If you looked at the Schenectady Gazette for the first week of October 1944, you would think the biggest news was not on the battlefield but in the offices of the paper itself.
The Gazette marked its 50th anniversary with long semi-historical accounts of itself, photographs of employees, letters praising the publication and, of course, an enormous front-page photograph of Geraradus Smith.
But the ’40s were significant for things other than birthdays. Some were seemingly small items, such as the introduction of an index to the newspaper (at first called “Paging the News”) in 1949. Others signaled the possibility of change in the direction of the paper.
A.N. Liecty finally stepped down in 1945, and the company had a new president, John G. Green. Green, married to Gerardus Smith’s daughter Eleanor, had come to the company around the time of his marriage.
The Greens were childless, so it was left to another Smith sister, Anna, to provide the next generation of Gazette presidents. She married John E.N. Hume Sr., a career man for the General Electric Co., the 10th of 11 children, a University of Virginia graduate.
Where Green moved easily into the Gazette organization, Hume somehow stayed outside it.
“You just couldn’t imagine him doing this,” David Hume said of his father. For the children, apparently, it was easier.
John E.N. Hume Jr., who had joined the Gazette in the ’30s and become city editor in 1940, would become editor – the top man in the news operation – in 1946. His ascendance would shunt aside Dudley Toll Hill, the longtime managing editor, who would end up leaving the paper in 1949.
David C. Hume, John’s younger brother and like him a grandson of Gerardus Smith, entered the company in 1947 after completing his Navy service in World War II. (He kept photographs of his Navy days in his desk, as well as a model of the ship he commanded). He worked first as assistant to a machinist making adjustments in the presses, then moved through the business operations.
And he found an attraction beyond the idea of going into the family business. “When I got out of the Navy,” he said, “I had several offers to go into banking, but that didn’t seem the thing to do. I think the people working here had a lot to do with it. It was a lot of fun then.”
The Hume brothers were accordingly on paths that would ultimately allow them to share control of the paper, with David Hume running the business side and John Hume the news side.
“If somebody called me and complained about a story, I wouldn’t even talk to them,” David Hume said. “I told them the first I knew about the story was when I saw it in the paper, the same as they did.”
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Which is not to say there would be a lot to complain about. The Gazette of the 1940s had the hallmarks of the paper that people would see for the next 40 years – a certain grayness, a general lack of controversial stands, and a hometown approach to just about any news story.
Hometown, of course, meant the General Electric Co., and a flip through the Gazette will uncover many uncritical to favorable stories about the company. The local angle and the G.E. angle are evident in one story from the early ’40s: “Many of the General Electric people who attend the film ‘Citizen Kane’ are going to see young Ruth Warrick. … It is the first Hollywood role for Ruth who less than two years ago did her first motion picture work in Schenectady for G.E. and who, until very recently, was known to the public largely as a girl posing with the company’s vacuum cleaners, refrigerators and other appliances in sales promotion pictures.”
The story, accompanied by a large photograph of Warrick, went on to quote local G.E. people who remembered her. Although it acknowledges that Warrick plays the first Mrs. Kane in the movie, It never says what the film is about. So the most important development in the paper in the 1940s may well have been the back stage emergence of the Hume brothers. Their brotherly tandem formed a pattern that seemed ready to repeat itself in the 1960s, when John’s sons, Jack and Bryce began parallel courses through the Gazette organization. But that second pattern would not come to pass.
Nor, for a long time, would the brothers Hume really run the company. Although they would try to shape its direction in the years to come, David said it was about 1960 before they held sway.
Until then, it was John Green’s and he would make some decisions that would prove crucial to the future of the paper. There is still debate about the wisdom of some of those decisions.
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