Unscheduled Trip Back Home

Tuesday, December 27, 2011
 Four days...1200+ miles...and 12 newspapers!

As I mentioned in my previous posting, a death in my extended family had me undertake a long-distance 'road trip' earlier this month.  It was an unexpected event so I had very little time to prepare for the 500-mile drive to arrive in time for the funeral.  To keep my previous blog promise, I finished my post on the Herman Cain campaign stop in the wee hours of the 1st and turned in for a couple of hours of sleep before heading out of town early that same morning.  On the way out, I stopped for gas and liquid refreshments and picked up a copy of the local paper to compare my online work to that produced by Dayton Daily News staff writers Lynn Hulsey and Justin McClelland.  Satisfied that I hit all the salient points of that visit, I cracked a smile at the register, paid for my goods, and strapped myself into the driver's seat for the long ground trek ahead.

 Penn State's Beaver Stadium--on fall Saturdays, it becomes the state's fourth most populous area

Although traffic, construction and weather may cause me to alter my route, I prefer to stick to the interstate highway system whenever I travel due to safety and convenience concerns.  I had two primary choices available to me (to the north towards Cleveland and then eastward through the northern tier of Pennsylvania or straight east towards Pittsburgh and then vectoring northeast from Harrisburg) but this time I chose a 'hybrid' because I wanted to include a stop that had been (and continues to be) in the news--the campus of the Pennsylvania State University.  State College is somewhat close to that northern route but I decided to go to the south and cut across portions of west-central Pennsylvania to arrive at the location (hopefully) before nightfall.  

Unfortunately, I got to the campus right at dusk and that limited my opportunities for photos but the one I had to get was of the statue (pictured above) outside Beaver Stadium dedicated to former head football coach Joe Paterno.  Erected in 2001 on the venue's east side, it had been rumored that it would be taken down in the wake of the recent scandal involving one of Paterno's former assistant coaches (Jerry Sandusky) and the inaction of the 84-year old and another assistant to to alert police to alleged activities by Sandusky with an underage boy in a Penn State athletic facility back in 2004.  The controversy revolves around a quote from Paterno that graces one of the walls of that display:
They ask me what I'd like written about me when I'm gone, I hope they write I made Penn State a better place not just that I was a good football coach.
While all of the legal issues surrounding Sandusky and a handful of Penn State officials must be decided in a court of law, Paterno's fate has already been handed down in the court of public opinion.  While he did run one of the 'cleanest' college football programs in the country (no major rules infractions, high graduation rate) and, according to grand jury testimony, he fulfilled his legal obligation by notifying his PSU superiors when informed of the alleged activities, his reluctance to go outside school channels and contact local law enforcement authorities has rendered his stellar coaching reputation--and that quote above--moot at best (and hypocritical at worst). 

During all legs of my trip, I stopped and picked up copies of the local newspapers to provide me a flavor of the areas I was passing through.  As I mentioned earlier, I started with the Dayton paper (pictured above) and did not pick up others until I was in southwestern Pennsylvania where I purchased the two Pittsburgh dailies during a gas and meal break near Washington, PA.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, known as the 'PG' in that part of the state, can trace its routes all the way back to 1786 and has been been publishing by that name since 1927.  Considered the city's 'liberal' paper, it currently has competition from a rival publication that was founded in 1992 and funded by conservative Richard Mellon Scaife (the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, pictured below).  Despite their editorial or publishing biases, both papers featured front-page stories about lawsuits emerging from the Penn State sex scandal.

At my next stop, just on the outskirts of Altoona, I picked up a copy of the city's daily broadsheet (pictured below).  The Altoona Mirror began publication in 1876 as the Evening Mirror and is currently owned by the West Virginia-based Ogden Newspapers Inc.  Although not 'above the fold', a story concerning a student forum held with Penn State University administrators the previous day was featured on its front page.

State College was my intermediate stop for the entire drive on that first day and, as I mentioned above, I arrived there just as the sun was disappearing behind the western horizon.  After taking my photos, I stopped to pick up a copy of the Centre Daily Times, a McClatchy Company daily broadsheet originally founded in 1898 as the Weekly Times.  As the hometown newspaper for the university, it would be expected that the Sandusky story would be front-page news and the previous day's student forum dominated pages A1 and A3 of the main section.

