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MailTribune.com
  • Forty years of covering the news

  • Editor's note: This is the last in a six-day series on the 100-year history of the Mail Tribune.
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  • Editor's note: This is the last in a six-day series on the 100-year history of the Mail Tribune.
    I came to Medford as a 24-year-old because there was a job open. I was hired via letter, telegram and telephone communication. I'd never seen Medford but was interested in a change of pace from my roots in New York and California. One thing led to another, and I stayed for more than 40 years.
    I went to work for the Mail Tribune on Dec. 11, 1961. I was hired as regional editor, in charge of about 30 county correspondents, mostly women. They sent in news from the smaller towns of the region, from Prospect to Yreka, Calif., from Gold Hill to Cave Junction. We even had one in Happy Camp, Calif. They were paid about 15 cents a column inch for what material we used.
    I put out a regional page in the paper three days a week and wrote a column called "Regional Roundup." If a hard-news story broke, I usually covered it myself. I traveled a lot, visited all the writers from time to time, attended city council and school board meetings. On one occasion I went to Butte Falls to cover its City Council, whose members apparently had rarely seen a journalist. After a while, the mayor announced he was turning the meeting over to me, figuring I must have something to say.
    After a couple of years, and I took over the job of laying out the Sunday front page. Page 1A was one of the few "dummied" in those days. For many other pages, composing room personnel put in whatever type fit.
    Robert W. and Mabel Ruhl owned the newspaper. While he still had the title of editor and publisher, Robert Ruhl, the 1934 Pulitzer Prize winner, had semi-retired by the time I arrived and was living in San Francisco. I never met him.
    Those were the days of hot-metal type. Stories were typeset on linotype machines. News staffers used typewriters to write stories and headlines on sheets of paper, edited copy with a pencil and sent it all to the composing room downstairs in a pneumatic tube. The composing room staff was two or three times as large as that of the newsroom.
    The Ruhls, as Medford Printing Co., also owned KYJC Radio, and the midday radio newscasts often were done from the Mail Tribune newsroom.
    My starting salary in 1961 was $105 a week. You could rent a house for $85 a month, have lunch at North's Chuck Wagon for $1 and get a glass of port at the Brave Bull for 40 cents, so it was a living wage. And if you had a problem requiring a hospital stay, the daily room rate for Sacred Heart Hospital's 10-bed ward was $18.75.
    I was at work at the Mail Tribune when a major national story broke in November 1963, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It was a Friday. George Bell, on the wire desk that day, announced the news. At least one staffer shed tears. Others took it more calmly and pondered what effect JFK's murder would have on the country and the world. In general we all found it hard to keep working, but managed.
    A significant change in my role at the Mail Tribune came about in 1964. Robert Ruhl officially stepped down as editor. (He died in 1967.) Eric Allen became editor, and Earl Adams became managing editor. They created a new position, news editor, which would include the duties of city editor, and appointed me to it.
    I held that title for the next 19 years, although the duties changed from time to time.
    Two decades later, I became Lifestyles editor. And in 1969 I helped launch Tempo, the Mail Tribune's Friday entertainment section, and would serve as its editor until I retired in 2002. People would remember me as the guy who wrote the dining column, something I did almost every week for more than 30 years.
    But for the latter half of the 1960s, I was in charge of most local news coverage and occasionally subbed on the wire desk. I was basically an editor/reporter. The staff was small and everyone had assigned duties, so I sometimes wound up covering stories myself because there was no one to whom to delegate an assignment. But when big news broke, everyone pitched in.
    Major stories during that time included the drastic flood of 1964. We all put in long hours. During the height of the flood I had the opportunity to be taken up in a small plane. The pilot opened the side of the plane so that I could shoot a photo of the huge lake that covered much of the vicinity of the Rogue River.
    A couple of days after the floodwaters had receded, a bush pilot walked into the newsroom and asked if anyone would like to fly downriver to Agness with him. I volunteered. It was a two-seater plane, pilot in front, passenger in back. The pilot delivered mail to remote cabins. He would zoom down toward the cabin, open a window, throw out a mail sack so that it would land near the cabin, then quickly gun the motor and climb upwards to avoid crashing into a canyon wall.
    At one point he landed in a field near the remote community of Marial. I quickly realized the plane was rolling (bumping actually) along the ground heading toward a wooded area. No problem. The pilot let the rear of the plane swing around so that we were soon rolling backwards. Then he stepped on the gas. That brought the plane to a halt. I again had a camera with me and did manage to get some aerial photos of flood damage along the Rogue.
    There were the presidential primaries of 1964 and 1968, which attracted visits from Nelson Rockefeller, Bobby Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy and Richard Nixon, among others.
    The continuing controversy over the war in Vietnam was another major story during that era.
    When on the wire desk, I wrote a lot of headlines about the war, and efforts at peace, including Henry Kissinger's famed "Peace is at hand" followed by "Peace is not at hand."
    And then there was the historic moon landing in 1969 by Neil Armstrong and crew. There's an odd quirk here. If you search the 1969 Mail Tribune archives for a headline saying, "Man lands on moon," you won't find it. That's because of the event's timing. It happened on a Sunday. The Sunday morning paper, printed late Saturday night, reported that the landing was imminent. The next edition wasn't until Monday afternoon. By then, Armstrong and company had finished their work and headed for home. So Monday's headline said something like, "Moon liftoff successful."
    Now retired, Cleve Twitchell was a member of the Mail Tribune news staff from 1961 to 2002. E-mail him at clevelinda@msn.com.
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