The Gazette’s origins: Preparing a new generation of leaders (1930-1939)

The 1930s begins a long period of transition for the Gazette
John E.N. Hume Jr., center, with City Editor Edward Themak Jr., left, and Editorial Page Editor Ralph M. Turner in the 1940s.
John E.N. Hume Jr., center, with City Editor Edward Themak Jr., left, and Editorial Page Editor Ralph M. Turner in the 1940s.

It is easy to look back now at even the hard years of the Depression and realize that the paper came through all right. But the 1930s would indeed begin a long period of transition for the Gazette, as a new generation of owners begin to take an active role in the paper’s operations.

In 1931, the Gazette took on a correspondent still in his teens who would be involved in the paper for almost 50 years.

John E.N. Hume Jr. had actually been involved with the Gazette from birth, through his grandfather and mother. And he would rise through the ranks with noticeable rapidity. After graduating from the University of Virginia in 1937, he was a reporter and photographer until 1940, when he became city editor, then editor in 1946. He retired in 1980, although his real involvement in the day-to-day running of the Gazette had diminished well before that.

Asked if there was pressure on the Hume brothers to join the Gazette, David Hume said no. But he did acknowledge that their mother, Gerardus Smith’s daughter Anna, hoped that the boys would go into the business.

And in some ways, the Hume brothers would offer the same contract as the Smith brothers, or Anna Hume and Eleanor Green, before them. To some outsiders, the Hume brothers seem closed-mouthed, but to Jack Hume, John’s son, David was the more gregarious of the two.

Next: The Gazette’s origins: The paper celebrates its first half century (1940–1949)

Jack Hume recalls his father as a young man, someone who did not suffer foolishness and who took a hard line on matters such as labor unions. When Jack Hume speaks of the paper’s relations with its unions as “adversarial,” one again hears the echo of a conservatism that had become part of the Gazette by the mid-1930s.

For even as it was embracing one of its own, the Gazette steadily turned its back on another longtime ally over the course of the decade.

Apparently because of disenchantment with Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Gazette ceased to be a Democratic newspaper, in stance or spirit.

The 1935 elections saw the Gazette run the Democratic slate on its editorial page for the last time, and even then the paper indicated the Democratic ties had gone on too long.

The Daily Gazette of 1895 had declared Schenectady a Democratic city at heart. When the Schenectady Gazette looked at the outcome of the 1935 local races — with a Republican mayor and five out of six Republican council candidates elected — it said, “Schenectady is normally a Republican city.”

In the presidential election year of 1936, the Gazette did not run the list of Democratic candidates on its editorial page. Its pre-election editorial made no choice between Roosevelt and the Republican, Alf Landon.

“The voters have their choice,” it said. “They can weigh the theories of the Democratic administration in light of what it has done in the past and what it may be expected to do in the future, and they can re-elect Mr. Roosevelt. They can take the word of the Republican candidates that real recovery is possible under the leadership of Mr. Landon and at less cost and with fewer and less dangerous ‘after effects’ and they can elect the Kansan. … Upon the decision of the voters this week depends the path the nation will take in the next four important years.”

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Then, after Roosevelt was re-elected, the Gazette warned readers: “The American people in general showed that they approved in a measure certain policies and methods; but the President should not mistake his re-election as complete indorsement of policies which he undertook as emergency measures and which can be and should be abandoned with the ending of those emergencies. There were countless persons who voted for him yesterday not because they approved of drastic measures as a steady and national diet but because they agreed with him that such actions were necessary in 1933 and 1934.”

Was this the dawning of what one local politician used to denounce as “the Republican Gazette?” Yes and no.

Indeed, the non-endorsement may have been something as simple as a desire not to offend any readers. David Hume said that John Green, who by 1936 was vice president of the Gazette Co., “didn’t want to ruffle anybody.”

But the Gazette was certainly willing to ruffle people, at least in the short term, in dealing with unions — and this in a town that had a strong labor history.

Although it paid lip service to the idea that the Gazette was a strong union shop, the company bitterly resisted attempts by the American Newspaper Guild to organize and represent newsroom employees.

The local guild was organized in 1934 and sought a contract with the Gazette from at least 1937. While it gained some ground in 1937, its attempts to negotiate a union contract came to a head in October 1938. Lacking a contract, and facing apparent stonewalling from the Gazette management, Guild members went on strike on Oct. 24.

Pickets appeared outside the newspaper and, according to guild accounts, the union also went after Gazette advertising and circulation (leaflets urged readers to drop the paper until a union settlement was reached).

The Gazette at first put on a brave face, running a front-page message to readers claiming only 10 of the company’s 176 employees were striking. (The guild put the number at 12, which was more than half the newsroom staff at time.)

The paper noted the union demands it found unacceptable (including demands the union claimed it had not sought), and claimed the Gazette’s contracts with typesetters’ unions demonstrated that the paper was not anti-union, per se.

The latter claim was most important in what was at that time a strong union town. Nor was it lost on the Gazette that one of the people interceding on the guild’s behalf was Leo Jandreau, even then a power with the electrical workers’ union at the General Electric Co.

With that sort of backing, the strike had the desired result. According to guild notes, Gazette representatives agreed to return to the bargaining table three days after the strike began — provided the guild call off its assaults on the paper’s circulation and advertising. The next day, an agreement was reached. Beginning reporters were guaranteed a salary of $18 a week; those with at least three years’ experience were entitled to $42.

The Gazette reported the settlement in a terse two-paragraph story on Oct. 29. But the company was not done with the guild. The contract was for one year, and as that year was ending — a year, incidentally, that included some internal battles between the guild and the paper’s managers — the Gazette declined to negotiate a new contract. It claimed the guild no longer represented the majority of newsroom employees, and demanded proof that the guild was the appropriate bargaining organization before contract talks would begin.

The union contract was extended for up to a year, supposedly to give the union time to make its case. Apparently, it could not do so, because that was the last guild contract ever signed at the Gazette.

Which was not to say the guild gave up entirely. More than 40 years later, in 1982, the local guild considered presenting Gazette management with a fait accompli: declaring that the union had not been officially decertified in 1939, therefore it was ready to discuss a new guild contract at the paper.

Next: The Gazette’s origins: The paper celebrates its first half century (1940–1949)

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