I made it to my final destination in northeastern Pennsylvania just after 8PM and spent the rest of my waking hours relaxing and reconnecting with family members.  After a short but restful slumber, I was off behind the wheel again the following day to visit more relatives who lived in close proximity to my temporary quarters.  I picked up copies of both of the local city's papers (Wilkes-Barre, the birthplace of modern cable programming, is the smallest US city to have competing independent daily newspapers).  The Times Leader, the city's original daily, was founded in 1879 and is currently owned by Impressions Media.

It's rival, the Citizens' Voice, started in 1978 at the height of a ugly strike between the Times Leader's former owners (Capital Cities) and unions representing the various publishing trade employees.  I'll have more about these two in a future posting but neither featured anything on the Penn State affair on their front pages on that date (although each had a story concerning a federal probe into activities surrounding the renovation of a local landmark hotel).

After the funeral, I packed up my transitory belongings and headed south to the greater Allentown area to visit other family members and to rest up for my long drive back to Ohio the following day.  My last stop before getting onto the interstate highway to points west that next morning was a local Wawa convenience store to pick up copies of the Sunday editions of the Morning Call, the newspaper of the Lehigh Valley, and the Philadelphia Inquirer, from the nation's fourth largest media market just 50 miles to the south. 

The Morning Call, a Tribune Company daily broadsheet, touched upon the (then) upcoming 70th anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and the reunion of three veterans forever connected to it. Near the top of the page was a short teaser about Herman Cain suspending his presidential campaign and that would be the one story to be featured on all of the Sunday dailies I purchased that day.  The Philadelphia Inquirer, another daily broadsheet owned by the Philadelphia Media Network (who, coincidentally, owns the city's other major newspaper the Philadelphia Daily News) ran the Cain story on its front page along with the start of a feature series on the city's renowned Curtis Institute of Music, dubbed 'The Curtis Factor".

Westward I drove and my first stop was just outside Harrisburg so a copy of the Patriot-News was required.  The Sunday edition of that daily broadsheet, owned by Advanced Publications, also put the Cain story on its front page but it was not the top pick by the paper's editor that day.  Due to the city's proximity to State College, reporter Donald Gilliland chose to openly question the logic of Sandusky's various media appearances (as well as the wisdom of his legal team).  Sharing the above-the-fold space was a story about the former assistant coach's latest exclusive 4-hour-over-2-day interview with New York Times reporter Jo Decker.

Since I took a detour on my drive (stopping at the recently commemorated Flight 93 National Memorial just outside of Stoystown), I had to limit my stops in order to get back home by a respectable hour so my next stop was for gas just outside Wheeling, West Virginia where I purchased a copy of the Sunday News-Register.  Another Ogden Newspapers Inc. outlet, it has a unique arrangement with that city's other daily publication, the Intelligencer.  On weekdays, both are published with the Intelligencer serving as the morning paper and the News-Register being the afternoon edition.  On the weekends, the Intelligencer is the only Saturday publication while the Sunday News-Register handles the weekly color comics, circulars and other business inserts.  The Cain story was well covered for their West Virginia readers as was the state football championships held the day before.

After crossing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge, I was back in Ohio and I strictly budgeted my time to only one stop in Columbus, the home of the Columbus Dispatch.  Although Herman Cain had just appeared in the city four days prior, his suspension announcement only garnered a short statement (and redirection to an interior page) underneath an advertisement for flu shots.  Instead, that day's edition highlighted rising utility rates and a special report on parents who raise children with Downs Syndrome, one very relevant in a state where a proposed fetal' heartbeat' bill could significantly reduce the options if such a birth defect is encountered during the pregnancy.

After a stop at our local grocery store to pick up items for the coming work week, I finally pulled into our driveway a little after 9PM, completing a 4-day, multi-destination, 1200+ mile adventure that I hopefully will not have to make again anytime soon.  While I did travel with some rather expensive items (laptop, e-book reader, digital camera, voice recorder), it wasn't until I posted this story that I realized I had much more valuable cargo onboard.  As I mentioned in a recent posting about the recent success of the local Dayton daily, newspapers now tout coupons as a valuable commodity in today's uncertain economic times. For an investment of just under $10, I was holding over $3000 in coupons and specials (incredibly, the Morning Call accounted for almost half of that total)--a 300-to-1 windfall.  Seeing those odds, I wonder what would've happened if I played the lottery that night.

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