because of his passion, he was hard-nosed, a bit of a perfectionist, but always had the reader at the top of his priority. ... Short on accolades, unless they were well-deserved, Paul pushed his people to always do better, and they did.”

Bill Thomas, a former Vindicator reporter and editor who worked at the paper from 1968 to 1979 – and as a college intern from 1964 to 1967 – before leaving to become city editor of the Albuquerque Journal, was friends with Jagnow for about 50 years.

“Paul was one of the most talented reporters and writers I have ever known. He was a wordsmith in the truest sense – a student of the language and of our craft,” Thomas said. “As an editor, he was demanding, yet always supportive. He expected much and gave even more. He didn’t suffer fools, inside the newsroom or out.

“As vivid as my newspaper memories are of Paul, our time together fishing, hunting and gardening are equally cherished. He was as exacting with a rod, gun and trowel as he was with an editing pen. Paul made everyone around him better, including me. I’ll miss him,” Thomas said.

Tony Paglia, a former senior regional editor for The Vindicator who worked for the newspaper from 1977 to 2007, said Jagnow was “one of those people you never forget.”

Paglia said there’s irony that Jagnow died near the 40th anniversary of Black Monday.

“He led the reporting staff on that and the aftermath that went on for years,” Paglia said.

Thomas Petzinger Jr., who worked as a business reporter for The Vindicator during Black Monday before leaving for The Wall Street Journal, said Jagnow “was a news guy through and through, as sharp an editor and rewrite man as any I encountered in the decades that followed.

“We were still using manual typewriters, grease pencils, and paste pots when I started at The Vindy. Paul would wield the grease pencil over the copy of a young reporter and turn something merely passable into a glowing news story.”