Vindicator staffers reflect on their own stories

The past two months have been difficult for The Vindicator’s newsroom staff, as reporters and editors worked hard to keep up product quality and interest while facing the inevitable end of their jobs. Some thoughts from us:

Robert Yosay

Canfield, chief photographer, 1976 to Aug. 31

My introduction to The Vindicator goes back to summer 1971 as I was an intern in the composing room. Hot was the norm as the paper was made with hot metal and linotypes. Those early days showed me the camraderie of the staff and how “ink got in your blood.”

Those days turned into a photography internship then a staff photographer job.

As a photographer we were on the scene first and became the eyes of the paper to record events and document the Mahoning Valley. As the paper grew, we added photographers and had some of the best in the state. All the photographers were like a team and helpful but were still competitive, and we pushed each other to be better each year.

My career started with 4x5 film in our studio, to 35 mm film to the present day digital – a process that brought images from 35-40 minutes to instantaneous. I owe my career to late publisher, William J. Brown, who took a chance on an intern and made him a staffer, to Lloyd S. Jones ( father-in-law), who was not only a great photographer but loved technology and advancement and never quit learning. The early photographers Ed Shuba and Paul Schell; later, Bob DeMay, Doug Oster and William Lewis, all who helped me become a better photographer, and also helped me become chief photographer. I also owe my career to Cates Cannon, who after a big news story, and complimenting me on the art, responded with: “What do you have for tomorrow’s paper?” Nothing like the reality of the daily paper to bring you back.

One of my biggest mentors was Paul C. Jagnow, who loved photography but lit a fire in me that burns still. Many days started at 4:30 a.m. with a call from him to go to a fire, accident or news event. He pushed hard but gave us the best equipment. Compliments were few, but you knew he expected nothing but the best. I also owe a debt of gratitude to great reporters and editors who made cutlines accurate and descriptive. As I look back on 43-plus years, I have to thank the late publisher William J. Brown, his wife Betty Brown Jagnow and his son, Mark A. Brown, and the whole Vindicator family.

Ernie Brown Jr.

Boardman, reporter and regional editor, July 1976 to Aug. 31

Forty-three years ago, I walked up the steps of the Vindicator building to try out for a reporter position. Over the years, I’ve seen the industry move from electric typewriters to the use of smartphones. My perspective is somewhat unique. I am one of the few black reporters to have ever worked at the paper during its 150-year history, and I was the first, and only, black regional editor. When I started, the only other black reporter was Leon Stennis, who was also the paper’s longtime religion editor and columnist. Here are the other full-time black reporters that worked with me over my career: Carol Davis, Darlene Jeter, Lisa Jackson, David Lee Morgan, the late John Goodwin Jr. and Bruce Walton. I’ve written a monthly column since 2001, tasked with bringing out positive achievements from people and groups in the black and Latino communities. Thank you for reading those columns and offering both good and negative comments. The two greatest memories in my career: covering the Steven Masters murder trial, which began in January 1980 and ended in April 1980. At that time, it was Mahoning County’s longest and most expensive criminal trial. The second: The tornado that ripped through Trumbull County and portions of western Pennsylvania on May 31, 1985, and killed several people. Finally, kudos to my mentors, Paul Jagnow, Bill Thomas and Dennis B. Mangan. I will forever be grateful to the late publisher William J. Brown, his wife Betty Brown Jagnow, and his son, Mark A. Brown, for giving me the chance to practice my craft for so many years.

Bill Alcorn

Bazetta, reporter, Dec. 24, 1973, to Aug. 31

When I came to The Vindicator on Dec. 24, 1973, after graduating from Kent State University followed by about three years at the Warren Tribune-Chronicle, my plan was to work a couple more years for a daily newspaper and then seek a public relations job. So much for planning.

I am now a dinosaur at The Vindicator and in the news business.

I’m the only person left in the newsroom who served in the military – USMC, 1958-1961 – and I have made it a point to write stories about those men and women who served a hitch or found a home in the military ... about a young Marine from Niles who suffered traumatic brain injury when his vehicles were hit twice within a year by IEDs in the Middle East; survivors of D-Day and Pearl Harbor, very few of whom are still alive; those who came back from Korea, one of whom was one of my drill instructors at Parris Island; and Vietnam veterans who were told not to wear their uniforms when they returned to the U.S., many of whom are still hurting from that homecoming.

My practical journalism training ground was eight years in the Niles bureau during which I covered the murder of a young Niles policeman; the state takeover of the city’s finances; the tornado of 1985; and my off-the-record tour of an illegal gambling operation.

