Then and now: MICHAEL SISAK, Editor-in-Chief 1962

By MICHAEL SISAK
Editor-in-Chief: 1962

Is the judge coming?” Zorro asked.

His question underscored the diverse, eclectic nature of The Temple News, its diversity long before the times, both caps and lowercase. Zorro is Zohrab Kazanjian, The Temple News photographer who emigrated from Baghdad University and never returned to Iraq. The judge is the Honorable Sandy Mazer Moss, the former News reporter-writer for TTN who now sits in the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.

Rudy Johnson, who was a TTN reporter-writer, became one of the first African Americans to be hired by the New York Times. Arlene Morgan, her mom a South Philly garment worker who once stitched elbow patches on my sweater, is an associate dean who advocates for diversity at the Columbia University School of Journalism. Jill Porter became a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, and Kitty Capparella is still a reporter-writer there. Tobey Gordon Dichter, another reporter-writer, became the founder and CEO of Generations on Line – Internet made simple for seniors.

Larry Margasak, a News reporter-writer, joined the Associated Press, where he’s been for 44 years, writing a first draft of American history. Steve Sansweet, a former editor-in-chief, was a page-one byline in the Wall Street Journal before going to Hollywood to be the protector of George Lucas’ legacy. Kenn Venit, a former business manager for The Temple News, is a professor at Quinnipac University and a political image-maker. Bob Rovner, another business manager, is a lawyer and former state legislator.

Bill Conlin, a civil rights crusading editor at Temple, was the first editor-in-chief to be appointed to successive terms; he became a syndicated sports columnist and a Philadelphia Hall of Fame honoree. Phil Jasner, a TTN sportswriter and former managing editor, became the 76ers beat writer par excellence and a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Dick Weiss, another sportswriter, writes a column on college basketball and football for the New York Daily News. Larry Linderman, also a sportswriter, did the Playboy Interview longer than Hugh Hefner.

After I spent 1958 to 1962 at The Temple News, I began a newspaper odyssey that took me to four of the top newspapers in the nation, including the New York Times, where I have been editing for 28 years.
In their own words, this is what some alumni of The Temple News wrote by e-mail of their fond memories:

Bill Conlin, 1956-60 
“I am proudest of being the first editor-in-chief elected to a second term by the Publications Committee, of the tremendous staff that produced so many fine professionals, of the real reporting we did on many issues, including Rudy Johnson’s investigative piece on term-paper ghostwriting that led to state law, the George Makris scoop [when The Temple News named the new football coach before the university did].”

Conlin said that in 1960, he worked “longer and harder that year than at any time in my career, including double shifts as editor, then as a composing room and darkroom worker. The hands-on experience gave me a real sense of how a newspaper is put together, the teamwork it takes and the rush of pride when you hold the finished product.”

He recalled “the innovative design changes we made to [The Temple News’] typography, including the distinctive logo and bold-face ledes, and the strong stand we made on civil rights at a divisive time before there was a Civil Rights Act and when championing minority causes was sometimes a risky thing to do, which I learned while being depicted as ‘The Great God Khan-Lin’ at the Greek Carnival during my crusade that called for Greek organizations to be open to all races and religions.”

Conlin was one of five editors chosen to interview presidential candidate John F. Kennedy during a New York City student-editors conference.

“I asked him what he planned to do as president to improve America’s dismal record on civil rights, and he skated around the question like Wayne Gretzky,” Conlin said.

Conlin said he was proud that The Temple News was named the No. 1 campus newspaper in the Middle Atlantic States by the Newspaper Guild, finishing ahead of the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University.

“The editor of the Princetonian was some guy named Frank Deford,” he said.
Conlin was also part of a Life magazine college newspaper promotion titled “Bill Conlin Looks at Life.” Recently, the project creator checked to see how the student editors turned.
“He said the only two who had careers in the business that could be considered significant were Deford and myself,” Conlin said.

He was also proud of winning the Sword Award for service to the university and being named the outstanding graduate in journalism by Sigma Delta Chi.

“And finally, being hired right out of the box by the Evening Bulletin, the newspaper equivalent of being an NFL first-round draft pick. Oh, yes. And giving Phil Jasner his first byline.”
 
Phil Jasner, 1960-64:
“I was a commuting student, and The Temple News became my home away from home. I always felt comfortable in the offices that were then on Park Avenue. I didn’t quite understand it then, but it was a spawning ground for men and women who would become top journalists in virtually every facet of the profession.

