When we launched the Lehigh Valley News Group, the Lehigh Valley branch of Berks-Mont newspapers (a Journal Register entity), I served as managing editor for the five new newspapers and the one previous-existing, The Saucon News. In addition to managing editor duties, I served as editor of the largest of the new papers, The Bethlehem News. We headed into a territory that had been abandoned by my previous employer (Chronicle Newspapers, a division of The Morning Call, a Tribune Company newspaper). In addition to those Chronicle weeklies that had just closed, most of our proposed territories were also served by The Press weeklies, an entity that still continues today.
I attended the school board meetings of the Bethlehem Area School District. After more than five years of covering the Phillipsburg School District, the differences between the two boards fascinated me. Bethlehem was a larger school district, had more schools and more students. But let’s just say the people who sat on the two boards were also different. I’m sure everyone had their good intentions, but the interactions on the Bethlehem board were often tense.
I wrote this editorial after one board meeting where the disagreements between board members, and their unwillingness to move forward after a vote, scared not only me but also drained the color from the superintendent.
BASD board behavior
In 2004, author Jordan Sonnenblick was still a middle school English teacher in the Phillipsburg School District. At the time I et him, he was anticipating the release of his first book, Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie, from a small publisher, Daybue. I can’t believe that we’re approaching the ten year anniversary of that event. I forget how I heard about Jordan. I don’t know if someone sent me a press release or if I heard about his success at a school board meeting. I followed up because as a writer myself, his story intrigued me.
We met in a coffee shop across the street from my office. We talked about his past, his struggles as a writer and why he rejected an offer from a big New York publisher to go with a small independent publisher instead. I remember my own awe when he said his creative writing teacher in high school was Frank McCourt. Yes, as in Angela’s Ashes. I also enjoyed his sense of humor. Apparently, success found him when he stopped trying to write the next Great American Novel and instead used the voice of a 13-year-old boy.
Shortly after all this, Sonnenblick landed a contract for Drums from Scholastic. The book now has a sequel. I’m not sure how many books he has now. 9? 10? He has one available for pre-order and it could use some hubbub. Jordan is a great guy. I’ve read several of his books and I love them.
Author Jordan Sonnenblick
My guest column in my last issue of The Free Press
I worked at The Free Press (Phillipsburg, N.J.) for about a year. I left when a publisher from another weekly called me out of the blue and offered me an editor position. I hated to leave Phillipsburg and my amazing publisher Enid, but I had long ago learned that regrets often stemmed from not knowing “What if?”
The Free Press was a weekly paper, paid subscription, mailed to those who subscribed. At the point I started working for Enid, I had already freelanced for a decade. This was my first full-time journalism position. I was sitting at my desk in our very tiny newsroom on September 11, 2001. The experience of being part of the media, even if only part of a small local weekly, gave a haunting layer to the tragedy.
After a year as editor of The Blue Valley Times, working with my former science teacher, Larry Cory, I joined the staff of the start-up weeklies from the Morning Call, known as The Chronicles. I returned to Phillipsburg, and in the three years that entity existed, I made some relationships that last until today. Phillipsburg still holds a special place in my heart.
And it’s not just because the gas in New Jersey is cheaper than Pennsylvania. And it’s not because the gas stations are full service.