A day in the newsroom


For me, celebrating Memorial Day brings to my mind an uncle who survived the infamous Bataan Death March. He was a good newspaperman in the 50s and 60s and looked, at least to me, like Humphrey Bogart and the bow-tie wearing reporter of the movies. 

Frank J. Fenton was a heckuva reporter; hed get drunk every now and then, but he always got the story and if he fell off the wagon he could still write good stuff.

Once, when he was covering a sensational rape trial in Newport News, Va., my home town, and that was in the days of the linotype machines, he was calling in his story on deadline at 12:45 p.m. We were on the afternoon paper and those were great days. He was calling from the courthouse a block away and I, all of 19 years old, was typing as fast as I could. The city editor was over my shoulder and as soon as wed have two paragraphs typed, hed rip the copy paper from the typewriter and take it to the composing room.

We got the whole story done about 1 oclock and the paper hit the streets. Unfortunately, there was a terrible gaff. Remember, the story was being sent to the linotype operator in two and three graphs with the city editors note, more to come at the bottom. Press time was crucial.

When the paper hit the streets the front page story was there and we were proud until we got to the paragraph that described the womans anguished testimony describing the rape.  It read something like this, he was attacking me and I kept screaming …


Ten thousand newspapers hit the streets before the corrected edition was completed.

Obviously, that is sad and funny at the same time. The culprit in this case, was executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia for this heinous crime.

My uncle was horrified by that error and although he was asked to be a witness at the execution, he declined.

But back to the Bataan Death March where Fenton was an army private. One day shortly after the rape story, the literary editor of our paper, The Times-Herald, threw a book over to him at his desk. My desk was only a few steps away in the sports department.  Hey Fenton, heres a book for you. How bout reviewing it for Sundays paper? He scanned the book and all of a sudden, the newsroom was ablaze with g-it, sonuvab-h theres my picture. 

And there it was; he and two other malnourished soldiers with baskets hanging around their necks. A Japanese soldier with a big bayonet ready to chop off their heads.  As he was waiting for the beheading, another Japanese officer stopped the proceeding. To this day no one knew why.

The name of the book is Knights of Bushido and was written by a British officer, Lord Marshall of Liverpool. It was republished in July 2002.