Former Vindy Columnist de Souza to Publish Book of Best Columns

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – When The Vindicator went out of business last year, Bertram de Souza found himself with time on his hands and an expansive body of work that the newspaper had published.

The longtime political writer had penned more than 1,600 weekly columns, dating back to the early 1980s, that put his sharp focus on the politicians, gangsters, corporate bosses and others who dominated headlines in Youngstown.

So with the help of some of his former newspaper friends, he decided to compile the best of his columns into a book.

On Aug. 31, “No Holds Barred” will become available to order from the author’s Scribbler Publishing Group ($19.99); go to ScribblerGroup.com to order. De Souza has also started a podcast, also available at the website, to go along with the book.

The book, de Souza’s first, features about 300 of his columns, written over 36 of his 40 years with The Vindicator, as well as related photographs and drawings. 

The 368-page paperback is divided into 11 chapters on topics that include former U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., a comparison of the Obama and Trump presidencies, the Mafia, General Motors, Youngstown State University, politics and public corruption. It also includes a chapter featuring de Souza’s wry humor, and a section of special columns and writings, as well as individual pieces by the former Vindicator journalists who assisted with the book.

The publishing team also includes Ernie Brown, who was a regional editor; copy editors Jenn Schatzel and Kellie Jones-Cochran; and Julie Zuckla and Megan Christensen. 

The book’s availability date is exactly one year after The Vindicator closed its doors. Once among the largest and most powerful newspapers in the state, The Vindicator chronicled life in the Mahoning Valley for 150 years. Its closure was part of an industry shift that has seen more than 2,000 American newspapers close in the past two decades.

De Souza said the closing of the paper came as a shock. He had devoted his life to it and suddenly, it was gone.

“I realized that outside of journalism, I had no interests,” he said. “I don’t golf or have a poker game, and have no groups of friends to spend time with because the kind of writing I was doing did not lend itself to a huge social life. I couldn’t be friends with the politicians I was writing about.”

As he mulled what to do next, the idea to compile his best columns into a book arose. Finding help was easy enough with his friends at The Vindicator. Robert McFerren, once the newspaper’s art director, had designed and published books before and editor Cynthia Rickard – to whom de Souza had once been married – had edited many of his columns over the decades at The Vindictator.

The publishing team also includes Ernie Brown, who was a regional editor; copy editors Jenn Schatzel and Kellie Jones-Cochran; and Julie Zuckla and Megan Christensen. 

Rickard and Schatzel went through all 1,600-plus columns to begin the time-consuming task of whittling them down to about 300.

Youngstown has always been an exceptionally good news town and in his 40 years with The Vindicator, de Souza wrote about many issues that reverberated far beyond the region.

“It’s one of the reasons I stayed here,” he said. “How many other journalists can say they covered a crooked Congressman (Traficant), a whole array of politicians and got to know mafia bosses?”

De Souza was known for calling out corruption and pointing the finger at its perpetrators. He credited The Vindicator’s ownership with giving him the leeway to do his job right.

“My columns show just how much freedom they gave me,” he said. “You know, in the past, newspapers weren’t that willing to push the envelope the way I did. Advertisers would call to complain about something I was writing about, but never once did [the publisher] tell me to back off.”

Another reason for de Souza’s fearless writing was the fact that he was an outsider in Youngstown.

“I didn’t have family here to worry about,” he said.

De Souza grew up in Uganda, but his roots are in India, where his grandparents lived. He came to the United States when he was 19 to study journalism at Marquette University in Milwaukee with every intention of returning to England, where his parents had moved, after graduating.

“I never intended to stay,” he said. When The Vindicator offered him a job, he explained that he would not stay longer than two years.

“They decided to take a chance on me anyway,” he said, and two years quickly turned into 40.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.