The last of the real $%#^ing editors

Here's a Doyle Harvill story. When I was a reporter at the Tampa Tribune in the 1980s and he was the executive editor, he stormed into a meeting demanding to know what the blank we were doing about ... the Tampa Port Authority.

You could tell not a single one of the yuppie editors and reporters in the room knew what Harvill was talking about or cared. He just exploded.

In the first place, he stormed, the blanking Port Authority has its own property tax, but is not elected, and who the blank do they think they are, and what the blank are they doing with the money? In the second place, did a blanking single one of us have the slightest blanking idea of what goes on at the Port of Tampa? How many ships arrive there, what do they carry, what do they take away? Who sits on the board, how many friends have they hired? Who was doing what to whom, and how often did they do it, and did their husbands and wives know about it?

Maybe, he said, drawing down his cigarette, we modern, sensitive types believed our job was to sit in the office writing blanking feature stories with blanking fancy writing so we could win awards. In which case, he would fire our blanks and find reporters who knew what a real blanking newspaper was for.

Now, take that same Harvill lecture and repeat it for the mayor and City Hall, the county courthouse and the judges, the governor and Legislature, the hospital, the power company, the university, the Chamber of Commerce, and if it happened to occur to him, the mosquito control district.

Harvill, who died Thursday at the age of 80, fired up the Tribune and for a war with the St. Petersburg Times across the bay, which he considered effete and overrated.

Yet even the Times was not his ultimate enemy. On his wall map he would point at Ocala, at Lakeland, at Sarasota, all of them owned by, he reminded us, the New York "Tiiiimes." Under Harvill the Tribune had the biggest bureau in Tallahassee; it sold papers as far away as Georgia; it dispatched reporters across the country to cover the 1988 presidential election.

Blank! It was fun. Also doomed. In the end, the corporate types in Richmond decided it was too expensive, or at least not paying off in time, and they reined it in.

The path is littered with people who hate him with every fiber. He fired; he bullied; he screamed; he held modern sensitivity in contempt. He was an ex-Marine, a Korea veteran, a chain-smoking, Lyndon Johnson, George S. Patton, stubborn bull of a man, a fearless, physically crowding man, a man who delighted in terrifying politicians, who threw insults just to see how people took them, who praised in private and excoriated in public.

As a product of the 1950s, he declared that the problem with modern newspapers was the presence of too many women (his actual terminology was more vivid). Yet he respected women whom he considered tough, and gave them prime duty. On occasion he used the N-word, and even if he meant it only for dramatic effect, there is just no way for that to go over well.

I loved him until it was my turn to be fed up, and I left for the Times almost 19 years ago.

He was a man out of his era, and in the modern world his faults were considered grievous.

But he did, by God, know what a blanking newspaper was for.

The last of the real $%#^ing editors 12/19/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 19, 2009 9:25pm]

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