I'll Never Forget Day Two Of My Nearly 30 Years At Enquirer

Feb 17, 2018

Usually, when you look back at a long period of time working in the same place, it is the first day on the job that you remember the most.

The nervousness. The overwhelming desire to impress. The first time you have to go to someone and ask where the restroom is.

In other words, your general dorkiness.

That first day is something to remember.

But, for me, it is the second day I worked at the Cincinnati Enquirer I remember the most.

I had that job for 29 years, six months and two days before I took an early retirement buy-out. I was "retired" for exactly 13 days before I went to work for Cincinnati Public Radio and 91.7 WVXU.

I remember my first day here – April 25, 2012 – very clearly.

But at the Enquirer, it was my second day – Oct. 12, 1982 – that stands out in my memory.

I had come to Cincinnati from the Troy Daily News, an 11,000-circulation daily newspaper in Miami County, about 75 miles due north of Cincinnati on I-75.

I'd been there five years - at that point, my longest stint anywhere – and I honestly loved every minute of it. Great town, great people to work with. Even though I had about 15 different titles (typical of small town papers), I was learning every day.

But, like most young reporters, I wanted to work on a bigger stage, for a bigger audience. And a bigger paycheck – my income increased by 250 percent the day I went from the Troy Daily News payroll to that of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Plus it was Cincinnati.

When I was a little kid growing up in Dayton, our family only went to Cincinnati for one of three reasons – to see a Reds game at Crosley Field, to go to the Cincinnati Zoo, or to spend a day at Coney Island.

On one magical weekend, we stayed in a motel in Sharonville and did all three!

When I was a kid, I truly believed that Cincinnati was a place where everybody had fun! Reds baseball! The zoo! An amusement park!

Cincinnati was my Happy Place.

So, of course, I worked like the dickens to get a job there.

At the time, it was rare for someone from a non-Gannett paper to be hired at the Enquirer. The first time around, I was passed over.

But Jim Delaney, the metro editor, told me to sit tight and he would call me the next time he had an opening.

That happened about eight months later when a reporter voluntarily moved from the local news staff to the business staff.

Success! I came down for another round of job interviews and, true to his word, Delaney called me a few days later to say I was hired!

I was going to the Happy Place!

So, after a Friday night going-away party at the home of our editor, Jim Morris, and a weekend move with my father and brother-in-law where we hauled my newly-purchased furniture to Cincinnati, I showed up Monday morning (in the obligatory suit and tie of a newly-hired male employee) and went to work.

I was told that my regular shift would be from 2 to 11 p.m., with a lunch hour. And I was told that one of my duties would be to cover the controversy over the construction of the Zimmer Nuclear Power Plant in Moscow, Ohio, because the regular reporter, Ben L. Kaufman, was on a leave of absence.

I was anointed the Enquirer's instant expert on nuclear energy. Funny, I didn't feel any smarter.

Two of my colleagues, David Wells and Marilyn Dillon, were kind enough to come up to me at my desk while I was busy arranging my pencils and notebooks and ask if I wanted to go to lunch with them. Chinese. House of Hunan on Seventh Street.

They both became good friends of mine, but I don't think either of them probably remember the kindness they showed the newbie kid that day.

Doesn't matter. I do. Always will.

I went back to the office and found David Lowery, the assistant city editor who ran the day desk, waiting for me with a press release from the Miami Valley Power Project, the group leading the charge against the Zimmer plant.

I read the legal brief the group filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, tried reaching Cincinnati Gas & Electric, the primary company building the plant; and couldn't get a comment.

I knocked out a quick 12-paragraph story and called it a day.

The next morning, I picked up the newspaper and was astounded.

My story was on the front page!

True, it was at the bottom of the front page. But it was on the front page and a brand-new reporter having a front page story on his or her first day on the job was as rare as hen's teeth.

That just didn't happen.

I couldn't wait until my afternoon shift started. I remember strutting into the newsroom, all puffed up, hoping that everyone would notice the one and only local news story on the front that day bore the byline Howard Wilkinson.

The headline was mundane: Group Moves To Get New Zimmer Hearing.

The lede was even worse: The Miami Valley Power Project (MVPP) released Monday what it considers to be "new evidence" of a Nuclear Regulatory Commission cover-up in its investigation at the William H. Zimmer Nuclear Power.

But it was on the front page!

I was at my desk, basking in my own glory, dreaming of what new worlds I would conquer, when I spotted Lowery storming toward my desk.

Lowery was a good guy and a terrific editor. But he played the role of newsroom tough guy to the hilt. He didn't talk to young reporters; he barked at them.

Suddenly I found him barking at me:

The publisher wants to see you in his office!

What? I felt like I had been hit in the head with a rubber mallet.

Not tomorrow. He wants to see you NOW! Go!

I got up and headed for the elevators. Suddenly I was sweating bullets.

What did I do? Did I screw something up? Oh no, this is it! I'm going to get fired! My second day on the job!

I went into the outer office of the publisher, Bill Keating, one of the most influential men in Cincinnati. Former city council member. Former U.S. congressman. Big time lawyer. A powerful, powerful man.

His assistant, Marty, smiled when I came in and I introduced myself.

Mr. Keating will see you now, she said.

Shaking like a leaf, I walked into his wood-paneled office. He was sitting behind his huge oaken desk, a faint smile on his face.

So how do you like it here, Howard?

Oh, I said, it is wonderful, everybody is so nice; everyone is so easy to work with. And I'm thinking to myself, this is an odd way to fire someone.

I read your story this morning.

Here it comes, I thought.

Bill reached behind his chair and pulled out a metal plate, the kind used to print newspapers. It was the plate from that day's front page.

He handed it to me, telling me he had called the pressmen at the printing plant and asked them to send it over.

I thought you should have this, he said. It's not every day that a reporter gets a front page story on his first day on the job. As a matter of fact, I can't remember it ever happening!

I felt like dropping to my knees, grabbing him by the ankles and crying, Thank you for not firing me!

But I kept my cool and thanked him profusely before heading back to the newsroom with my front page plate.

I could see Lowery sitting there with a big grin on his face. He knew all along why I was summoned to see the publisher.

And Bill Keating? A true gentleman. He did something he did not have to do to make a young reporter feel wanted. I have admired him and considered him a friend ever since. Even when he was publisher and I was the newspaper union president.

And, by the way, I went to work at the Enquirer for about 11,700 more days.

I guess I must have passed probation.