Tony Griffo's reflections

Dateline: Sat 23 Mar 2013

Here's what longtime Star employee and son of the newspaper has to say about his years of work. He was laid off Friday. Thanks for the memories. 

"I want to share my exit letter to the staff of the Indianapolis Star with you. Some of this might sound familiar.

September 7, 1962 is what I consider my first day at The Indianapolis Star. It’s the day I was born. A few of you know my relationship to the paper. I am the youngest son of Charles G. Griffo. Charlie started here in the 1940s and held several jobs, including Assisting Managing Editor and Sunday Editor. He ended his career as an Ombudsman in 1996.

"And yes, I am photo editor Greg Griffo’s brother, and he is the older one, despite what some of you think. I lived a little harder, and he never got caught.

"I mention my father because without him I wouldn’t have come to work here in 1979. He pushed me to take a copyboy job at age 16. I was in high school and working refinishing wood in some homes on the Old Northside.

"The copyboy title is now more appropriately called messenger. Healthwise, it was the best job anyone could have. In those days, the messenger was constantly on the run. We delivered pictures and proofs throughout the building and newspapers throughout the city. Mark Nichols was then my boss, and we have often reminisced about those good old days. I also worked as a photo engraver, plate maker, color scanner operator, production liaison and most recently as a page designer. There was a time when I was bothered by the nepotism factor of my employment. It was a common practice in the past, but it bothered me. After 34 years and the experiences I’ve had, it just doesn’t bother me anymore.

• Sitting at the copy desk as a very young child and wondering why my father left me with these very grumpy old guys.

• My father on the phone discussing the conversion of hot type to cold type. He once hung up the phone so hard it flew off the wall and crashed on the floor. Thankfully, he didn’t own an iPhone. Tweet this $#% %@^^^^+!!!

• Paper routes: I had a News route and a Star route. I remember having made $7 on my Indianapolis News route and thinking I was rich. Do you know how much candy you could buy in the ’70s for $7?

I delivered The Star during the blizzard of ’78. My mom asked me if I was sure I should go out. Are you kidding, I thought to myself. Yes Mom, I’ll be OK. After leaving the house, I walked toward 
Washington Street in my Irvington neighborhood and made a mental note of the wall of snow going sideways. What kid would want to miss this?

Part of my route took me through an old apartment building on 
Washington Street. Most people would open their doors when I collected, but one woman would only open the milk box that was built in the wall next to the door. After a long period of this, I convinced her I would not cause her harm and asked her to open her door to collect. She finally opened the door and explained she was afraid of the outside, afraid of people. She always opened the door for me after that day. I felt like I accomplished something by winning her trust.

• The Fourth Estate: It was beautiful. It had a swimming pool, basketball courts and a softball diamond. Located off 
56th street on the Northeastside, it had rolling hills, a deep ravine and woods to explore. There was a large shelter used for cookouts and movie nights. It was a great benefit as an employee or family member, but also it was a health benefit for the company.

• Gatherings: Employees used to gather in the parking lot and grill out. This wasn’t work-sponsored. I remember a guy bringing a station wagon and having cases of beer stacked in the back. At the time, all the operations were done here -- the pressroom, mailroom and truck delivery. There were a lot of crazy characters with less chaotic lives. It wasn’t just a business, but more of a community. We had sports leagues that played throughout the city. We never thought of layoffs. Funny, it was a time where you could lose your job Friday and be rehired Monday. I’m pretty sure in those times HR stood for happy retirees.

• The paper: We come to work to make a living, pay our bills and survive. We create a product that we want to reflect our passion. When the presses were here in the building, it took on a special meaning for me to hear the rumble and whine of the finished product. Whether it was a story I wanted to read or a photo I wanted to see in print, to hold the paper and absorb its content has always been special.

• The public: People are what make this business special. Where else does the public call just to chat? I’ve talked with the elderly, people claiming to be held in a Mexican jail and a couple times with Tony Kiritsis, the infamous hostage taker who was calling to talk to one of the reporters.

• Funny: An editor once gave me a set of keys and said the pressroom needed them to start the presses. Yes, everyone got a good laugh at that one at my expense.
Late one night after the last edition, a call came to the newsroom. When I answered the phone, the person was giving me hard time. As my frustration built, the person finally identified himself as Gene Pulliam. I about peed myself. Then I looked across the newsroom and two copy editors were laughing. Good one!
One Sunday after a night of enjoying life, I called in. I wanted the day off. The city editor on the desk was Bill Anderson. He said, “you just drank too much last night. Sober up and get in here.” I did.

I’ll always remember:
• The peanut dispenser on the third floor on your way to or from composing in the platemaking department. A nickel bought a handful.
• A smoke-filled newsroom alive with voices and the clatter of typewriters.
• Booze -- sometimes it was the only answer.
• The smell of the paper when the presses were in the building.
• Those crazy loud mailroom workers.
• Mr. Pulliam walking the halls.
• Frank Espich laughing.
• Tony Rinier taking game scores over the phone.
• Carl Sygiel being Carl and Tom Swenson being Tom, and then there’s Carl and Tom together. There’s enough passion to run three newspapers.

