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As Bad News Sinks in, Many Reflect on Vindicator’s Value

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Former Vindicator reporter Tim Fitzpatrick still fondly remembers the most interesting day in his career at the newspaper. 

It didn’t revolve around a story, but rather the day he inherited veteran reporter Clingan Jackson’s desk in the old Vindicator newsroom when the reporter retired. That Saturday afternoon, as Fitzpatrick sat next to Jackson to help, Jackson would pull out pieces of paper or trinkets and tell his younger colleague about them and the stories that he wrote. 

“That sense of connection to the history of Youngstown and belonging to something bigger was truly incredible,” said Fitzpatrick, who now resides in Cleveland after retiring last year from Pacific Gas and Electric as its chief marketing and communications officer.

Fitzpatrick, who left The Vindicator in 1988 after seven years with the paper, was among the former staffers and community members who reflected on The Vindicator and its legacy after its ownership announced that it would cease publication Aug. 31. Owners cited steep losses at the paper, which lost money in 20 of the past 22 years, as the chief reason for the closure. 

The news Friday night left the community shell shocked, including former staffers like Fitzpatrick, who served as the paper’s city hall reporter for four of his seven years there. Although he acknowledged the newspaper industry is “a tough business these days,” he said he had a hard time understanding the decision to shut down the paper outright. 

“It is not conceivable that the Mahoning Valley is not going to have a newspaper of record, and I don’t believe that’s going to be the case,” he said. “It may not have a Vindicator, but in some way, shape or form there will be a newspaper of record. I am 100% confident people are talking already about could a nonprofit model work, is there a community ownership model that could work, is there a role for other newspapers to expand.”

Among former Vindicator reporters surprised by the announcement was Fitzpatrick’s wife, Diane Laney Fitzpatrick, who worked there for about a year and a half. Having worked at smaller newspapers, she said, eventually landing a job at The Vindicator was “the ultimate.

“Growing up, The Vindicator was the big dog. The Vindicator was the big paper and it was in everyone’s homes. It was in everyone’s lives,” she said. “I felt like I had really arrived when I worked there.” 

“It’s really heartbreaking,” she continued. “There are still people there from when we worked there all those years ago. They take their jobs so seriously and for so many years have been so devoted to that newspaper. My heart breaks for them.” 

Denise Dick worked at the Vindicator for 19 years before leaving in 2016 to become director of communications and public relations for Youngstown City Schools. She, too, was “heartbroken at a personal level” to learn about the paper’s closing.

“It’s devastating. I know how hard they work every day,” she said. “Democracy without a newspaper is a bad thing.”   

Television stations and other media outlets cover events in the district sporadically, but The Vindicator served as the primary vehicle for informing the public, Dick says.  The absence of the day-to-day coverage of meetings and school activities that The Vindicator regularly provided “is not going to be a great thing for the public,” she lamented.

“Think about a levy story. Who’s going to look at it in the way a paper does?” she said. “That doesn’t lend itself well to TV. It just doesn’t.”

Scott Schulick, vice president of investments at the Canfield office of Stifel Financial Corp., voiced similar sentiments.

“It’s a huge blow that we won’t even feel for a couple of months, until we don’t have what we had,” he said.  

Like many, the news of the paper’s cessation of publication – rather than reducing the number of days the print product is produced, a step many newspapers have taken in the past – surprised him.

“That’s the blow, that there’s not going to be any daily newspaper that’s going to keep track of the courts, the sports, the deaths and all of the important things in our lives that we probably take for granted that a paper does,” he said. Also, the lack of an institution to serve a watchdog role in the community is “going to be a huge void.” 

Schulick’s personal involvement with The Vindicator dates to age 13, when he started a paper route with the daily newspaper. That experience served as “a springboard” for everything he’s done since, with the daily routine of having to deliver his papers – regardless of the weather or if it was a holiday – instilling in him a work ethic.

“I had fun and I met wonderful people,” which prepared him for a service career, he continued. In some cases, he was the only person many of his customers saw on a regular basis and some of them saw him as a surrogate child or grandchild. 

His father advised him to invest money he had saved rather than deposit it at a bank – taking him down to Butler Wick & Co., which later became part of Stifel – which is how he “got the bug for investing.”      

Public officials also weighed in on the landmark development for the community. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, addressed the closing Sunday morning on CNN’s Reliable Sources with host Brian Stelter.  

The paper’s shutdown “first and foremost” is a jobs issue, impacting some 400 employees, including its carriers, Ryan said. 

The Vindicator also “knits the community together,” through publicizing when a new business opens in town or a company does well, or showcasing local sports heroes like Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and Bernie Kosar.     

“It highlights people from the area who have been successful and brings it back to the local level so it builds culture, and that’s what you lose when you lose the local paper. You lose that culture that really pulls you together,” he said. “At this moment in history, in our country’s history, it’s a big body blow to lose that local newspaper because so much is pulling us apart, and those local papers pulled us together.”

Asked by Stelter what politicians could do to restore local news, which has been affected by downsizing and even closings across the country in recent years, Ryan suggested tax incentives as one option.

Elected officials also could serve as advocates for local news and “not pit the press as the enemy of the state,” he said, an apparent reference to President Trump’s characterization of the news media as “the enemy of the American people.” Even though individuals “on my side of the camera” don’t always appreciate critical coverage they sometimes receive, “It’s essential to our democracy and its foundation,” he said. 

“It’s probably one of those things you always believed was going to be a part of this community in some form or fashion, and when it’s not there you look and say, ‘Wow, what do we do now?’ ” Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said Saturday.

Brown – whose City Hall office is just down the street from The Vindicator’s building – hadn’t thought there was news that could top the announcement that General Motors would end vehicle production at its Lordstown plant. He said he appreciated the paper’s honesty and the insight its editorial board provided on what was happening and he would share his opinions. 

“Sometimes they would challenge you on it. As long as you had substance to it, they respected it.

“I want the citizens to be very informed and you can’t get the information if there’s no one putting it out there,” Brown said. “There is a void that you’ll have to fill.” 

The city has been working with the communications department at Youngstown State University to explore other means of getting out the city’s news. “We’ve always talked about [communicating] from City Hall better. This may prompt us to do that sooner than later,” he said.

Trumbull County Commissioner Frank Fuda reflected on the news Sunday while attending the Harry Stevens Hot Dog Day festival in Niles. Fuda, who previously served as a Niles councilman, said the publication has done “a great job” for 150 years.

“That’s sad, really,” he said. “They were always fair.”

Anyone who worked at The Vindicator feels “a sense of pride,” said Laney Fitzpatrick, at being part of a group of people who included past staffers Jackson, George Reiss, Janie Jenkins, Esther Hamilton and Ann Przelomski. 

“That as such a remarkable part of Youngstown history, and to be able to count yourself among people like that is pretty amazing,” she said 

Her spouse echoed those sentiments. 

“I’ve had a lot of pretty substantial jobs in the 30 years after leaving The Vindicator,” Tim Fitzpatrick said. “You could argue that was the least of them. I’ve never been prouder of a job than working at The Vindicator.”

Related Coverage

Brown: Vindy Lost Money in ’20 of Last 22 Years’

In Depth: Vindicator to Cease Publication Aug. 31

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.