Tag Archives: Times Herald-Record

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In case you haven’t heard, Woodstock — the mega concert that was held in a farm field in the Catskills that defined a generation in 1969 — turns 50 this week.

I wasn’t at the original concert.

I was a wee lad of not-quite 5 in 1969 but I was part of an army of talented editors, reporters and photographers from the Times Herald-Record who covered the 25th anniversary goings-on in 1994. 

The 1969 concert was a local story for the THR as it unfolded in the heart of its coverage area. In fact, it has been said that the THR came close to winning the Pulitzer Prize for local or spot news for its coverage of Woodstock. 

In 1994, there were to be TWO simultaneous anniversary events:

There was a heavily promoted, sanctioned celebration of music taking place over three days in Saugerties, N.Y., about 75 miles northeast from the original 1969 concert site in Bethel, N.Y., in Sullivan County in the Catskills. 

At the same time, we were bracing for tens of thousands of pilgrims to visit the original site in what would be — if history were any guide — a ragtag disorganized gathering of campers, hippies and Woodstock devotees who wanted to keep the spirit of ’69 alive.

In years past, the time leading up to the anniversaries were fraught with tensions between those who wanted to visit and the property owner.

I recall one year the owner spread chicken shit throughout the field to prevent campers from making impromptu pilgrimages to the site, which some consider a shrine or some kind of holy ground.

But in 1994, there was acceptance that the original site would be hosting visitors and the authorities were prepared.

The Times Herald-Record put out special daily editions of Woodstock anniversary coverage in addition to filling content in its main “book” — the daily tabloid.

Most of the teams in Saugerties and Bethel slept in tents, though I seem to recall there was a house we rented in Bethel as well.

Forget laptops and Wi-Fi. We transmitted our stories on Radio Shack TRS-80s and film was couriered back to the main office for processing.

The memories I have of the coverage are more like a loose collection of snapshots than an organized photo album: 

Stories of our late beloved editor Mike Levine raising the roof with his snoring at Saugerties; the muddy mosh pit; my colleagues going for an early-morning swim at the lake at Bethel; the blended haze of smoke from the campfire and marijuana in Bethel and the excitement of being part of such a huge story. 

I recall going to the original concert site ahead of the 25th anniversary gathering to do reporting.

I was interviewing some people and gathering color for a story and when I returned to my car (a blue Ford Escort hatchback) I discovered someone had placed a Woodstock bumper sticker on it!

It depicted the iconic Woodstock dove-and-guitar logo. 

At first, I was pissed.

How dare someone deface my property like that! After a short while, I took it in my stride and it became something of a novelty.

It also represented something else: A way to share in something bigger than myself and to not let petty grievances get in the way of what I am sure was not some act of low-level vandalism but a goodwill gesture meant to spread peace and love.

It was a reminder not so much of the concert per se, but of a sentiment that — like those concert-goers of so many years ago who needed fresh clothing, shelter, food or just help — we can be our brother’s keeper.

At a time when the world feels like it’s spinning off its axis, I could do with having someone slap that bumper sticker on my car again.

Finding Healing by Editing a Book

For more than 20 years, Mike Levine was a columnist at the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y. His name was as well known in the region as Jimmy Breslin’s was in New York City.

To readers, he was “Mike Levine.” To his colleagues, he was “Mike.” And to the politicians he pissed off, he was “Levine.”

In life, Mike was a short guy, but in the world of journalism and in the Times Herald-Record newsroom, he was a towering figure.

My first encounter with him was when I was a new reporter. He was hunched over his computer at a corner desk littered – emphasis on “litter” – with papers and food wrappers.

An editor working with me on a project consulted with Mike about the opening to a story. Mike offered some writing tips and returned to his work.

Mike Levine, Editor for the Times Herald Record. 11.22.05 Tara Engberg/TH-Record.

Little did I know that that fleeting encounter would be my introduction to a man who would change my life: He became a mentor and cheerleader for my work and career.

I teamed with Mike on a couple of projects while he was a columnist and later, when he became executive editor, he helped advance my career as an editor.

Few things meant as much to a reporter than having Mike praise a story. I think he was a father figure to many of us, and we always sought his approval.

Mike was an enormously talented writer whose columns championed the unsung heroes of life: the school janitor who looked out for kids, the single mom struggling to make ends meet, the hometown doctor who dedicated his life to his patients.

By the end of any column, the power of his words could make you feel humility, gratitude or outrage — or leave you laughing or in tears.

His columns were compact and not at all stuffy the way some newspaper writing can be. His writing did not read like homework.

Most of his brilliance whirred inside his head, meaning he made a passable impersonation of being semi-organized.