But the most satisfying time was my several years in the Warren bureau, working with an incredibly talented, fun-loving, hard-working, crazy bunch – you know who you are – who never needed to be told what to do. Somehow, working with antiquated equipment and crawling all over each other, and with a resident bat flying around the office, the work got done.

Not every day, or even every year, was perfect working for The Vindicator. But looking back, I guess I would do it all over again. To my co-workers, I wish you all well. And most of all, thanks to the people who had the courage to tell their stories and allowed me to write them.

Mark Sweetwood

Boardman, managing editor, Feb. 25, 2008, to Aug. 31

Aside from the bizarre camaraderie and gallows humor that infects every newsroom (we joke about death, potentially your death if you had the bad luck to die before this was published), what I will miss the most about my days at The Vindicator is election night.

Really, the whole process of preparing for a big election is a team sport. Dave Skolnick always had the pulse of the politics beat. Beat reporters were wise to know who might be running for what too. Bertram de Souza marshaled the endorsement interview list. Robert McFerren and I would look at space and deadlines. Bob Yosay mapped out photo plans based on those specs. Ernie Brown was the caretaker of the results page.

But election night was when the magic happened. We’d build a plan and work the plan then adjust as surprises revealed themselves. Often the least surprising result was how late the Mahoning County numbers would come in, which was normally long after Trumbull and Columbiana counties, which would ratchet up everyone’s anxiety.

Newsroom types would often eschew the shirt-and-tie uniform because, as the rationale went, it was night and no one cares how we look.

On Nov. 8, 2016, I came to work in my customary shirt and tie. As I told Mark Brown, I’ve worn a shirt and tie every election night since I was an intern at the Journal Star in Peoria on my first election night in 1980, and I didn’t know how many more I’d have a privilege to oversee.

As it turned out, other than some minor election nights since then, that indeed was my last major election night in a newspaper newsroom.

Tom Wills

Cortland, reporter, regional editor, April 1, 1985, to Aug. 31.

My favorite Vindicator story (I despise the nickname “Vindy”) is my first one. After two Kent State University internships here and then a hiring freeze, I found myself working first in Lorain and then at The Herald in Sharon, Pa. It was a March afternoon and my day was done when the phone rang. Managing Editor Paul Jagnow was brief:

“You still wanna work here?” Well, sure. “Be here Monday.” That was that.

The smartest, funniest and most compassionate people I have ever known are journalists, and The Vindicator has had hoards of them.

I shall miss them. You will miss us. What a shame, Mahoning Valley, and good luck to us all.

Robert McFerren

Goshen Township, graphic arts director, April 10, 1989, to Aug. 31.

As we all head off to new opportunities, the thing I will miss the most is the adrenaline rush that comes with each big news story. Remember – a free press is necessary for a strong democracy – so ... keep reading, keep watching and always fact-check. I am so proud of everything we, as a newspaper, have done to make the Mahoning Valley a great place to work and live – and thank you to our publisher, Betty Brown Jagnow, and our general manager, Mark Brown, for a great run. –30–

Jordan Cohen

Bazetta, correspondent, former 21 WFMJ-TV reporter and news director

Here is what I will miss most as The Vindicator comes to an end along with my 11 years as a correspondent for it: the ability to provide comprehensive coverage to a community that desperately needs it in ways neither the internet nor television news can duplicate.

I should know. For 21 years, I was a television news reporter and later news director of 21 WFMJ-TV.

I always recognized the importance of the newspaper in the life of the Mahoning Valley when I worked on the broadcasting side. I appreciated it even more when I began writing stories for The Vindicator because everything we write is impactful whether the subject is corruption, fiscal emergencies and job losses, social news or uplifting articles documenting our ability to recover from unthinkable tragedies. Yes, you can read it on a phone, tablet or laptop, but even with the declining state of print journalism these days, nothing beats the “clipping,” an article you can hold years after its publication and remember how and what you felt the first time you read it.

I think of those facing serious issues whose stories I have told – the lives of drug addicts and their struggles to recover, the insights of people who have been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or residents who suffer because of a less-than-responsive local government. I was glad The Vindicator chose to publish these stories because I knew that public awareness was crucial to helping alleviate or resolve their situations.

I feel for my colleagues, always dedicated to producing quality journalism, who now must find other work and I feel for the Mahoning Valley – which is losing its most vital and valuable resource.

