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Cleveland: Confused City on a Seesaw


After a journalist has covered all the drama of a great metropolitan center day by day for nearly half a century, frequently inspiring the cast of millions by stepping onto the stage from time to time to play a principal role himself, there is logically only one thing left for him to do: Collect all his observations and all his experience in a book about the city that he knows so well.

Philip W. Porter, retired executive editor of the Plain Dealer, has done what was expected of him. And this is the result.

A formal historian never could have written this book.

It is no detached, scholarly, objective examination of the past in the academic tradition, pieced together from the testimony of others, borrowed from obscure documents, or deduced from puzzling artifacts and other such fragmentary evidence.

This, instead, is a book based on first-hand knowledge. It is an eyewitness account of the things, large and small, that occurred in Cleveland during Phil Porter's fifty-year career as a working newspaperman in the city, and it is told in the blunt, subjective, often controversial style that set the author apart from the crowd early in the game.

Phil Porter is one of the last of the newsmen who came out of that incredibly romantic, exciting, and colorful time in

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American journalism that inspired Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur to write the stage classic, Front Page. He bears the mark of that era in his irreverence and inconoclasm in dealing with the people and the institutions that claimed the headlines.

His own career was highly unlikely. Its beginning has to be traced back as far as 1917, when, although only a junior at Lakewood High School, the brash young Porter faced the fiercest city editor in Cleveland journalistic history, A. E. M. Bergener of the Leader, and braced him for a job as reporter.

Bergener hired him instead as an office boy, at the prevailing wage rate of eight dollars a week, but immediately dispatched him to the Central Police Station to begin work as a police reporter. He found himself working eleven hours a day under the direction and tutelage of another Cleveland journalistic great, Robert (Bob) Larkin.

It was an unprecedented bit of luck. Sixteen-year-old boys simply were not employed by big-city dailies as reporters then, any more than they are now. The reason for the extraordinary exception was neither young Porter's glinty promise of future performance nor his bright-eyed eagerness and aggressiveness. It was simply an effect of the pinch felt by The Leader in a period of acute manpower shortage caused by the World War. It was, nevertheless, a fortuitous circumstance that provided Porter with an important beginning.

Following the conventional path, he should have settled down to his chosen career, but young Porter elected instead to seek a degree in journalism at Ohio State University. It appeared to be a strange detour. College-trained journalists were few in those days, and they generally were scorned by the hard-bitten newspaper pros, but Porter turned his OSU days to his advantage.

The old Leader had been swallowed by the Plain Dealer, but Porter persuaded the P.D.'s editor, Erie Hopwood, to hire him as the paper's OSU campus correspondent. In time, he convinced Hopwood also that his newspaper ought to publish more news about Ohio State football, even though

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the games of Western Reserve University and Case School of Applied Science, local institutions, enjoyed a natural priority in the Plain Dealer.

Porter's timing was terrific. Ohio State was just moving into the football bigtime, led by a halfback named Chic Harley, whose name is still to be found in the football pantheon with such as George Gipp and Red Grange. Porter's story of the OSU-Michigan game in Harley's last season, 1919, was given an eight-column banner headline in the Plain Dealer sports section!

Porter played the dual role of campus correspondent during the school months and staff police reporter in Cleveland for the Plain Dealer during the summer months. Upon graduation, in 1922, he began his full-time career at the Plain Dealer in earnest. It was to last forty-four years. During that time he moved steadily through the reportorial and executive ranks (with three and one half years out for military service in World War II) until, in 1963, he became the newspaper's executive editor. During the last thirty-two years of his career he contributed two to three columns a week of commentary on the Cleveland scene. Since his retirement at the end of 1966, he has continued to write a column for the weekly Sun newspaper chain whose publications circulate in the Greater Cleveland suburban area.

It could be said that Phil Porter spent his lifetime preparing to write this book about Cleveland. The result is a valuable addition to the city's literature and some high entertainment in the kind of recollections that only a longtime newspaperman could fetch to the fore.

George E. Condon