Newspaper budget cuts did not start happening suddenly during the past couple of years.
When Carthage Press Publisher Jim Farley told me in November 1993 that Neil Campbell was resigning as managing editor due to health reasons and I was replacing him, that information was accompanied by the news that the Press would no longer have an eight-person reporting staff. I would have five reporters, and I was one of them.
The three positions eliminated were my reporting position, an already vacant position would not be filled, and longtime reporter and former managing editor Marvin VanGilder was retiring.
Fortunately for Carthage Press readers, one of the five remaining staff members was City Editor Jack Harshaw. Even 15 years ago, Jack Harshaw was one of a vanishing breed of newspapermen. His first job after graduating from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1952 was with The Carthage Press and he never left. He had many offers to return to his native Iowa, but he fell in love with Carthage and remained with The Press for more than four decades, never flashy, never demanding that his work be noticed, but simply doing his job day after day, year after year.
It did not take me long after I joined The Press staff in April 1990 to see all of the little things Jack Harshaw did that made the newspaper run efficiently and helped Neil Campbell devote his time to other matters that needed his attention.
Jack showed up promptly at 6:30 p.m. each morning, unlocking the front door, picking up The Joplin Globe that had been thrown on the back dock sometime during the night, returning to the newsroom, hanging his hat and coat on the rack and sitting down at the computer to begin working on obituaries.
Some reporters would have growled and grumbled at working obituaries after 40 years in the business, but Jack knew the importance those page-two items held for the readers. He checked the Globe diligently to see if anyone from the Press reading area had died. If someone had, Jack called the funeral homes to confirm the facts, then typed the obituary. He made daily calls to Carthage's two funeral homes to make sure no new deaths had occurred overnight and to follow up on funeral services for those whose obituaries had run in previous editions. The precise attention Jack paid to obituaries stands in direct contrast to the way in which they are treated by today's local newspapers.
Jack always took care of page two of the daily edition, was given responsibility for the layout of several other pages, and did the weekly farm page. Most of the time he quietly concentrated on his work, but every once in a while something would strike him as being funny and when he started laughing, the rest of us followed along naturally.
Unlike many reporters though, who quietly fade away as they approach retirement age, underappreciated and unwanted at the newspapers to which they devoted a large portion of their lives, Jack Harshaw had the opportunity to go out on a high note. With the elimination of three positions, Jack was back out on the streets, doing reporting, as I shifted some of his page layout responsibilities to the younger reporters.
Jack began covering the police beat and City Hall and gave our youthful reporters during his last year on the newspaper, Randee Kaiser, Amy Lamb, and Ron Graber, a lasting lesson on professionalism.
Jack's copy never needed to be edited. He had a lean, spare, just the facts writing style and never, never made grammatical errors.
The return to the field was just what Jack needed for his final year as a newspaperman. When he returned from his police rounds, he often was whistling a tune, something I had never heard during the more than three years I worked with him. His interaction with Randee, Amy, and Ron helped make my first year as managing editor a successful one, as he not only gave them a living example of a what a reporter should be, but he also filled them (and me) in on how Carthage worked, information that invariably proved valuable in putting out a six-day-a-week newspaper.
When Jack announced his retirement at age 67 in late 1994, I tried to talk him out of it, but his mind was made up. A retirement reception was held for him in The Press conference room, and the room was filled with people wanting to pay tribute to a man who had devoted more than 40 years of his life to the Carthage community. While it had to make Jack feel good, it was clear he was uncomfortable with the attention, and would have preferred to just quietly walk away one day and not show up the next.
I did not see Jack often after that. The only reporting he did over the next few years was for the Carthage Rotary Club, and was always, his copy was a marvel, never carrying an unnecessary word.
After I left newspapers and went into education, I never saw Jack again, something which I will forever regret.
Jack Harshaw died Monday at age 81. He and the vanishing style of professional journalism he represented are sorely missed.