Joe Gorman

Cortland, crime reporter, May 2013, to Aug. 31

As a kid on the West Side, I always waited for the paper to come and couldn’t wait to read it to see what was new that day. As I got older and started to write in college, it became my dream job because I always thought of The Vindicator as the No. 1 institution in Youngstown, and as someone who lived on both the East and West sides growing up, that has been very important to me. I was finally able to work here in 2013 after spending the preceding years at other papers, but I was lucky enough that I was covering the city before I came here.

I still remember when the All City and All Steel Valley football and basketball teams were on the front of the sports section and how those players, just kids, really, looked so grown up, and I also remember following the rise of Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini through the sports pages.

I also remember the grim reporting on the aftermath of Black Monday and the people who were losing their jobs, and the coverage of others who were trying like crazy to save their pensions or to find a job and, of course, the coverage of the homicide epidemic that began in the 1990s.

Of everything that has been falling apart and closing over the years, The Vindicator has remained the one constant, it seems. You could always count on it. It gave you news of what happened in your neighborhood, your kid’s school and watched over your tax dollars.

Now that is gone, and as someone who writes for a living, I find that hard to put into words. It’s not just that a business has died; it seems like part of Youngstown has died as well.

Kellie Jones-Cochran

Howland, copy editor/designer, Oct. 23, 1990, to Aug. 31

(With apologies to Paul Anka, Frank Sinatra and Elvis, of course)

“And so, the end is near, and we must face our final deadline,

I know, I’ll shed a tear, as I must write my final headline ...”

Hey, I’m doing this my way. Having been here for almost a fifth of The Vindicator’s history, I feel like I’ve earned it. And by the way, no “Vindy” nickname for me, thanks. My Ohio University Scripps training cringes every time someone italicizes the nickname.

I arrived here a few months out of college after an internship at The Cincinnati Enquirer. I was asked in an interview, “Do you think you could live in Youngstown?” Sure, I could live here. I didn’t, however, think I’d still be here almost 30 years later, but it’s been worth it.

I’ve mostly copy edited stories, designed/paginated pages and been a wire editor, but along the way, I got to do social media, mentor interns, write concert reviews and a few travel stories, sit in on the Entertainment desk and Society. Whatever I asked to do, they let me, and I’m grateful for that.

We brought you stories that were horrific, hysterical and heartwarming, and I’ve loved the challenge as a wire editor at finding those oddball stories that stick in your memory. Another little job I did that I loved was writing cutlines for photos sent in for the Snapz page and for Mother’s and Father’s Day photo features. I’d wade through heart-wrenching letters with your stories and your memories, trying to capture the emotion in much fewer words. Often, I’d be wiping away my own tears. I like to think some of those photos or pages ended up in scrapbooks out there.

It’s hard to say goodbye, and we’ve already said goodbye to so many. It’s been a good run, and I’m looking forward to what’s next for me. I hope to do that my way, too.


Garry Clark

Austintown, society writer/editor, copy editor, designer, May 21, 1990, to Aug. 30, 2019

I first walked through doors of The Vindicator as a writer in the Society Department. It was the day before my ninth wedding anniversary.

In a sense, I made history that day because, as far as I can ascertain, I am the first – and only – male to have ever worked in the Society department here.

Under the tutelage of then-Society editor Barbara Shaffer, I was able to develop my skills as a writer, and sometimes as an investigative reporter.

The Society department dealt with myriad facts about our readers’ lives. And of paramount importance was getting those facts straight.

We’ve always known that the engagement, wedding, anniversary and birthday announcements that we publish do double-duty as fodder for scrapbooks, and making them interesting and informative as well as accurate has always been our primary goal.

And so, I spent my first 15 years at The Vindicator writing and laying out pages for Society. I also had the privilege of writing concert reviews, community theater reviews, columns, feature stories and even a few op-ed pieces.

Later, I was tasked with being a copy editor/page designer, and now, for the past couple of years, I have returned to my Society roots by filling in as the department’s editor.

My heartfelt thanks goes to Betty Brown Jagnow and Mark Brown for their confidence and faith in me over the years. They have always treated me with kindness and respect.

It has been a joy and honor to be entrusted with the various news items that mark the milestones in our readers’ lives, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to be a part of this newspaper.