“I eventually rose to become managing editor, second-in-command to Betsy Zakroff, but my heart was, and is, in sports.

“My fondest memories include helping to put together a special section when the Temple basketball team went to the National Invitation Tournament and a trip I made to Lexington, Ky., by train, where I covered Temple-Kentucky for both the News and for WRTI-FM. Merrill Reese, now the Hall of Fame caliber play-by-play voice of the Philadelphia Eagles, was the play-by-play voice that night, too.

“One more memory: the days when a football player and track and field performer named Bill Cosby would come to the offices to try out some of his comedic material before going off to appear at clubs in New York.”

Larry Margasak, 1961-65:
“[The Temple News] was the most important part of my life at Temple. I came to the News as a freshman, pretty sure I wanted to be a reporter. I left as a senior, having no doubts. The News, however, was much more than a stab at learning to cover news stories. It was my social network, and I’m sure that everyone who showed up at the paper every day felt the same way. The camaraderie was tremendous. It was our fraternity or sorority.

“I joined the Associated Press in 1965, after graduation. I’m still here, 44 years later. I became very comfortable with the minute-by-minute deadlines of a wire service, a name that no longer applies, and have enjoyed my career. I’ve had the congressional beat in Washington for more than a quarter century and thoroughly enjoy the political culture of the Capitol. I spent my first 12 AP years in Harrisburg, learning how politicians did things above and under the table. That was great training for covering Congress, where not only the tactics, but some of the people, were the same as in Harrisburg.”
 
Tobey Gordon Dichter, 1962-65:
“How well I recall asking Professor Doug Perry why [The Temple News] wouldn’t accept me. ‘How do you know they won’t?’ he asked in his inimitable intense drawl. ‘Because I left a message in the editor’s mailbox, and he never called.’ Professor Perry shook his head and fist at the same time and stammered with incredulity: ‘You, you can’t expect them to call you! You have to go to them!’ And so I did, and for the next three years, it was my life. I took over Steve Sansweet’s column called ‘Passim’ and then became features editor and then his managing editor.

“The News was as serious and professional as it was riotous and youthful. For me, it established a baseline of what constituted ideal working conditions, and I have sought that sense of camaraderie and dedication in every job since.”

Arlene Notoro Morgan, 1963-67:
“The Temple News was the life blood of my years at the school. The relationships, the foundation in journalism and the hands on experience have been an integral part of the person I have become. Of course, it also gave me the opportunity to show that a woman could excel in this profession. I would not change a minute of my time there and cannot imagine my life without The Temple News.”

Kenn Venit, 1964-68:
“The [Temple] News was my entry point in journalism, at the age of 17, a brave new world for someone who had dreamed of being a disk jockey for years but who decided news was a much more exciting, fulfilling and honorable profession.

 “As I rose from reporter to city editor to managing editor and finally business manager, I learned to appreciate the teamwork my News family, and I enjoyed [my time there] to the fullest. To this day, many of my most cherished memories, personal and professional, from my six years at Temple (B.S. and M.S.), are of time spent with my News associates.

“To be reunited at this reunion with Larry Margasak, Steve Sansweet, Bill Herring, Mike Sisak, Bob Rovner, Marci Shatzman, Brian Feldman, Arlene Notoro, Reneé Winkler,

Jill Chalfin, Lisa Miller, Ceil Kessler, Theresa Glab, J. Russell Peltz, Ray Didinger, Kitty Capparella and Phil Jasner, and so many other 1960s staffers, is an honor and a privilege beyond words.”

* * *
A postscript: The Temple News gave me lasting memories, one when I stood a few feet behind John F. Kennedy, when security did not matter, as he campaigned on Park Avenue in front of thousands in October 1960 and another when a nation mourned on Nov. 23, 1963. The wire-service reports were taped to the glass windows of the journalism department on Broad Street for wet eyes to see. I also interviewed Eleanor Roosevelt a few months before she died.

The News also had a focus group before focus groups became an industry staple. Our journalism professors – J. Douglas Perry, Jackie Steck and Joe Carter – encouraged students to offer their best articles to The Temple News. But when the professors saw a headline or an editorial they did not like, they criticized, or laughed, or ridiculed, teaching us as we sat in their classes.

The other day this headline appeared on the front page of the New York Times: “Rio de Janero Voted to Hold 2016 Olympics.” I heard Jackie Steck as I read it: “You hold a ball, not a meeting or an event.” Every time I see hold, I change it and think of Jackie.

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