I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. Unfortunately, I’ve known many who tragically passed away long before they should have. This place has a special history that you’re all part of. The building can be sold, but the real foundation is in the work you all do. I’m grateful to have been a part of that.

Good luck and thank you,

Great stuff.


howard smulevitz [unverified] said:

Thank you, Tony.
So you were born a few days after I started there. The image of your being tended by Posvar, Kent
& Co. is a scream! You leave there with a more generous attitude than most could express under the circumstances. But I have to trust that memories like that, recalling to me some of my experiences with those guys, and your father, and so many others, will last longer and warm you more than any memories the bean counters can accumulate o deserve. Take care and thanks again.

2013-03-23 16:16:53

Larry Foster [unverified] said:

What a great letter! I had such a great time working with you. Now we can have time for more golf. God bless you!

2013-03-24 00:13:48

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

Tony, I have never met you but I really enjoyed reading your piece. Best wishes from here.

2013-03-24 01:02:20

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

There was no more interesting place to work than INI in the 1960s.

2013-03-24 07:38:22

Ms. Cynical [unverified] said:

Tony 'bout summed it up: "It wasn’t just a business, but more of a community."

Your father was both a blessing and a curse, such as when he yelled at the lifestyle reporters, "I'll tell YOU what women want to read."

Well, no.

But still those days were better than today's, under Gannett's cold, hard fist.

2013-03-24 20:14:05

Ms. Cynical [unverified] said:

...and, speaking of nepotism: when I was pregnant and complained to Denny Hoffman that INI offered no paid maternity leave, his response was "but when your kid grows up, we'll hire him".

2013-03-24 20:15:55

B2 [unverified] said:

Tony was/is a good kid, and I say kid because that's what he was to me when he came to 307 N. Penn. Loved his letter.
And one story begets another. We had a sports guy who got mad and threw a paste pot out the window along New York Street.
It hit Charlie Griffo, who was walking on the sidewalk coming back from his dinner hour.
Needless to say, Charlie was not pleased.

2013-03-25 09:27:20

Rich Gotshall [unverified] said:

I'm reminded of an incident from more than 20 years ago. Semi-retired copy editor John Ackelmire leaned over one night when I was working in the slot and asked in all seriousness, "How come no one on the copy desk has a drinking problem anymore?"

2013-03-25 12:33:44

russ leonard [unverified] said:

About the paste pot incident mentiond by B2 Unverified. As morethan an eyewitness,I can verify it is closer to the truth than what it developed into by retelling over the years since 1956. It was a busy night when working in sports were myself and Mike Quinn who a month earlier had been a copyboy. Relaxing about midnight, everything including a bunch of doubleheader box scores sent to composing, tapping the desk with the handle of a pair of the foot-long shears, Chris Hankemeier walked in with results from Englehardt Stadium. I threw the shears across the room, they struck the window and glass went flying onto New York Street. That's it. Greffo was in the city room. Stories I've heard include I threw a trypewriter out the window, and the glass hit young Gene.Both false. My reaction. I went up to the fourth floor, I think it was, and out onto the roof across from Charlie Benner's job shop to one of the air conditioning tanks where printers stashed beer. It calmed my nerves.

2013-03-26 00:44:02

howard smulevitz [unverified] said:

There was at least one paste-pot flinging incident, though it was in the city room. (How many working there now would even know it was called that?).
Al McCord couldn't get the brush unstuck from the dried paste and flung the pot over his shoulder (the way he disposed of a few still-hot matches and cigarettes into trash cans). The pot sailed an inch or two over the head of Frank McCloskey, still fresh from arrival from Chicago's City News Bureau) before crashing to the floor.
Frank felt rather than saw the pot fly over him from the rear. He was wide-eyed and open-mouthed as he ran one hand over his head and did multiple double-takes, trying to figure out what almost happened to him. I think he did that at about the same moment McCord had turned around, realized what he had done, and began profusely apologizing.

2013-03-26 10:38:33

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

What of Bob Early reputedly throwing a typewriter through a New York Street window...?

2013-03-26 10:40:43

varangianguard [unverified] said:

These stories are a lot of fun, in retrospect.

2013-03-26 11:09:39

howard smulevitzs [unverified] said:

Var, you are painfully correct about "in retrospect." At the time, the only sane reaction (probably what Frank was trying to say)was, "What the hell am I doing here!"

2013-03-26 11:25:03

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

My wife wanted to be transferred from Women's to City Desk. One night she put on a wig and a mustache, dressed in my suit and confronted City Editor (Larry) by plopping down in a chair next to him, asking, "What's a guy gotta do to get a job on the City Desk?" After his initial shock- "taken aback" doesn't describe his reaction- Larry wasn't particularly amused...but They did let her start writing more features for which she won multiple CASPARS, Press Club, AP and UPI awards.

2013-03-27 07:12:11

Ted Daniels [unverified] said:

Tony: Your Dad would be quite proud, goddammit.

2013-03-29 09:43:35

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