Volume 74, Number 13 | July 28 - August 03 , 2004

Notebook


The time I really did stop the presses at Fairchild

By Ed Gold

In journalistic heaven, the intrepid reporter with a scoop shouts to his newspaper’s energetic managing editor: “Stop the presses!”

I actually did stop the presses in my early reportorial career, but under very strange circumstances.

The phone rang on my desk at Fairchild Publications on 12th St. in a building now owned by N.Y.U. Fairchild published at least half a dozen business newspapers, including the “bible” of the fashion business, Women’s Wear Daily. I was in charge of covering the world fur market.

On the line was Stanley Katz, public relations and advertising manager as well as chief advisor to A. Hollander & Sons, the nation’s largest fur-dyeing company.

Katz was a great news source for me, and we had also become good friends.

“Can you get away this afternoon for an important story?” Katz asked mysteriously.

“What do you mean ‘can I get away?’ — but the answer is yes,” I said, because Katz didn’t fool around about serious news.

“Good,” he continued. “Be in front of your building on 12th St. at 2:30. A black limo will stop and pick you up.”

“What’s this about, Stanley?” I asked, my curiosity whetted.

“You’ll find out on the way to New Jersey,” he answered, only adding to my curiosity.

At 2:30 the limo pulled up. I noticed the windows were dark. A chauffeur opened the back door and Katz was sitting there with another man I didn’t know, and who never acknowledged my presence.

I got in and Katz did the talking: “Hollander is entering into a major merger in a complex corporate arrangement that will put us on the big board. I wanted you to be present so you can see the entire procedure, get the full story and get it right.”

At the New Jersey meeting, a group of corporate types reviewed the agreement, plank by plank, while I took notes. The document included, of course, a listing of the board of directors and the designated board chair.

Back at Fairchild, I told my city editor about the merger and he decided to play it on Page 1 and then jump it into the fur section. I deciphered my notes, wrote the story — slightly over 1,000 words — and headed home to Christopher St. around 6:30.

At about 8:30 the phone rang and a very troubled Stanley Katz was on the line.

“Ed, I hate to do this to you, but you can’t run the story the way it is. You have to eliminate one item which is no longer valid and could screw up the entire merger if it got into print.”

I was in shock. “What did I do wrong?” I asked.

“You didn’t do anything wrong. We did. We found out after the meeting that the guy we named as chair had been involved in dealings sometime ago that may not have been kosher. If his name shows up in print, it could kill the merger.”

He added: “We’ll pay all printing costs. We just don’t want his name in the story since he’s no longer involved in the merger.”

The press run may have already begun, I thought. “I’ll see what I can do and get back to you,” I told Katz.

One piece of good luck. The bad guy had only been mentioned once in the story, and in his own short paragraph.

I contacted the print foreman, who saw himself as blue collar dealing with white collar and was not too sympathetic. “The type has all been set and we’re ready to roll in the printing room,” he said with satisfaction. “Anyway, no reporter can stop the presses. Only the managing editor can do that.”

So I decided to stick my neck out and call the managing editor. Contrary to film mythology, our managing editor was mild-mannered and never seemed to get excited about anything. The only time he showed emotion was when he was heading to England on vacation to watch tennis at Wimbledon.

He was fast asleep when I called and wanted to get rid of me as soon as possible. I was persistent and aggressive in relaying the story and he finally said: “O.K., you have the green light,” and hung up. I got the foreman on the line, told him what the M.E. had said, and urged him to stop the presses. About a third of the 70,000 run had already been printed.

The paper was set in Linotype, which operates by punching out lines of type in lead that form words that are then placed in a frame. An editorial person oversees the placement of the stories on larger frames that go to the printing room. The press was stopped, the malignant paragraph pulled, leaving an open space, which was filled by inserting blank lead lines through the rest of the story, known as “leading out.” I called Katz, told him the good news and told him to get his checkbook out.

Katz picked up the cost of the papers already run and destroyed them. The merger held firm.

A year or so later, Katz and a colleague at Hollander’s incorporated their ad agency, Leber & Katz, and Katz sent me a verse about the incorporation with a memorable line:

“Hang out bright banners all over the land/Shout from the rooftops and strike up the band/Put on your glad rags, your fanciest dresses/Wire Ed Gold — stop all the presses!”

The month we stopped the presses the merger article won Fairchild’s monthly story award of 50 bucks, which was real money in those days.

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