The Gazette’s origins: Caution and inertia marked the 50s (1950–1959)

Charles B. Sellers Jr. stands beside the Schenectady Gazette’s photo car as other photo staffers are shown in the background.
Charles B. Sellers Jr. stands beside the Schenectady Gazette’s photo car as other photo staffers are shown in the background.

The 1950s may be remembered as the decade of lost opportunities at the Gazette.

In some respects, it was a period of expansion – several of its bureaus date to that period, and plans would begin for a new press and the accompanying changes in the State Street building.

And there moments when the old Gazette feistiness seemed to emerge. It was big news in 1951 when a 24-year-old Gazette photographer named Sid Brown (who retired in 1992 as the paper’s chief photographer) was assaulted.

The incident arose over a longtime Gazette adversary, Paul “Legs” DiCocco. Brown had been assigned to get a photograph of DiCocco. Patrick “Buckshot” Bianchi, a friend of DiCocco, tried to shield him from Brown, then assaulted Brown and wrecked his camera. The photographer ended up with cuts and bruises on his face, as well as a prominent place in the paper’s pages through Bianchi’s guilty plea and sentencing two weeks later.

Other battles at the Gazette were in private. David Hume, in talking about his own accomplishments at the paper during a 1989 interview, mentioned a company pension plan that dates to the 1950s, and which he recalled John Green opposing. “My God, how I had to fight to get that through,” he said.

Next: The Gazette’s origins: Hume brothers take over, but move slowly (1960-1969)

But Hume remembered Green as generally being conservative on issues that would cost the Gazette money. “He was not a borrower,” Hume said, ‘Neither a borrower nor a leader be,’ was his motto.”

And there were a couple of big money issues that the Gazette faced in the 1950s.

The first was the purchase of its longtime rival, the Union-Star. David and John Hume wanted to make a deal for the paper, and the attraction is obvious. To take over the Union-Star would mean that the Gazette Co. could either eliminate its competitor or operate both a morning and afternoon publication. There would also be the satisfaction of knowing that the once dominant paper had finally come into the hands of its upstart rival.

As David Hume recalled it, the brothers persuaded John Green to make an offer for the Union-Star to its owner at the time, the Kelly-Smith Co. in latter years, David Hume did not recall if the owners accepted the deal. John (Jack) E.N. Hume III said in 1989 that he heard there was, in fact, a handshake agreement.

In either case, the deal collapsed soon after, with John green simply telling the Hume brothers that the deal was off.

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One family story has it that Eleanor Green for reasons of her own vetoed the purchase, although why remains hard to understand.

Because it did not buy the Union-Star, the Gazette continued to face both it and, later, the Knickerbocker News, as at least nominal competition.

In addition, the Union-Star for a time came under the wing of RKO General, which in turn nosed into the Gazette’s business and made several attempts either to buy the Gazette or sell the Union-Star to the Gazette.

In 1989, David Hume said he believed that in the long run the Gazette was better off without the Union-Star. In buying the paper, the Gazette might have assumed more problems than it eliminated.

When the Hearst chain finally absorbed the Union-Star into its Knickerbocker News, David Hume suspected that the only thing Hearst obtained of real value was the circulation list. That overstates the case somewhat, since the Knickerbocker News also gained name identification in Schenectady (where a few old-times were still calling it the Union-Star on the day of the Knick’s demise) and some veteran reporters who knew Schenectady.

On the other hand, but the late 1950s the Union-Star had gone through some turmoil of its own and was losing money. And by the time representatives of the Gazette and Union-Star sat down again in the late 1069s, there was no question which paper was healthier.

Another, equally difficult decision came in the late ’50s as the Gazette’s aging presses finally began to wear out.

The need for new presses, and a new facility to house them, promoted talk about the Gazette moving to a new location where, as David Hume put it, “we could have some elbow room.”

Jack Hume said the brothers favored relocation to Colonie. David Hume was less specific about the location, except to say that it was outside downtown.

In either case, the brothers; feelings were not enough to overpower John Green and his confidant Asa “Ace” Pauley.

They decided the best idea was to buy a second building downtown to hold the presses. David Hume recalled that the building was strong enough to hold the press but not large enough for all the surrounding activity. Green, bolstered by his wife’s stock and Pauley, prevailed over the Humes.

And almost immediately after moving the presses into a new building, the Gazette had to buy a second, adjacent building to have enough room.

Given the maneuvers through which the Gazette is now going, one has to wonder how much more dramatically the paper might have changed if the move had been made 30 years ago.

But Jack Hume suspects that the move then would have precluded the move in 1990. He feared that a building acquired then would have been unsuitable for the demands of staff and equipment today, and that the newspaper would have been forced to find a new home, and new debt, too soon after shouldering the previous load.

Yet one has to realize that the Humes are very good at finding ways to rationalize decisions after the fact.

David Hume put that another way. Asked how the family has managed to keep and run the paper into a fourth generation, he said it was the lack of grudges after decisions were made.

“I guess we got along together, “ he said. “There was enough flexibility in the thinking that people didn’t always have to get their way.”

Unfortunately, flexibility sometimes translated into taking no action, as so as not to rock the boat. That would apparently be the case in the 1960s when, rather than offend their aunt, the Hume brothers chose not to consider a rapprochement with the Union-Star.

Next: The Gazette’s origins: Hume brothers take over, but move slowly (1960-1969)

Categories: 125 Years

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