May 31, 2009

Storyteller won't get regrets from me

Thanks to Google I had a chance to explore some stories about Flint, journalism, married life and love today. I'd forgotten about Joseph Ritz until my Google Reader unexpectedly gave me a bunch of his posts today.

I first discovered him via a book, "I Never Looked for My Mother and other Regrets of a Journalist," that opens this way:
“I was born a bastard and I’ve remained one all my life. I became a journalist.”
He also was good at finding those who needed outing, sticking to a story no matter what and finding a truth that remains relevant today.

Ritz was a reporter in Newburgh, N.Y., in the early 1960s when the city decided to require welfare recipients to pick up their payments at police headquarters. Next, the city manager announced a program that would limit welfare to three months to anyone not "aged, the blind or handicapped." Many in Newburgh blamed blacks on welfare for the poor economy, Ritz said.
"Those affected would have largely been single mothers of young children, the only category in which blacks were predominant. The program also would have denied payments to single mothers who had working relatives living in the city or had additional children."
He covered the story, was pulled from his city hall beat and moved on. But he'd already started a book, "The Despised Poor: Newburgh's War on Poverty." He talked about that experience when the Newburgh Historical Society invited him in October 2006.
"There is a prejudice against welfare recipients, which pictures them as either a dirty, lazy, able-bodied freeloader or an immoral woman. That belief exists in nearly every community in the United States today and I think just as strongly as it was then in the 1960s."
Joseph Ritz started in radio, working for WFDF in Flint in 1955:
"The job pays $55 a week. That is $20 more than the Flint Journal is paying new reporters fresh out of college. By comparison, assembly line workers at the booming GM plants in the community, many of them high school dropouts, average $113 a week with overtime."
flint journal ad for 1955 eventIt was at his first job out of college that he met vice president Richard Nixon, in town for Flint's celebration of being a city for 100 years.

Besides a memory of Nixon, the event produced a memory of General Motors:
"General Motors went to great lengths to keep the press comfortable. Besides the usual lunches and dinners, a 24-hour bar was set up in a room of the Hotel Durant at which the media could drink for free. A new Buick and a driver were at the call of every journalist."
Ritz gives Flint a whole chapter, Sparks Stuck at Flint, in his book I Never Looked for My Mother, including why he moved from radio to newspapers. The crash of an Air Force jet
in a rural area some 40 miles from Flint, The Flint Journal's coverage of it and the limitations of radio encouraged that decision.

Ritz worked for Seattle Times, Milwaukee Journal, New haven Journal-Couriter, Gloversville (NY) News, Newburgh News, Buffalo News and Buffalo Courier-Express, and other places.

Read "I like to tell stories." I also enjoyed reading 50 years is a long time to be married. You can read more of his postings in Gather. Or a blog with some excerpts from I Never Looked for My Mother ... Or buy the book. It's worth reading.