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Insider yarns of my 23 years at Houston Post

By Ernie Williamson The Bulletin

This past April 18 marked 28 years since the presses of the Houston Post stopped rolling.

The end came so fast. We didn’t even get a chance to print a “goodbye edition.”

For years after the closure, there were well-attended reunions, but as time passed, there were fewer and smaller gatherings.

Other than a black “Post Mortems” T-shirt buried in my closet, what is left is mostly memories.

And memories of my 23 years at The Post, including 12 tumultuous years as an executive, I have many.

Here are a few:

A LESSON LEARNED: I began my copy editing career at the Post in interesting times.

The newsroom in 1972 was in the middle of an election to become the first unionized newsroom in the state. I arrived as the campaigning was in the home stretch.

There were parties every night, some pro-union, some anti-union.

Since I was a new hire, I wasn’t allowed to vote, but I went to the parties anyway. Great fun, at least until the votes were counted.

The pro-union forces not only lost the vote, but three department heads lost their jobs.

Scuttlebutt was that management thought the three department heads hadn’t campaigned hard enough against the union.

That taught me something early in my career: Journalism is a noble profession, but it is also a business.

NO COVERUP HERE: The Post in those years was owned by the Hobby family. Oveta Culp Hobby, who was director of the Women’s Army Corps during World War II and became the first secretary of what became the Department of Health and Human Services, was the publisher.

I only met Mrs. Hobby a couple of times, but what she did once earned my respect.

Her son, William P. Hobby Jr., was serving as lieutenant governor when he was stopped for a traffic violation. No big deal, except it was late at night and the woman in the car with him wasn’t his wife.

I was doing the front page that day and awaited instructions on what to do with that sensitive story.

Mrs. Hobby ordered us to run the potentially damaging story about her son on the front page. I was proud of the paper that day.

I think of Mrs. Hobby every time a news outlet is accused of covering up a story.

A LUCKY PHONE CALL: The Hobby family sold the paper to the Toronto Sun Publishing Co in 1983.

Most of us executives figured the new company would replace us with their own people.

A couple of days after the sale, I was invited to an informal meeting with the new Canadian publisher, our new editor, and some Canadian board members. It felt like a courtesy meeting before the ax fell.

After a few minutes, my secretary appeared at the door and said in an excited and loud voice that I had an urgent phone call.

“Who is it?” I asked.

“It is the president’s hotline,” she said.

Suddenly, I sensed everyone in the room was watching me with newfound respect.

What they, and my secretary, didn’t know was that I was in the process of negotiating to buy a political tip service called “The Presidential Hotline.” It provided story ideas during election season.

It was them on the line, not the president.

I debated whether to clarify what my secretary meant. I didn’t.

“Pardon me, I better take this,” I said.

After a few minutes on the phone, I returned to the meeting, acting as if this were just another day at the office.

A few days later, the Canadians appointed me managing editor. I like to think I got the job because of my talents, not because of the phone call. But who knows?

THE END: The day of the Post closing in 1995 was strange. We were big news…for a day.

While we were cleaning out our offices, the phones were ringing, not with the usual complaints about circulation or our perceived slanting of the news, but with readers saying they were going to miss us.

That, at least, felt good.

However, the next morning - April 19, 1995 – 168 people were killed in the domestic terrorism attack in Oklahoma City.

Rightfully, we became old news.

(Contact Ernie at Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)


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