Julie Merrell

Youngstown, accounting supervisor, February 2001 to Aug. 31

I have met and made friends with some of the most awesome people ever – we are family here. Tom Wills made Christmas 2018 the best ever with the drawings he made for two of my girls. Louie B. Free welcomed me into the new building when we moved from across the street by being the gentleman he is and carried my belongings in for me – the start of an amazing friendship and the officiator of my recent wedding. Jim Davies was always a ray of sunshine when things weren’t going so well. Smoke breaks with those of us who still puff away. Birthdays, resignations, special events and cake to celebrate. I could write a novel on the memories created inside these walls.

The best ever, though, was The Greatest Golfer. I volunteered to help, knowing absolutely nothing about golf. In 2014 my high school sweetheart entered, and that encounter opened a closed door. It was the first time we had crossed paths in over 36 years. He won that year, so I sent him a “CONGRATULATIONS” email. Two years later after a heart attack, he was confined to the house and joined Facebook to occupy his time. I got a friend request. We reignited a flame and were married on May 30, 2018. Life has been better since, and I thank The Vindicator for that!

I will miss the people here, the laughs, the tears, the hugs, the memories. I have spent more time with you than my own blood, and it’s impossible to say goodbye. No goodbye cake for this one – just a drive safe, be happy and see y’all later.

Tammy Miller

Boardman, page designer, October 2016 to Aug, 31

As I was growing up, every night when our neighbor and friend delivered our Vindicator, I’d sit and read the funnies, Ann Landers and Erma Bombeck. Sunday papers always had the Parade, the rotogravure section and the bridal photos.

The Vindicator had several editions then. I learned all about it in seventh-grade English class at Glenwood Middle. We spent an entire nine weeks cutting out articles about national and world affairs. We learned how the paper was put together and how the final product got delivered. I remember sitting at my grandparents’ kitchen table, talking to my grandfather about his job there in advertising collections.

I took a roundabout way to a degree in English, worked 17 years in an optical lab and ended up in a newsroom. After more than 20 years, I ended up back in my hometown at the paper of my childhood. I didn’t like the hours all the time or working holidays, but my quality of life was better than living in the coastal southeastern North Carolina town because cost of living was lower. My mom was also happier that I was home. Hell, even my Tar Heel husband has learned to love this town.

I’m not only losing my job, I’m losing what has been a part of my life and part of my family for generations. The paper is just a shadow of what it once was, but it was still here, and for that I was grateful.

Samantha Phillips

Vienna, reporter, 2017 to Aug. 31

I will never forget my first week at The Vindicator. Justin Leo, a Girard police officer, was fatally shot on a Saturday. Monday, my fourth day on the job, I spent the entire day trying to gather information and talking to grieving witnesses. I spoke to residents as they watched a police procession bring Justin’s body home from the Cuyahoga Country Coroner’s office. At the end of the day, I was instructed to approach Justin’s parents at their house for an interview – I was terrified. But his parents are so kind. The first thing they asked when I came to their house was if I was hungry. It was the first but not the last time we cried talking about their son, and I wrote many follow-ups on their efforts to build a scholarship fund in his memory. I’m grateful for all the important stories I got to cover and the bonds created with community members.

On another note, the people who toiled every day to produce The Vindicator are the smartest, funniest and most interesting people you could ever meet. They are so passionate about their work and look after each other through hard times. I feel like I’m leaving a second family, which is disgustingly cliche, but true. I wish nothing but the best for everyone. Support local journalism.

Brian Dzenis

Boardman, sports writer, Oct. 14, 2015, to Aug. 31

What I will cherish the most from my time here was the fraternity among the men and women – inside and outside the Vindicator – who worked late nights and weekends to tell the sports stories of the Valley. It was Chipotle Sundays with designer Jen Schatzel. It was making fellow sports writer Dan Hiner lose his mind on Vindy Sports Live with a joke about above-ground swimming pools. It was amusing sports editor Ed Puskas with my pop-culture ignorance. It was learning more and more about the Lisbon legend that is Tom Williams.

It wasn’t so much any particular sport or event that made this job worthwhile, it was the privilege of just being able to witness the highs and lows in peoples’ lives on and off the field and being able to tell it that was the reward. The adrenaline rush of charting a high school game and then rushing back to the office to type out a coherent story before feeling that relief of making deadline. There isn’t anything like it.

There isn’t anything like the Mahoning Valley. Each of the three counties that we covered were like a big canvas to paint. We never ran out of ideas or wonderful athletes and coaches to write about in the same way parents never ran out of ways to spell their kids’ names. I don’t know what my future holds, but I know that I did something that I enjoyed. I know my co-workers did, too, and that’s what made every late night and weekend worthwhile.