But by the end of the day, his tie was askew, his shoes were untied, his shirt-tail was hanging out, and his reading glasses (one of five he bought from the drugstore) were horribly smudged.

Despite his popularity and stature in journalism, he had no airs and graces. He was very much the everyman-working-class-guy he wrote about.

Mike died in 2007 at the age of 54. The great big heart that he put into his family and work gave out. It was an unimaginable loss.

Upon his death, Pete Hamill, the author, columnist and former editor of the New York Post, said, “Mike was one of the best newspapermen I ever knew, full of passion for our poor imperfect craft.”

The debut of Mike’s column in the Times Herald-Record in 1983.

In the months that followed, there were discussions in the Times Herald-Record family about picking out the best of Mike’s columns and publishing them in a book.

But, you know, life happened: Careers advanced. People moved. Seasons passed.

Then in July 2015, in a burst of inspiration (or sheer hubris and/or insanity), I told my wife, Meg McGuire, who was Mike’s managing editor, and Mike’s wife, Ellen: You know, I’d like to take a crack at this.

It took me nearly four years to go through all 2,219 of his columns to pick the best 76, find a publisher and clear endless proofing and production hurdles.

The result? “Words to Repair the World: Stories of Life, Humor and Everyday Miracles” was published last month.

The title comes from “Tikkun olam,” Hebrew for “repair of the world.”

It was a belief reflected in his columns. Mike privately talked about his moral obligation to contribute to repairing the world.

Yes, the work to make the book happen was tedious and felt never-ending but it was a labor of love. All the proceeds go to the Mike Levine Journalism Education Fund to support training for journalists.

The work was also cathartic. It gave me a chance to celebrate his writing and pay it forward.

I still miss Mike.

Nothing will ever replace the void he left behind, but the book did help me repair the part of my world that was broken by his death.

For more about Mike and this book, please go to mikelevinebook.com

We Are All Our Brothers’ (And Sisters’) Keepers

Inasmuch as Facebook can drive me crazy with its ever-changing features and Swiss cheese-like privacy policies, it has been an amazing platform for reconnecting with former classmates and co-workers.

When I posted a link to a story recently, a former colleague weighed in with a comment about a humorous experience we shared that serves as a reminder that we are all our brothers’ (or sisters’) keepers in this life.

This is what happened:

In the late 1990s, I worked at The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y.

I was there about six years when a new reporter, a blonde, ebullient pixie from Ohio, joined the newsroom. April Hunt occupied the cubicle across from me and we commiserated often about our lives.

Though only co-workers, we ended up sharing a special bond after a night in 1999.

I was home having dinner with my family when the phone rang.

It was a manager from Wal-Mart.

April had passed out in the bathroom and, since she was fairly new to New York, she asked the manager to call me because I was the only one she could think of who might respond.

I am ashamed to say this but can admit it now. My first thought was not: “Oh my God! I hope April is OK!”

No, my first thought was: “Christ! The indignity of it all! Passing out in a bathroom at Wal-Mart!? How gross! Better to pass out in a bathroom at CBGB.”

I headed to Wal-Mart but by the time I got there, an ambulance had already taken her to the hospital.

I sought her out in the ER.

A hospital person led me to a curtained-off examining area where April was sitting upright in bed. We chatted and I tried to keep her mind off things while we waited for a doctor.

I want to be faithful to the details of what happened, so the following passage, which includes frank language about the female anatomy, is intended for mature readers only:

There were “things” “going on” with April’s “lady parts” that caused her to pass out.

OK, you can open your eyes now…

A doctor came in and, as I recall, he was prepared right there to do an examination of “things down under” — and I ain’t talking about Australia either.

At this point in the story, it’s relevant to point out that April is a lesbian. So we both enjoyed a hearty laugh when the doctor turned to me and said: “Mr. Hunt?”

That helped break the tension!

I made it clear that no, I was not Mr. Hunt, and before he moved ahead in the examination, that I best be going!

April recalls it this way:

“You, friend, were the one person who believed me when I said I was really hurting. That’s what I remember most. That, and the fact the ER doc called you Mr. Hunt because you insisted you be able to come in and see me.”

It turned out that April needed emergency surgery the next day and needed six units of blood…!

Thankfully, she made a full recovery, part of which included me taking her to a follow-up visit to her ob-gyn because she could not drive. (Picture me sitting in a waiting room full of expectant mothers with a woman who was not my wife. Awk-ward!)

The “Mr. Hunt” comment is a fun inside joke for us but it also reinforces how small gestures in this world can mean a lot.

But I’m still not using the bathroom at Wal-Mart.

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